COVID and the Neta: Modi, Kejriwal, Mamata, and other capital crimes

As political leaders fight it out over ballot boxes, the only thing that’s clear for citizens is death and bereavement

Almost everything that the Modi government does — from bullet trains to the proposed Parliament complex — is at the expense of basic things like education and health

A couple of days ago, a tweet said: ‘I live in an open space in a Delhi neighborhood, and for the past few days…I have started to notice black stains, ash on the clothes I hang out to dry. I didn’t know where it was coming from until I realized that I am barely a km from a crematorium.’

These words might have been spoken by a German in the 1940s — one who lived in the neighborhood of the Auschwitz concentration camp, infamous for its Nazi gas chambers.  

The death toll, too, would justify the comparison. The national daily average is 3,500, half of it happening in Delhi, a state ruled by a populist Chief Minister who compulsively bemoans his lack of powers, but will not resign in protest, and a Central government led by The Beard, and his team members like Harsh Vardhan, the well-intentioned Health Minister who has so far shown no sign of comprehension of what a national medical emergency situation means. It is not because he is not intelligent — after all, he is a qualified doctor — but because Modi’s style of functioning limits initiatives unless they are his own.

The blame game


It is of course easy to blame Modi for the COVID mess. But there is a valid reason for the liberals’ unwavering focus on him as the single biggest source of the current crisis: his pathological need to be at the centre of everything. 

On Friday night, TV debates centered on the fight against the virus. For instance, on the Republic channel,  unable to blame Nehru, Pakistan, or even China,   BJP spokesperson (an MP from Uttar Pradesh and a former investment banker)  Syed Zafar Islam repeatedly asserted, like an answering machine, that the Prime Minister ‘with all his resources’ was ‘personally’ leading the campaign, so he did not want to ‘jump the gun.’  This is probably the reason why we are in this mess. Forget jumping; the MP probably doesn’t have a gun.

Yes, the reason the spotlight is on the PM is that he wants it. Whether it is a new road, or a  metro opening, or a toilet inauguration (another war-like situation that has not been quite defused despite the rigorousness of the campaign) Modi is quick to claim credit. 

If he is not personally present, his photograph is sure to grace the occasion. In no photo opportunity does he like to see another man or beast in the same frame. His acceptance of himself as the sole arbiter of New India is absolute. 

Who else would print his picture on Covid vaccination certificates when you are paying for it, and are not sure your lungs won’t collapse before you reach home? 

Modi is so innocent in his delusion of indispensability and in his natural need to be present everywhere at the same time that nothing in the government agenda can take place without him at the very centre of it. Is it any wonder he takes no off? That old fear of the marginalised child: that something somewhere is always taking place without him.

Social media woes

The social media trolls are having a field day at the Prime Minister’s expense. But the liberals are losing it, too. One Facebook thread asked, following the COVID-led death  of a right-wing  journalist, if he should not be ‘roasted’ forever in ‘hell fires’. Surely, his wife and children are reading this? 

The punishment visited upon the corpse in terms of its further — and eternal— mutilation is the kind of necrophilia that is attending this graveyard-nation. It has tampered with our heads.

And mutated our behavior, too. COVID has killed more than 250,000 people (a figure comparable, at least by conservative British estimates, to the Partition casualties). Fear and anxiety can change our personalities.  

This writer once said that the mindset of India’s present ruling elite is that of Madame Bovary, Flaubert’s essentially poor, rustic character who suffers delusions of (urbane) grandeur. 

Almost everything that the Modi government does — from bullet trains to the proposed Parliament complex (present estimated cost Rs 22,000 crore, and sure to go up) — is at the expense of basic things like education and health. 

The present tragedy’s hoary dimensions show why we rank 155 (out of 167) in hospital bed availability (5 beds for 10,000 people, according to a Human Development Report). India is just above Senegal and Afghanistan and below Bangladesh. 

All of it, both the sad reality and the delusional if functional derangement of the leaders (and therefore their followers: insanity is infectious) shape this country’s public policies. 

Endorsement of politics

In another development, on Friday, the exit polls predicted a great performance by the BJP in West Bengal, the continuance of its power in Assam, and the formation of a new government in Puducherry. If these predictions turn true, the party is likely to see in them an endorsement of its politics and policies. 

They would be wrong. A vote cast in a fundamentally flawed country is often as much an exercise of a fundamental right as it is an attempted escape from reality. The TMC in West Bengal, for example, like the CPM before Mamata Banerjee’s time, offered a corrupt and incompetent administration. But it differs from the prior Marxist regimes in its displays of theatrical hysteria, led by the State’s Chief Minister. 

You can’t blame her. In this country, not much is for real. We have totally internalised the idea of maya. And so, even when, all of a sudden,  the Supreme Court activates its conscience and assumes the role of Parliament or Opposition and asks the Centre why people are dying, we don’t particularly see the irony of why it  allowed the Maha Kumbh, now seen as a super spreader, or why the election rallies took place the way they did. 

In this charade, the only thing clear is death and bereavement.  And uncertainty over one’s financial future. This government has no idea what to do with either. Because there really is no government. Only one man. And we are stuck with him for another three years. 

At the end of it, he, or someone like him,  just might come back, in another strain or mutant, like the virus. Keep your mask on.