The rise in coronavirus cases has revealed the tattered state of health infrastructure in the country, but the governing Bharatiya Janata Party has launched a high-decibel campaign for the upcoming elections in Bihar and Bengal, where the assembly elections are scheduled for the end of this year and 2021, respectively.
Meanwhile, citizens seem clueless and panic-stricken, while the BJP’s massive digital campaign, launched across Bengal, has exposed the grim reality of the poor in the country.
Home Minister Amit Shah, who was reportedly working behind the scenes during the humanitarian crisis that unfolded during the lockdown, has now reached the “remote areas” of Bengal through smart television screens.
The party has termed the smart TVs, which are being watched by people who do not even have clothes to put on or masks to cover their faces, as its “achievement through relentless pursuit for last five years”.
People in remote villages of West Bengal listening to @AmitShah during #BJPJanSamvad . This is the reach @BJP4Bengal has achieved thru’ relentless pursuit for last 5 years . People want better days . pic.twitter.com/hBpzysKDNU— B L Santhosh (@blsanthosh) June 10, 2020
Bengal’s governing party, Trinamool Congress (TMC), was quick to call out Shah on his virtual rally. State chief Mamta Banerjee accused the BJP of playing politics instead of focusing on the current crisis engulfing the state amidst pandemic and in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan.
Terming the BJP’s high-voltage political campaign as unfortunate amid the most challenging phase of the pandemic's management, political commentator Nilanjan Mukhopadhaya says: “It is very unfortunate that right from the prime minister downward they have been talking only about politics and been very dismissive about the way in which the country has faced the crisis in last three or four months".
Shah, while addressing the Odisha and Bihar rally, admitted the lapses, but reiterated that the commitment was clear. He said that when the coronavirus crisis hit, the Narendra Modi government provided a package of around $266 billion, or around 10 percent of the country’s annual GDP, for 600 million people in the country. But, at the same time, he did not shy away from slamming the opposition.
However, Rahul Kumar, who is the national general secretary of the opposition party in Bihar, the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, termed the virtual rallies as bombarding the public with a campaign immediately after the lockdown.
He told Sputnik that there are no takers for Shah’s campaign because people from far-off places like Punjab and Madhya Pradesh are still coming to the city on foot in the absence of transport arrangements by the BJP government.
While Bharatiya Janata Party with Janata Dal is in power in Bihar, Kumar says that health facilities in the state are so bad that people don’t not even have water to drink or food to eat. The rallies are revealing the poverty in the states, while the opposition is doing its work to question the government, he adds.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a letter to citizens upon completing the first year of his second term, where he said: “Whether it was the topic of Article 370 for national unity and integrity, or the happy outcome of the age-old conflict over the Ram temple's construction, or the factor disrupting the modern social system, the 'triple talaq', or the symbol of India's compassion, the citizenship law; all these achievements you remember”.
Pointing out the paradox where migrants are being sent home to their villages and factories are being opened to revive the economy, Nilanjan says that in the middle of this, all the emphasis of the home minister in his three speeches is essentially tom-tomming between what the government did between 2014 and 2019. Further, he is reiterating four or five very politically divisive decisions which were taken in 2019, the political commentator says.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has lauded itself for stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status under Article 370, passing the Triple Talaq bill which banned the practice of instant divorce by Muslim men, and the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which resulted in widespread violence and protests in the country for over two months.
Nilanjan believes that with its virtual rallies, the BJP is continuing with its very divisive, sharply polarising, majoritarian campaign at a time when the country needs to be focused on staging a recovery economically and putting people back on their feet economically, as well as socially and medically.
Narrative of 'We Did Our Best'
In spite of imposing the strict countrywide lockdown, launching the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency, announcing a $266 billion stimulus package to help the economy, and beginning the Shramik Express for migrants, the Modi government’s efforts have not borne fruit, as the COVID-19 cases are rising more than before, while the economy is still sluggish and health infrastructure remains poor.
However, Nilanjan says: “The entire emphasis right from prime minister’s letter to the citizens to Amit Shah’s three virtual rallies, then the talking points which have been prepared for its spokespersons and its party presidents’ press conference on 30th of last month; all this is saying that we have done enough for the people to overcome the crisis faced due to COVID. We did enough for the migrants. We have done enough to revive economy”.
The leaders of the primary opposition party Congress have even offered several mechanisms to control the crisis and the economy, along with holding the governing party accountable. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has urged the government to use the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act during the people’s time of need.