In India these days, it’s Darkness at Noon!

covid crisisImage: AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has limited options. Either he runs the course as an uncompromising and unrepentant leader, like a banana republic dictator, or, he decisively changes track, does self-criticism in private and public, chooses to become effective and accountable, and gets on with his job to save the country facing what is perhaps its biggest post-Independence crisis.  It is a chance a great PM should not miss – to bring order and healing during utter chaos, amidst mass death and despair. In that case, is he up to it? If so, it does not really show!

The PM should learn some lessons from the Kerala model – especially because the Gujarat model has turned out to be such a damp squib, a farce, despite the fake bubble of Vibrant Gujarat etc. It does not need rocket science to check the obit pages running in leading Gujarati dailies day after day to realize what is happening in the state’s hospitals and cremation grounds– howsoever data is fudged, or there is total denial.

Pinarayi Vijayan does a press conference every day, on the dot, on the spot, explaining the logistics of daily governance, open to questions. Even Donald Trump did regular press conferences and faced a barrage of hostile questions from the mainstream media which took him on day after day – something the loyalist puppet and propaganda media in India would refuse to even acknowledge. So why can’t the Indian PM talk to the press, not only his chosen favourites, and take the country along each day to fight this massive tragedy, accept his gigantic mistakes, stop pandering to media-management, and restore order and relief on a war-footing within this endless spiral of infinite pain, even as the health infrastructure has completely collapsed in state after state, especially in UP, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and, right here, in the capital city of absolute power, Delhi?

So, what is this absolute obsession with power, conquest of new territories, manipulating the truth, refusing to talk to opposition leaders, the media and critical experts, take serious advise from efficient chief ministers like Pinarayi Vijayan and his health minister, KK Shailaja, listen to Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh? Why not a national emergency task force in collective consensus with all state chief ministers and experts, with organised, functional and effective helplines, emergency hospitals and beds on a mass scale, functional round-the-clock control rooms to help isolated and helpless people – instead of leaving Indian citizens to their tragic fate, even while they ring umpteen collapsed helplines and seek help of friends and neighbours for a bed, basic medical treatment, oxygen and counseling? Why should people die without oxygen or beds? Why this reluctance to allow the army to step in and set up make-shift hospitals in every district, among other measures?

There is still a view that Modi might be of the opinion that he can still manage mass media-management and turn it around finally through a huge PR and image industry exercise. He has done it before so he can do it again. His fanatic vote base of around 35 per cent is intact, come what may. This view also holds that this government believes that ultimately this unprecedented tragedy, the mass helplessness, angst and anger across the classes, will be wiped out through manufactured consent organised by high-decibel media management. A complicit electronic media will step in, Modi and his men will re-emerge, dusted and preened, pumped up again and again on TV screens for endless days, and nights; the full-page ads will re-appear, as will the ad jingles, hallucinatory and patriotic films, laudatory stories, and reams of doctored opinion and planted news. The obits of the dead will fade into history. The screams of the dying and their loved ones will vanish into the twilight zone of our times. The cremations on footpaths or public parks, or the rows of the dead waiting to be cremated, will become a faded picture of the past. In this new, ‘New India’, once again, therefore, achche din will come yet again, and only because of Modi. He will rise again as messiah and prophet, with or without the beard, post-Bengal polls. Modi hain toh to mumkin hain…

Rahul Gandhi warned of this one year ago – that India is awaiting a Tsunami, a huge economic and health crisis, and that a large number of Indians will suffer unprecedented pain. He was right. Millions are jobless, across the class spectrum, and the central government has done precious little, unlike, say, Angela Merkel or Joe Biden. Rahul Gandhi also said that no one listens to him. Not only him. Modi’s regime does not listen to anyone except the voices of those they want to hear. And that depends on what they have to say. Especially, on its favourite TV channels, by the drooling Bhakts and trolls.

All the rest can be managed, subverted, usurped, controlled, or threatened and repressed, be that as it may — whatever be the magnitude of the crisis. Witness his total lack of concern when lakhs of migrant workers were on the highway, without food, water, medicine, masks, transport. The PM just let it go on and on like a dark, ‘live’ documentary, fully convinced that nothing would ever touch him.

The same was the case when he watched the massive peaceful anti-CAA protests all over the country to go on and on, refusing to even consider a dialogue. So much so, the mothers and sisters of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, and elsewhere, were demonised, degraded and hurled violent abuse and bad vibes.

His best buddy, the Union home minster, went on and on about ‘termites’ — a metaphor like ‘pests, insects, vermin’, used by the Nazis against the Jews, and by the American establishment against the Vietnamese people during that unjust war. Now Bangladesh has sealed the borders with India. Before the Pandemic struck, during the campaign for Delhi elections, Amit Shah announced, that the EVM button should be so pressed that the ‘current’ should be felt at Shaheen Bagh! Pray, what kind of current did he wanted the mothers, grandmothers and sisters to face at Shaheen Bagh, and why this nasty thought in the first place? 

But this illustrious legacy continued, with ‘desh ke gadaro ko, goli maaro …. ko..’ by another of his upstart union minister, while a small-time turncoat from AAP, instigated polarisation with his vitriolic speech, in the presence of police officers, before the Northeast Delhi riots erupted and scores of innocent, ordinary, hard-working citizens, a majority of them Muslims, were butchered and property and homes destroyed, even while the police played an openly partisan role, recorded and documented on video and by news reports. Even ambulances were blocked till the Delhi High Court intervened.

All this led to a series of vicious acts by the central government, so brazen, heartless and unjust. Why should an elected government hate the young so viciously, especially brilliant young scholars with a social conscience, especially brilliant young scholars from the Muslim community, especially brilliant  young women activists and scholars from the finest universities in this country with a progressive and intellectual heritage? As some close friends of Umar Khalid shared recently on the social media, announcing that Umar has got Covid in jail, that both he and Khalid Saifi (another social activist who was doing relief work in Northeast Delhi before he was picked up) — if they had been out of prison, they would have been organising oxygen and plasma for Covid patients!

The whole world knows that these youngsters are the finest minds in this land, highly qualified with proven brilliance, they are the future of this secular nation, that they were non-violent and celebrated the Indian Constitution and the legacy of the freedom movement; and the whole world knows that all the charges are false, fictitious, cooked-up, and they stand no chance in a just trial, and that there is no evidence worth anything to prove these charges. That is why, even while courts reject the charges, the central government and its police have resorted to charging them with UAPA, the draconian law, to put the finest of our young in prison for such long spells. Is is this a sign of a rational, confident and visionary government based on the principles of fair play, human dignity, human rights and statesmanship? Punishing the educated and enlightened young, based on fake charges — since when has it become a sign of greatness and statesmanship?

Consider the tens of thousands of farmers who have braved the pandemic, the freezing winter, rain and storms, police lathi charges, water cannons and barricades, iron  nails and cement barriers, and who are now braving this heat in the open at the three borders outside Delhi. Are the three farm laws more important than the voices of these millions of farmers? Is the profit-motive of two or more corporate super-rich, Modi’s buddies again, more important than these peaceful farmers out in the open with their families, grandparents, and little children for months now?

A magnanimous and ‘nationalist’ prime minister would swallow his ego, at one go, repeal the farm bills in one stroke, and then go for a fruitful and negotiated settlement with the farmers. They can then all wait, be patient, draw a consensus, go for expert opinion, compromise on either side, go for flexible dialogue, and find a reasonable solution, while agreeing to the demand of the farmers – repeal the farm laws pushed in the first instance without a consensus! A non-sectarian and visionary prime minister would have found a solution with the public interest and the farmers’ interests in mind – he would not have allowed the protests to fester, like a simmering wound, leading only to universal angst, anger, despair and mistrust. And universal suffering during a deathly and deadly pandemic!

Sadly, that reality seems to have totally eluded India since 2014. Indeed, in India, since then, its darkness at noon.

India is in the midst of a national crisis. It’s time for great vision, effective, efficient, ethical and non-sectarian action. The fake news industry might succeed for a while, but, surely, bitter realism too has its own immortality. Like a mutating deadly virus.



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