Discussing the recent orders by the Madras and Calcutta High Courts that heavily castigated the Election Commission for its laxity with enforcing COVID protocol during the recent state assembly elections, ARUN SRIVASTAVA writes about how the Commission’s fall from grace is only the latest example of mal-governance that has come to characterize the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
THE oral order of the division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy of the Madras High Court holding the Election Commission (EC) as “the most irresponsible in not stopping political parties from wanton abuse of the COVID-19 protocol” was noteworthy for telling it in no ambiguous term: “You should be put up on murder charges probably”. The High Court’s observations have exposed the denigration of the democratic and constitutional institutions in the country.
The Court noted with anguish that the EC repeatedly violated its orders: “Despite repeated orders of this court, going on like a broken record at the foot of almost every order on an election petition, that Covid protocol ought to be maintained during the campaign time, the significance of adhering to such protocols may have been lost on the Election Commission, going by the silence on the part of the Election Commission, as campaigning and rallies were conducted without distancing norms being maintained and in wanton disregard of the other requirements of the protocol.”
The EC should have prepared and ensured the compliance of COVID safety measures, but its arrogance and proximity to power made it disregard its responsibility. It dragged the poll procedure through eight phases in West Bengal, to the BJP’s advantage.
The High Court was not off the mark in observing that the EC was the “only institution” responsible for the deadly COVID-19 wave India is seeing today.
On April 22, hearing three public interest litigations petitions seeking enforcement of COVID protocol during the polls, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court, presided by Chief Justice T.B.N. Radhakrishnan, had censured the EC for merely issuing circulars to and holding meetings on COVID safety with political parties, which, in its view, was not enough to ensure that the parties followed COVID protocol. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, while welcoming the Madras High Court’s observations that the EC could not avoid blame for the spread of COVID, alleged that both Modi and the EC are responsible for the current predicament.
The EC is an autonomous constitutional body and is expected to work independently. But the manner in which the EC has been functioning since the appointment of former chief election commissioner Sunil Arora at its helm in 2017, has given rise to the suspicion that it has turned into the B team of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). The political elite is inclined to try and influence the independence and decision-making of bureaucrats; the situation becomes much worse when the bureaucrats willingly become subservient to the ruling class.
Interestingly, Arora is allegedly being awarded the job of Governor of Goa for helping his political masters.
It is also worth mentioning that yesterday, the EC actually requested the Madras High Court to gag the media from reporting on the High Court’s adverse remarks against it, since the same led to tarnishing the reputation of the EC. It even argued that there is no evidence to show that campaigning was a significant factor in driving any COVID spike (even though, there is).
PM Modi’s track record of policy failure
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi is perceived to be the tallest political leader in the country today. What are the parameters that create such an impression? Ostensibly, the primary reason is his victories in the general elections of 2014 and 2019, and the electoral success the BJP has enjoyed under his stewardship. These victories seem to have helped him offset his government’s many administrative failures.
An overview of the functioning of Modi as PM makes it clear that he has never been a visionary leader. He lives in and speaks only of the past and the present.
However, he seemingly lacks the ability or the willingness to plan for the future. Ironically, he has built his political edifice on the basis of perceived future gains.
He has simply exploited rightist populism and Hindu nationalism to gain his present reverence and reputation among the masses.
Under his rule, however, India and its citizenry have had to suffer in an unprecedented manner on several occasions. He has proved to be an abject failure on all fronts, whether foreign or domestic policy. Due to his lack of vision and planning, combined with the disastrous demonetisation-GST twin salvo, India’s economic growth has suffered a serious jolt, and we have gone through an elongated economic crisis. During this time, India’s democratic institutions have also been systematically emasculated.
Pandemic mismanagement latest example of BJP government’s incompetence
The COVID pandemic has simply exposed, yet again, the lack of administrative foresightedness and policy bankruptcy of the present regime. Last year, while announcing the national lockdown in March, he had simply asserted that “the Mahabharat war was won in 18 days, and we will win the war against COVID in 21 days”. Of course, he is not held accountable to that promise, just like none of his other promises.
In his address on January 28 at the Davos conference of World Economic Forum, he boasted that India has defeated COVID, and ridiculed the academics and scientists who had alerted India of the possibility of being the epicentre of the pandemic. In fact, as far back as August 2020, several experts had warned that India was facing the threat of a second wave.
In a cruel irony, the second wave hit us within three months of his Davos bragging. Today, crematoriums and graveyards are overflowing with bodies. The situation has turned so dreadful that 40 member nations of the international fraternity has come out with the offer to aid India in order to bail it out of the crisis. Many of these countries have offered to send in oxygen.
Modi was never been serious about fighting COVID. If he had been, he would have ordered the Kumbh Mela devotees to stay away. The BJP’s efficient social media could have played its role in reaching his message to every nook and corner of the country. But he chose not to do this. In contrast, the Maharashtra government succeeded in persuading organisers of Pandharpur Yatra to suspend it for this year.
In the wake of the first COVID wave, the Union Government had sanctioned the set up 162 oxygen plants across the country. But so far, only 33 such plants have been established. The PM CARES Fund, which was set up by Modi to fight COVID, is yet to reveal how it has spent the thousands of crores of rupees it has received in donations for its mission.
The Union Government had commissioned some companies and a couple of public sector undertakings to manufacture ventilators and money was to be spent from the PM CARES Fund. But so far, the response has been quite poor. The ventilators which had been sent to Gujarat, for instance, turned out to be defective.
Since the onslaught of the coronavirus 2020, while the rest of the world has gone into fighting mode, BJP was busy capturing power in states by destabilising elected governments and evolving underhanded strategies to win elections. (IPA Service)