Ever since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in India, a remarkable reticence had dominated the political space of this country. Various shades of the political spectrum merged into one to portray a united face. Of course, there were exceptions, but overall, there was a show of exceptional unity when faced with a grave crisis. But then this is India, a rambunctious democracy, which lives and breathes politics, 24X7. So it is no wonder that the country’s quarrelsome political discourse is back centre-stage, with all shades of opinion and interests trying to derive political mileage out of a bad situation. In fact, that there was a semblance of unity until recently is in itself a matter of surprise. It is back to being free for all, with everything the Central government is doing, facing severe criticism—be it the allocation of the Rs 20 lakh crore economic stimulus package, facilitating the movement of migrants, or even the fact that India’s coronavirus numbers crossed China’s officially declared numbers—and this in spite of knowing that the latter’s declared numbers are more than likely to have been “underreported”. In fact, the package that the Narendra Modi government unveiled as economic stimulus cum economic reforms is remarkable, to say the least. As the Prime Minister rightly pointed out, the time for incremental steps was over. It was time for taking a bold leap and that’s what was done. The reforms brought about in sectors such as MSME, agriculture, mining, industry, defence manufacturing, et al, can be game changers, with some likening the steps announced to the economic liberalization of the Narasimha Rao government in the early 1990s. But then a shrill campaign was launched by the main Opposition party, the Congress, over money not being given in the hands of the poor. It was money in the hands of the poor—at least on paper—that was the hallmark of the UPA’s stint in power, the basis of its “dole economy”. Even though the process of doling out the money was riddled with corruption and hardly any money reached the hands of the supposed beneficiaries. In contrast, the economic reforms ushered in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi seem to have been inspired by the adage “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The movement has been away from dole to loan—easy loans that can be repaid over a period of time. So there should not have been any scope for complaints in this case, or at least constructive criticism would have helped. However, it’s but natural that the political opposition will tear apart government’s policies and programs. It’s their job to do so. The problems arise when some so-called economists and experts allow their judgement to be clouded by their political leanings and do not find even one good word to say about the PM’s initiative. But then this is how the discourse has developed in this country over the last six years that the Modi government has been in power, especially among those who are opposed to the Prime Minister. There is nothing that he can do right as far as they are concerned. Incidentally, some of the Chief Ministers too need to realise that this stimulus package is for all round development, not for giving handouts to states so that they can misuse them by giving freebies to voters and accumulate political points that can be utilised at the time of elections.
As far as the migrant crisis is concerned, there is no doubt that it should have been pre-empted. It’s a natural human instinct to seek the “comforts” of home, however poverty-ridden, when income dries up and livelihood becomes non existent at a faraway place. Measures should have been taken accordingly. Both the states and the Centre should have handled this humanitarian crisis better. Also, at a time when industry is opening up, the migrant workers should be incentivized to stay back at their places of work. And however divided India’s political space might be, this is not the time for a slug-fest over who provided a bus to the migrants to return home and who didn’t. The country is facing a grave health crisis as well as an economic crisis. Politicians must rise above the temptation to carve out vote banks for themselves by making use of the desperation of the poor and the downtrodden, or by instigating them into violence. Even in a country soaked in politics, 24X7, this is not the time for it.