Image: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
The Prime Minister holding an all-party meeting and calling upon the Opposition to set aside differences and jointly work with the government in fighting Covid second wave seems to have set the tone for BJP circles. Only the other day a cabinet minister had been on the trail of former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh gracelessly mocking advice he had offered in the spirit the current PM now advocates. In Assam Sarbananda Sonowal has also urged the opposition to join the government in fighting the onslaught of second and mutant strain. He has asked them to join Team Assam.
So far so good. But, why is it that this wisdom did not dawn at the first onset more than a year ago when Congress President Rahul Gandhi had made exactly the same offer and had been brushed off with ridicule and scorn? Is it because their own responsibility for the looming disaster scares them and they are trying to fob it off on other parties? For such a rabidly biased party which judges everything from the narrow viewpoint of partisan political interest, such an offer to let bygones be bygones is surely something that arouses scepticism.
The Supreme Court by some coincidence has sternly pulled up the government for floundering in its response to the calamity and asked for ‘a national plan’. The point is who will prepare and decide on such a plan? The present government? With feedback from the Opposition? Suppose that leads to the same kind of results as the skimming from many thousands of public responses to the draft National Education Policy only those that suited the interests and needs of the quarters the present government serves?
The question is, can a National plan and national effort be trusted to the decision of the present government which has discredited itself in the first phase of the struggle so flagrantly? By letting the Opposition play the role of a benign elderly aunt whose advice may or may not be followed, the government first evades guilt and next threatens to mire the country once again deeper into chaos. So let us first be clear about essentials of this National plan. Will it be prepared by the entire political spectrum sitting together mindful of the national emergency, and then will its suggestions be cherry-picked by this government to serve its overwhelming political needs?
Certainly, such an approach will only lead to a calamitous dead end. The best thing is to think of a National government at the Centre, with representatives from the entire political spectrum, and equitably dividing powers and responsibilities. Such things are not unheard of. We can think of such historic moments when an all-party government of sworn enemies was formed in Britain to manage the war-effort against Nazi Germany. Short of a human agent as the enemy the present crisis certainly fits the picture of an enemy inflicting a total war requiring national mobilization of men and resources. It also seeks to blitz down all resistance and gain total supremacy. Of course, with much more devastating results. So, the ruling party can no longer dictate terms. Otherwise, that will at best be a face-saving gesture, and at worst a clever ploy to shift the burden of responsibility to other shoulders without sharing any power.
We have seen how the present government has unilaterally arrogated to itself the national identity and discourse. It has systematically re-defined the nation across a whole lot of areas, and mounted a massive campaign to identify, stigmatise and punish those it suits them to call ‘anti-nationals’. Unless it agrees to go back on some major decisions and share power of decision and implementation of policy, it will hardly find more than a token assent from the opposition. The latter knows only too well that such fraternisation will hush the indispensable and salutary voice of criticism and dissent and allow the present dispensation to weather the storm and renew at a suitable moment its cherished campaign to undermine democracy.
*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the author’s own.
Other pieces by Dr. Hiren Gohain: