One excerpt from a news report tells us everything there is to know about Home Minister Amit Shah’s series of virtual rallies held in Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal over the last few days, and about his style of functioning in general.
This was the report from the former Bharatiya Janata Party president’s speech in Bihar:
“Addressing the party workers and people of Bihar through a virtual rally, [Shah] attacked the opposition RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal] saying the growth rate of the state was just 3.9 per cent when the party was in power, but it rose to 11.3 per cent under the [BJP-led govenrment].
The state moved from ‘lalten raj’ to ‘LED raj’, he said referring to the RJD’s poll symbol of lamp.
At the same time, the former BJP president asserted that this rally had nothing to do with the Bihar poll campaign and was aimed at connecting with people during the fight against coronavirus.”
An entire event that BJP officials clearly refer to as a way of “sounding the poll bugle” for Bihar where elections are due late this year, yet Shah insists that his outreach has nothing to do with politics.
This is typical of the BJP’s style of functioning and, indeed, its approach to the coronavirus crisis.
Any criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s massive mishandling of the situation is considered anti-national and not constructive at a time of crisis – from the imposition of a nationwide lockdown to the tragic migrant crisis to the hodgepodge of ideas in the “Rs 20 lakh crore” economic package.
The BJP, however, has felt free to use the pandemic to continue its political games, even if these risk endangering the Covid-19 fight. In Madhya Pradesh, the party brought down thestate government just when its entire focus should have been on addressing the pandemic. In Maharashtra, the BJP has tried to do the same thing, even using a constitutional post like the governor to destabilise the situation.
In Delhi, it has used the pandemic to carry out arbitrary arrests of those who have criticised it, relying on the fact that access to justice is greatly curtailed at this time. Where the government should have focused on addressing the migrant crisis that it caused by failing to plan for an obvious outcome of a national lockdown, it chose to spend money on helicopters showering petals on hospitals instead.
When the Cente did move to address some of the problems – such as giving grain to those who do not have ration cards – it did so months after civil society called for these measures, and well after Opposition parties also demanded them.
Yet, Shah had this to say in Odisha:
“Some short-sighted people, some people in the Opposition… I want to ask them… there may have been lapses on our part, but our commitment was clear. We may have made a mistake, we may have fallen short, we may not have been able to do something. But what did you do?”
Just like pro-government TV channels deciding every night that their job is only to question those who are not in power about what they haven’t done, Amit Shah – whose party has an absolute majority in the Parliament and has done so for six years now – thinks the focus should be on the Opposition and not the mistakes that he half-heartedly admits to.
Using the media and the police, the BJP has so successful at controlling the narrative that imagining the flipped version of this scenario – where the Opposition parties held large virtual rallies in several states to question the government – is nearly impossible.
You can almost hear the BJP’s internet army and pro-government TV anchors slamming anyone else who holds a rally for go back to politics in the middle of a pandemic. Yet, Shah doing the same, even as India has crossed 270,000 Covid-19 cases, passes with nary a murmur.
Politics should be important even during a pandemic. The political system offers a way of holding the government in power accountable. But that is not the way the BJP think, which is why Shah insists that his rallies, full of invective against the Opposition, are not political.
As far as the ruling party is concerned, its actions – including the mistakes to which Shah admits – are not to be examined because the government’s “commitment is clear”. Meanwhile, the BJP wants you to stop thinking about the Covid-19, migrant and economic crises ravaging India because of its governance failures. Focus, instead, on the failings of the Opposition.