Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes seven years in the top job of the country this week amidst what he himself has termed a “once in a century pandemic”. In the midst of the deadly second wave of COVID-19, his party, the BJP, despite investing much political capital in the West Bengal Assembly polls, lost to the Trinamool Congress. This, many have conflated, was a comment on the handling of the pandemic in its second avatar, especially in the later phases of polling. Will the seven-year itch, that scourge of office and other partnerships, affect Mr. Modi, as it did his predecessors from Indira Gandhi in 1973-74 to Manmohan Singh in 2011 onwards? Or will his dream run at the hustings continue?
According to political scientist Ashwani Kumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the pandemic is no less than a “tsunami”, disrupting existing models of governance and living, centred on health resources.
COVID-19 crisis | BJP leaders worry over party image
“Though I hesitate to predict, but the future of the ruling BJP government hinges on how quickly and effectively it addresses the issue of mass vaccination of people specially belonging to marginalized and poorer sections of society. The pandemic has threatened to test the march of the BJP from an ideological movement, then party and now the government,” he observed, speaking to The Hindu.
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in February-March, he added, “promise to become a referendum on the BJP”.
“The pandemic has exposed the widening gaps between the government and the party, denting the party’s reputation as a social service organisation and carrier of social capital. In short, the government needs to unveil an Indian variant of national reconstruction-a people-centric Marshall plan to modernise, upgrade well-being infrastructure in the various States, revamp the architecture of federal governance and extend the arch of individual liberties in the times of existential crisis. And most importantly, perhaps urgently, the nation needs a healing touch, reaching out to grieving families and individuals, no matter how poor or rich, how isolated or well-connected they are. This is where the future of the national BJP government resides, at least in the immediate future,” he stated.
Health care matters more
Badri Narayan, author of well-received biography of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram Kanshi Ram: Leader of the Dalits and new book on the RSS Republic of Hindutva : How the Sangh is Reshaping Indian Democracy, said Mr. Modi’s previous appeal on governance issues should be pivoted on health care rather than roads and flyovers now.
“This pandemic is a kind of stop sign for the development politics that was engendered by neo-liberalism of the 1990s onwards of both the Congress and the BJP. Now, to live, to access health care is more important than a road or a flyover, people are looking at healthcare in situ, rather than other things,” he pointed out. He also pointed to the nature of the disease and how it had affected everyday interactions in society, the need for social distancing, the way palliative care had been taken out of the hands of relatives, to even how we grieve a death together, leading to a massive amount of “social fragmentation”. “The conceptual framework of what it means for a government to be with the people has changed and this has to reflect in the way governments react,” he stated.
Reconstruction, not in the traditional sense in the aftermath of a natural disaster, but in a different conceptual framework is what the pandemic ravaged country requires. A big ask for any government, with the first test being in March when Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls.