It was in the columns of this newspaper that a welcome was accorded years ago to the fact that the presumptive President of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, spoke of the need to ensure that certain lifestyle choices should not be treated by the law as criminal. Such edicts may have been commonplace during the era of Queen Victoria, but not just her country but the rest of the world has come a long way since then, and the change needs to be reflected in legislation. It has been pointed out that Rahul Gandhi did not express similar views when his party ran the government during 2004-14, but that was presumably because he held the contrary view at that time, the view that lifestyle choices later declared as innocent of criminality by the Supreme Court of India in a welcome judgment should remain criminal. Certainly many more actions were made criminal under the UPA. It had been expected that such a toxic list would get pruned during the NDA period that began in 2014, but thus far, progress on decriminalisation of activity treated as permissible in other major democracies has been tardy. The prohibition of alcohol continues in some parts of the country, as does the sale of bootleg liquor. When law covers too broad a range of human activity rather than focuses on only those that do damage to individual rights and the societal fabric, it becomes difficult to enforce, which is the case with all too many of the ever multiplying laws and regulations in India. An administrative and regulatory construct based on the colonial culture of domination of civil society by the government is antithetical to the needs of the time, as indeed it has been for much too long. Better late than never, however. This newspaper has been less than appreciative of some of the measures taken by Kapil Sibal when he was a member of the Union Cabinet, but must appreciate the fact that the Congress Party leader has called for an “All hands on deck” approach to confront the crisis that the second wave of the SARS2 pandemic is causing to the 1.38 billion people of the country. This is a welcome show of bipartisanship at a time when partisan voices have risen in shrillness and irrelevance to the needs of the times.
India is a union of states. Some of the largest states, such as Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, are in the control of parties that stand in opposition to the BJP. Other governments are either run by the BJP, as in UP or Karnataka, or else by parties acting in tandem with them, such as Bihar. What the country needs is more and better vaccines and therapeutics. Each state should compete in attracting those units that produce the items needed to fight the surge in cases. In 2020, good work was shown in the manufacture of PPEs and in some other ways. This year, over the past six weeks, improvements have been made in the government mechanism looking after the delivery of oxygen, vaccines and medication. Had these measures been carried out in 2020, India would not have been in the situation that the country finds itself in today. Better late than never. Should any state meet an obstacle from another state or from the Central government in ensuring that production of the essential requirements for treatment of the novel coronavirus be boosted, the same should be publicly brought out. Transparency is the first step towards accountability, and once public attention falls on the problems pointed out, it is likely that they will get remedied. Secrecy is the refuge of the incompetent or the wrongdoer, whereas the honest and the effective are happiest in the brightness of light. States should compete not in abusing each other or the central government, but in competing to better the situation. Problems need to be politely pointed out rather than presented as mala fide actions, which usually they are not. Every state government as well as the Central government has a common interest in ensuring that the pandemic retreats. This is a country blessed with a people that are rich in brainpower and in the qualities of humanity that enable them to ensure that India remains an example to the rest of the world of a country where those who have a sectarian view are the fringe and not the mainstream. The Moderate Middle needs to expand at the expense of the extremes, not the other way about. Every political party will gain from the progress that gets made when the competition between politicians and between state governments is not grounded in abusive language but in friendly competition and wherever needed, strong cooperation. The people of India have shown we are a single people, by settling across the country no matter what differences of language or faith there are. Hum sab ek hai. We are all one. This is not a slogan but the truth. The welcome calls for cooperation coming from both sides of the aisle need to be reinforced so that such voices drive out the cacophony of abuse that is so much in discordance with the needs of the times. Senior opposition leaders understanding this is welcome, and it is expected that a similar response will come from the government side.