Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the Unlock 1.0 has come as a welcome step. India finally stretches itself after the world’s strictest lockdown. While Modi must be hoping that this move would conceal most, if not all his shortcomings, and thereby save himself from criticism – something he keeps a strict do gaz ki doori (two-yards distance) from – it is high time he mulled his responsibilities as a leader. Or else, the nation he vows he would never allow perishing would soon be pulverized at his own hands.
In his editorial in the Times of India (30 May 2020), Home minister Amit Shah hailed the Prime Minister for his dynamic leadership. Shah highlighted the government’s “historic decisions” which “strengthened the roots of democracy.”
For the citizens and the leaders, much of the last six years went by debating the need of constructing of the Ram Temple, enacting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to filter out the “infiltrators,” scraping Article 370, and abolishing the triple talaq which, in Shah’s words, “liberated the Muslim women” (the same women his government shut, sidestepped, and, in many instances, even brutalized when they protested against the contentious CAA).
The Modi government prides itself on making what it considers to be pro-citizen and pro-democracy decisions, thereby fulfilling its “promises.” However, all their promises appear to have frayed in the coronavirus storm. The already-battered economy is toppling over even as it is prophesied to slip into recession for the first time in four decades; the unplanned lockdown ran uniformly strict across the country although the effect of the pandemic varied from district to district; and, the country witnessed the most heart-rending visuals of the migrant workers walking thousands of kilometres to their homes. In this pandemic, the Ram Temple, the CAA, and the abrogated Article 370 serve nobody except Modi and Shah’s defiled conscience.
While every country is battling many dire ramifications of the pandemic, India is the only one to have witnessed the mass exodus of migrant labourers. Hundreds of thousands of workers crisscrossed districts and states on foot. And along the trudge, many of them succumbed to the heat, hunger, and thirst. But the rest keep walking anyway, hitch-hiking in the way and sometimes fed by the onlookers. Why is the pandemic inconceivably harsh on them? What has made them put their lives at stake and walk all these miles? And whom do we hold accountable for this?
Surprisingly, PM Modi answers at least one of the questions. He says the migrant workers were forced to migrate because of “the backwardness of eastern India.” “…the distress that our workforce is undergoing is representative of the country’s eastern region…the eastern region needs development.”
Mr Modi holds the highest leadership position in the country. But he responds as though he has absolutely no role to play in this tragedy. Why doesn’t he care to look within? Maybe, he thinks he has worked hard enough, and he should be content with his nth-hour deliverance: He announced a pan-India lockdown with less than four hours’ notice; Shramik Special Trains began plying the stranded labourers more than a month after the lockdown was announced; his government introduced the 20-lakh crore package as manna from heaven which he believes would be sufficient to deal with the current situation; the Aarogya Setu app, which scored 1 out of 5 stars in MIT tech review, has been made mandatory; oh, and keep the clapping and thali-banging aside.
In the last six years of the Modi regime, the debates could have been on India’s labour laws, economy, public health, and poverty, instead of or (in the worst case) before the Ram Mandir, CAA, Article 370, and triple talaq. That being the case, we would very likely have averted the sight of the dying and dead migrants; we wouldn’t have to fear the impending recession; and, we wouldn’t be choking with the lockdown that no developing country had the strength to bear.
It turns out that Modi’s “hard work” didn’t bear satisfactory results. He could have done way better. He didn’t. The thing is, it is not just about priorities. It is about the right ones!