The second wave of Covid-19 began on February 10 when India reported just over 11,000 new cases. In the next 50 days, the daily average was 22,000 cases. In the following ten days the daily average touched 89,800. We are now adding over 400,000 a day.
India has never been engulfed by a crisis of this order. We are woefully short of hospital beds, oxygen, remdesivir and toclizumab, vaccines, ambulances and sadly even space in our crematoria. The growth and spread are expected to scale to almost a million cases a day. In two months, India has become the world’s basket case.
Yet on January 28, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed a blissful and disturbing ignorance of the looming storm. The committee of scientists monitoring the virus warned the Prime Minister’s Office of the gathering clouds. He was not interested. In his address, he crowed about his achievement of beating back the much-mutated Chinese virus. He was so wrong and India is paying a huge price for it. There is no Modi image of competence left.
The elections to the four states and Puducherry that he was focused on have been his undoing. He began campaigning on February 5 in Assam and February 7 in Bengal. After that, he addressed 20 more rallies in Bengal and six more in Assam. He also addressed ten rallies in Tamil Nadu, three in Kerala and one in Puducherry, in all around 40 giant rallies crisscrossing across in Indian Air Force Boeings.
The Bengal gamble
The cost is not important. The time spent on huckstering is important. He lost almost a month campaigning instead of managing the engulfing crisis. Clearly, he factored winning Bengal was more important and worth the cost. Modi himself cheerfully paraphrased Gopal Krishna Gokhale said almost a hundred years ago: “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.”
Bengal unambiguously has expressed what it is thinking. It has rejected Modi and his message and campaign style, lock, stock and barrel. A clearly subservient Election Commission helpfully broke up the Bengal polling into eight phases starting on March 27 and closing on April 29. During this period the daily Covid-19 cases rose in Bengal from 812 to 17,403.
Breaking the polling into eight phases didn’t actually help the BJP. It lost in every phase and got double digits only in four. Bengal has a sizable Muslim electorate and Modi didn’t mince words in targeting them by making it appear that they were Mamata Banerjee’s personal vote bank. He didn’t bother to even conceal what he thought of them.
His electoral style touched a new low, even by his standards and most certainly by standards expected of a prime minister, when he threw a jibe at her by catcalling “Didi-o-Didi”. Urban Bengal responded to this by defeating the BJP soundly in urban constituencies. There is a message here. All over the country the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have strong urban bases, but urban and urbane Bengal administered a resounding slap to gutter politics.
There was no surprise in Assam. The ruling BJP was returned by almost the same margins as 2016. It gets its majority with the Asom Gana Parishad’s nine. The Congress lacked a visible local leadership who could match wits with the BJP’s Hemanand Biswal Sarma.
Tamil Nadu was as expected. The two so-called national parties were just parvenus clinging to crumbs thrown by the two so-called Dravidian parties. In Kerala, Pinrayi Vijayan showed why he is India’s topmost and only surviving commissar. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Stalin made no bones about what he thinks of Modi’s Hindu- and Hindi-centric politics. The Modi government used every means at its disposal including raids by the Enforcement Directorate to slow down Stalin. The directorate even raided Stalin’s daughter.
The road ahead
So where does our politics go from here? One clear conclusion is that both the BJP and Congress were dealt severe blows. It is interesting that the BJP campaigns were entirely shouldered by Modi and Amit Shah. What must not be missed was that defence minister Rajnath Singh was the first from the BJP to congratulate Mamata Banerjee.
In Assam, Sarma’s supporters have gone public crediting the victory to their leader. Sarma has already fired a shot across current Chief Minister Sonananda Sonowal’s bow by stating that he was no more interested in being just a minister in someone’s cabinet. The numbers might work for him, for he just needs just a dozen MLAs to crossover and give Assam a new regime.
Sarma was a Congress satrap till Rahul Gandhi insulted him by choosing to playing with his dog than to listen to him. Gandhi will be all ears now.
Mamata Banerjee’s stunning victory puts her squarely on the centre stage of opposition politics. Joining her there will be Lalu Yadav, who has been released on bail by the Supreme Court despite the government’s strenuous opposition. His son Tejaswi Yadav showed he is capable of leading a party when it came so close to upstaging the BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance in Bihar in the 2020 state elections.
Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot and Punjab’s Amarinder Singh have emerged as fairly independent Congress satraps. Uddhav Thackeray has shrugged off the Shiv Sena’s pariah status by providing Maharashtra with good leadership and a penchant for making politics the art of the possible. In Telangana, K Chandrashekhar Rao has put the BJP in its place with a resounding win by his Telangana Rashtra Samithi on Sunday in the Nagarjuna Sagar bye-election after the BJP’s surprise showing in the Dubbaka and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation polls in 2020.
The anti-BJP line-up now has seven chief ministers, excluding Odisha’s Navin Patnaik. Seven chief ministers will mean that the election and propaganda machines can be kept well-greased and the powder kegs dry and replenished. Modi’s inability to defend India against the second Covid-19 wave, and his inability to cajole the Chinese from withdrawing from areas occupied in Ladakh now make him an easier target.
The Gujarat model has been long exposed as bogus. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Mohan Guruswamy is the chairman and founder of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
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