India is in the midst of a perfect storm. Not only has the second wave of the pandemic brought death and tragedy to the doors of countless families, it has exposed the singular incapacity of the Indian state to deliver on the most basic needs of its citizens and uphold their right to health and to life, and, most importantly, in a democracy, to their right to human dignity in life and in death. In this moment of deep crisis, we are literally on our own and dependent on the goodwill and sympathy of civil society, community organisations, and individual good samaritans. The federal nature of the Indian polity was already being systematically eroded and the pandemic provided a golden opportunity to accelerate the process. After all crisis management must be centrally coordinated, isn’t it? As soon as it became clear that it is unable to handle this ferocious second wave, the Centre has dumped the responsibility on the state governments. The blame game has begun in right earnest with a senior minister absolving the Central government of the mess we find ourselves in and claiming that the state governments were repeatedly warned of the impending second wave and asked to take a series of preventive actions. But there is no mention of the prime minister’s own remarks to the World Economic Forum on January 28, which suggested that India had brought the Covid beast to heel and was ready to teach the rest of the world a lesson or two. The smug claim that India was the “pharmacy of the world” and the dispenser of vaccines to rich and poor nations across its borders is now shredded. The “pharmacy” boasts empty shelves and seeks aid from others. There is appalling brazenness in the decision to forge ahead with the vanity Central Vista project even while the citizens are in lockdown. The juxtaposition of burning funeral pyres and, in parallel, the construction in indecent haste of a new parliament and a grand residence for the prime minister, evokes ugly precedents from history. Accountability, so fundamental an attribute of democracy, has become a mere distraction.
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First Published: Tue, May 11 2021. 22:55 IST