COVID And Its Aftermath Exposed Value Crisis Of Indian Leadership – OpEd
By Pushkar Raj*
Amidst scars of recent covid ravage and continuing deaths, a three weeks long birth day celebration bash for the Prime Minister of India began last week. The revelry is in line with the post covid decisions and actions of the leadership unveiling the pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of continuing calamity.
The national interest, a term synonymous with the public interest and welfare, means protection of people’s life and liberty as a value, over and above those enshrined in the constitution, such as democracy, socialism, and secularism.
Notwithstanding government figures, as many as 3.4 to 4.7 million people may have died due to the pandemic in the country so far, with hundreds being added daily to the growing numbers.
These numbers are notable because, in the beginning of the pandemic, when ten people died in March 2020, the supreme leadership of the country, without prior consultations, declared a nationwide lock down at hours’ notice saying:
“No doubt we will have to pay a cost for this, but to save the life of every Indian is the priority for me, government of India…”.
Addressing the nation on the Independence Day 2020, he said that the medical infrastructure was in place to fight the pandemic coupled with ‘around the clock vaccine research’ assuring protection from the disease.
But in early May-June of 2021, hundreds of citizens died across the country on ventilators for lack of oxygen supply, as the federal government fought states in the Supreme Court for oxygen distribution while hapless families watched their loved ones die on streets.
Even the dead waited for hours to be cremated for lack of space and some washed ashore.
The situation was so bad that the country was on knees for aid for which World Health Organisation sought donations.
Did it happen because the leadership was short of funds being a poor third world country?
Apparently, it was not so, as the ‘leadership’ had 9,677.9 crore ($1.27 billion) collected in a few weeks, donated by the Indians, from across the world, to fight the disease, opaquely under disposal- The PM Care fund. Besides. It is presiding over a post GST (ranging 4 to 28 per cent) rich government to hilt, evident from its spending spree, unsparing even Gandhian and historical memorials that are being converted into picnic spots with public money.
The cause, however, rests with the ideologically conditioned values of leadership that inspire decisions leading to augmentation of personal power and glory at the cost of public interest.
Public Interest vs. Personal Power and Glory
The decisions of the leaders of republics are informed by values enshrined in the constitution. Even those who might be contemptuous to a sworn document, the value of the public good is inescapable therefore, leaders, spare no effort to convince the masses that they live and breathe for them. As history is harsh on the power and glory seeking emperors and politicians, therefore none admits to it; however, they are betrayed by their choices in decisions and priorities on actions.
In March 2020, the leadership declared a nationwide lock down to save lives claiming the national interest.
However, as the later events revealed, the lockdown instead of containing the virus and saving lives, merely demonstrated to the world that the country was ruled by a ‘great’ leader who could, shut down 1.3 billion people, as if they were animals in a zoo, without following any law and procedure.
It also relayed an image of a coerced, controlled, submissive India ruled by a strong, decisive but an unresponsive leadership.
Otherwise, how could one explain death of hundreds of migrant laborers due to hunger and exhaustion who scrambled to reach their homes walking hundreds of miles across hinterland, harassed by an exploitive police force.
It is inexplicable that a leadership claiming working-class background is oblivious of conditions and numbers of migrants in major cities and how they commute back their homes in rural India? In early days, more people died struggling to reach home than the virus itself.
Secondly, saving lives was never a priority as when 1501 people were dying daily in April 2021, the leadership was addressing political rallies to win ‘power’ in Bengal, facilitating thousands to congregate without masks and spreading disease despite opposition protestations.
Longing for Legacy
Though power and glory seeking individuals covet structural legacies, like a stadium named after them here or a statue erected there but building a residential complex for himself and colleagues on a war footing, during a war like pandemic, is surprising.
Besides, regrettably, the Central Vista Project, costing about 13000 crore (US$1.8 billion, close to Antilia) of public money, would efface a few iconic buildings of ‘Delhi’, an entity’s journey from millenniums to the present.
Therefore, howsoever magnificent the new ‘Elite House’, it is likely to be weighed down by the memory of people and history lost during its rise.
Such legacies, against karmic ones, suffer from the intrinsic flaws, e.g., Shah Jahan, who for a mausoleum, Taj Mahal, duressed thousands of hapless craftsmen for decades, leaving a monument tainted for several reasons, including, as Urdu poet, Sahir Ludhyanvi put it, symbolising a king’s way of ridiculing poor folks’ love.
The hurried foundation of ‘Ram temple’ fuelling a faith fury across north India, had nothing to with public interest or service (refer to secularism in the preamble of constitution) than a pursuit for power in approaching elections and adulation beyond them.
However, these actions facilitated covid to travel far and wide finally leading to visuals of half buried dead bodies on riverbanks, revealing impoverishment of people in the country where cremation is a tradition.
Regrettably, the misery of masses is made to appear normal by organising a flurry of celebrations with scarce national resources.
Truth vs Insinuation
This has occurred because ‘truth’ as a value is being sought to be replaced with what, Italian writer, Umberto Eco calls insinuations- giving facts that are valueless in themselves yet cannot be denied because they are true.
Take for example, the leadership’s 2021 Independence Day address, which discussed the inherited sick system of the past, applauded over a single Olympic gold medal of the present, and painted a dazzling picture of a glorious future wetted with occasionally suitable scheme statistics.
This obsession with the past and future coupled with a linguistic vagueness is a deliberate strategy to cover up the contemporary social truth.
But, the social truth or reality, cannot be hidden, shut, or suppressed. As the saying goes, ‘if one shuts door on reality, it peeps through the window’ and to borrow Bob Dylan’s lines, ‘begins to blow in the wind’, like, as a Gujarati poet translated in English observed:
Don’t worry, be happy, in one voice speak the corpses
O King, in your Ram-Rajya, we see bodies flow in the Ganges
The writers are defender of truth. What they think today, society does tomorrow, adding to power and glory’s sorrow.
*Pushkar Raj, Melbourne based Researcher and Author.
Modi govt in pursuit of power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death (nationalheraldindia.com)
Celebrating birthday amidst image of ‘coerced, submissive’ India ruled by a strong leader (counterview.net)