India has often been characterised as a weak state for the manner in which we tend to prepare or respond to crisis. This is not because we do not have the requisite resources or the trained manpower, but because, as academic Anit Mukherjee puts it, “we choose to be weak”. It has much to do with the perpetual leadership deficit we seem to suffer at the highest political levels and their constant attempts to pander to the public. The emergence of Mr. Modi on the national scene in 2014 was seen as an extremely fortuitous event because he seemed to possess qualities of leadership that were wholly lacking in his predecessor.
Mr. Manmohan Singh’s second tenure was mired in scandal, stagnation and a complete loss of moral authority and control over events. Moreover, the Congress Party, that he belonged to, showed a remarkable incapacity to replace him with a stronger more decisive leader as it seemed wholly consumed, for all intents and purposes, with committing Hara-Kiri, as it impotently struggles to free itself from the desperate clutches of a dynasty whose sell by date is long past. A situation that unfortunately continues to haunt its fortunes even to this day.
Therefore, understandably, Mr Modi’s larger than life persona, his boundless energy and dynamism along with his projection of being a a strong, decisive and forward looking leader were universally welcomed. His autocratic ways and mendaciousness were seen as just minor aberrations, worth overlooking, in the interest of security, good governance and progress that we craved.
While there were a couple of speedbumps along the way in his first term, such as the demonetisation and poorly implemented GST initiatives, there were no doubts cast on Mr. Modi’s leadership abilities. Unfortunately for him, fate stepped in and played spoil sport. The onset of the pandemic coincided with unprovoked Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, both handled shoddily with mixed results, which allowed the government leeway to claim partial success.
However, we were caught completely off-guard as the onset of the second wave of the pandemic laid the country low and we found ourselves short of life-saving drugs, hospital beds and even oxygen. Worst of all, we were left leaderless as the Prime Minister and his government literally disappeared from sight, probably scared witless, leaving it to ordinary people to manage as best as they could. It may be true that with three years of his tenure still to go, he may yet retrieve the situation, but his tryst with adversity made absolutely clear, as nothing before this has, that he is lacking in the most fundamental of all leadership qualities, honesty, integrity and the ability to accept his own mistakes. The vast majority among the public, even in the rural hinterland has understood that his larger than life image is just a mirage with little substance.
It is indeed ironic that nearly a million deaths later, as the fury of the pandemic abates, albeit temporarily, he has once again re-emerged from the shadows, attempting to shift the blame on to others and meting out unwanted advice to us all. In his address to the nation he showed no contrition for all that has gone wrong due to lack of foresight, but instead blamed Chief Ministers of non- BJP run states for the tragedy that occurred. Accusing them of creating confusion in our vaccine policy, the scathing indictment of his government’s policy by the Supreme Court notwithstanding. Undoubtedly, the Chief Ministers can be accused of playing needless politics in these horrific times, but they can hardly be held responsible for the vaccine procurement fiasco as the simple fact is there are no vaccines to be had for love or money and the policy itself is not worth the paper it is written on.
For that the blame rests squarely on him and his government and their confused and lop-sided actions. Clearly, by his accusations, the Prime Minister is only indulging in blatant misdirection and falsehood. Even the mentally challenged among us has understood by now that the only solution to all of our present problems and a return to pre-Covid normality lies in ensuring vaccination of all. A conclusion that much of the world also arrived at, leading to global demand far outstripping production capacities till 2022. Sensible leaders and governments acted quickly, despite the inherent risks of the vaccines being ineffective, to corner their requirements of doses by booking them in advance. Others, including Mr. Modi, did not do what common sense plainly dictated, forcing their citizens to pay a needless and heavy cost.
It has been suggested that holding Mr. Modi responsible is unfair and it should be the experts who should be held to account. This is disingenuous at best, because, as some reports have suggested, the government has ridden roughshod over their recommendations on numerous occasions. Even if this is incorrect, Mr. Modi appears to have condoned their recommendations and inaction by not having removed them from his advisory committees. This could, of course, be because a more uncomfortable truth may emerge if they were to be blamed, no different from the ongoing controversy over the gap to be maintained between the two Covishield shots has done.
This governments constant resort to prevarication, deceit and disinformation along with its attempts to deny public dissemination of the truth have seriously damaged its credibility and cast suspicions on its true motivations. It appears to be time that we also reconsidered whether we should be sacrificing some of our democratic freedoms in the vain hope of better governance and security. It is time we heeded Abraham Lincoln’s words “Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both”, if we are not to pay an unacceptably high price for our hopes and aspirations.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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