DEMOCRACIES DON'T HIDE

By virtue of being a democracy India is an open society. Exchange of ideas both good and bad are a part of the deal. Under the freedom of speech, citizens want to talk about anything and everything. Yet, democratically elected governments, one after another, find it necessary to curtail open discussion. They try to control the thinking of the citizenry. Often, they are successful. But the process does not stay long. The curtailment of open expression in a democracy is an oxymoron. Sooner or later, people try to go back to their old ways. They talk. In order to talk they defy the ban imposed by the government. Citizens invite conflict with the power that be.

Such is the situation in India now. The Coronavirus in the country has created havoc. The Government wants no negative publicity! Given the size of India's population, should the disease not be contained very soon, the whole world stands to be affected. Help is pouring in therefore, from all directions. True, the pandemic is a worldwide phenomenon. But the government of India under Narendra Modi has made things worse. A number of world leaders find themselves in the same situation. Each of them thought he knew about everything and that his overblown confidence can stop the spread of a killer virus. The government does not want others to know that it created a problem.

Looking at the countries where Coronavirus has spread widely, one sees a strong similarity in the thinking of its leaders. A strong leader, in search of a strong economy, marches ahead without paying any heed to the experts who tell him to lock down schools, offices, shops and factories so that people wouldn't spread a killer disease to one another. He thinks others are wrong and goes ahead to prove it. In the process thousands lose their lives. Countries such as Brazil, Philippines, the US and India fall into this category. It did not have to happen that way. But it did.

Human spirit is resilient. Over the years, free India has suffered many calamities. So, this too would pass. Sooner or later the Coronavirus of 2020-21 would be history. Yet, its memory would linger on for decades to come. India will emerge as it has always emerged. From a foggy situation it will try to be clearheaded; if wounded it will seek treatment; if weakened, it will slowly but steadily gain strength. The relentless march of the people of India toward freedom and happiness would play the role of a pathfinder for others.

The world is a complicated place. When the pandemic slowed down the last time, the Modi government thought it has passed the hurdle. It helped its neighbors by sending medicine and accessories. The action was right. But the thinking was wrong. While trying to help others the Modi Government did not save enough for its own needs. When the stuff hit the fan Mr. Modi and his Government lacked the means to prepare for any eventuality. Experts warned that there could be a second outbreak. But the Government became tone deaf toward the warning. The whole country paid the price. Above all else, there were election rallies. Attendees wore no masks and did not maintain any social distance. Thousands chanted M__O__D__I; M__O__D—I. The slogan elevated the spirit of the prime minister, no doubt. It also spread the virus in haste.

Along with Modi and his government, the entire political class of the country must share the blame. All the states that held elections did not take preventive measures for the Coronavirus. No arrangement could be seen for social distancing during the voting or in campaigns before that. There was no “requirement” for a mask. In a sense all had a hand in making things worse. Now, the citizens have to bear the burden of a gigantic stupidity of their political bigwigs. No matter how the country tries to project itself, its fundamental weakness in healthcare is for all to see. And the picture is not very pretty.


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