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Covid Demands More, Not Less Politics

A noisy, aggressive and adversarial opposition and media-both at the regional & national level- is needed during this crisis.

Covid Demands More, Not Less Politics
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"This is not the right time to do politics when people are dying. We all must help the government in all possible manner during this crisis instead of criticizing it all the time"

Many of you would be familiar with this sentiment. Many of you perhaps share this sentiment. Not surprisingly, many citizens of Mumbai were of the opinion that the BJP leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was not doing the right thing by criticizing the actions and alleged failures of the current chief minister Udhav Thackeray in handling the COVID pandemic that has hit Mumbai particularly hard. The feeling is: Mumbai is going through a life and death struggle as hospitals run out of beds, oxygen and ventilators even as more and more Mumbaikars get infected. That's why some Mumbaikars who respect another BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, want him to tone down his rhetoric against the Maha Vikas Aghadi government running Maharashtra.

This sentiment is not confined to Mumbai. One can witness a similar phenomenon in Delhi where the contours of national discourse are decided and dictated. Rahul Gandhi has been asked by many to stop needlessly criticizing prime minister Narendra Modi because "the country is facing an unprecedented crisis". His sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra too has faced flak for taking on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath at this juncture.

Some have even gone to the extent of asking even the media to exercise restraint while showing horrifying visuals and telling heart-rending stories of human suffering. The logic once again is the same: this distracts the attention of government officials already struggling to battle the pandemic.

Frankly, these sentiments, while being noble, are plain and simple wrong and dangerous. We do not need less politics, but much more of it. We don't need less disturbing visuals appearing in the media, but much more of them. The job of the opposition is not to support the government. Far from it. In any democracy worth its salt, the opposition's job is to constantly keep the ruling regime on its toes, and under pressure. And media is not supposed to become a cheerleader during times of crisis. It is to expose and point out loopholes, mistakes, inaction and avoidable suffering all the time. This is as true at the national level in Delhi as it is in at a regional level in Mumbai. Narendra Modi and Udhav Thackeray might both be meaning well and working extremely hard. But only a fool will believe that their respective governments will not make mistakes and sometimes commit even blunders.

Without a noisy and aggressive opposition, these mistakes and blunders would never be rectified. The most telling illustration of this comes from the sorry plight of migrant workers in Mumbai (and dozens of other cities in India) desperate to go back home. Both the central and Maharashtra governments failed and would have probably continued to fail the migrants without sustained opposition and media noise and pressure. Again, both at the national and regional level. Despite promises, the Maharashtra government could not provide sufficient shelter, ration or anything to migrant workers who lost their livelihoods overnight after the lockdown. Helpless migrants then took to the highways, thousands even determined to walk hundreds of kilometers home. Many took loans and sold whatever they had to pay thousands to sit huddled at the back of a truck going east.

The central government initially chose to pretend that this reverse migration was not happening. Towards the end of April, it became impossible to ignore the reality. It was then that the government first announced that buses will ferry migrant workers back from Mumbai and other cities back to their home states. But under sustained attack from the opposition and questions from various high courts in the country, Indian Railways was compelled to announce the Shramik Special trains. Even here, it took weeks of tales of hunger and misery in these trains for the Supreme Court to finally order the centre as well as the states to ensure migrants get free to travel along with food and drinking water during their journey.

By the time the Supreme Court orders came, millions of migrants had already travelled, many dying during their desperate journeys. Imagine if the opposition and media were even more aggressive both in Mumbai and Delhi, so many would have been spared the trauma and the misery.

The pandemic is not going away soon. Thousands more will die and millions more will live without a source of livelihood. Governments will continue to make mistakes. Without a noisy opposition and aggressive media, these mistakes will never be rectified.

So do not ask for less politics during this crisis; ask for much more.

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