Even by the standards of cynical politicians, the events of the last few months suggest these have plumbed new depths.
Even by the standards of cynical politicians, the events of the last few months suggest these have plumbed new depths. Not everyone, it is true, abided by prime minister Modi’s call of do gaz ki doori, mask hai zaroori, but few would have thought the ruling party itself would give a complete go by to something so basic. Indeed, a few days ago, when India’s Covid count rose by 2.5 lakh again—it has been averaging this for a few days now—the prime minister tried to crack a joke with people in Asansol saying that the crowd wasn’t so big when he was campaigning in the area for his prime ministership in 2014.
To be fair, the prime minister wasn’t the only politician doing this. We’re not talking of home minister Amit Shah who has held a series of mammoth no-mask-no-doori rallies or other BJP leaders, most chief ministers of states—like Mamata Banerjee—have done precisely the same thing. But, by virtue of the BJP being in power at the Centre, it must be held to a higher standard. Indeed, though the Centre does not hold the Kumbh, it is worrying that it did not ask the Uttarakhand chief minister to impose curbs or try to appeal to the big sadhu groups.
It is true the current surge across the country, and in places like Delhi and Maharashtra, is not related to either electioneering or religious festivities like the Kumbh. That will come later, when testing levels pick up in the states that are having elections, and when people start travelling back to the states they came from. But, apart from the carelessness that people displayed when they felt India had beaten Covid for good, the behaviour of top political leaders furthered the impression that it was okay to go maskless and in crowds.
What is worse, while it is clear that India is facing very infective new strains, senior ministers have used the infection numbers—in Maharashtra, for instance—to ridicule Opposition parties. Apart from the fact that several BJP-ruled states are performing as badly, the Centre can’t have it both ways: either the local governments goofed up or the new variants are a lot more infective as the head of AIIMS in the capital has said so many times. Indeed, India is trying—though failing—to do more genome testing of the new strains for precisely this reason, to determine their infectiveness and to figure out a protocol to deal with them. Some state government chief ministers and ministers, it is true, are also indulging in politics, to pin the entire blame on the Centre, but the prime minister has to be the bigger person here, more so because it the Centre that is coordinating the all-India effort. This is not the time to apportion blame, this is the time for both the Centre and the states to work together to beat a common enemy.