Accountability of the executive to the legislature and of the government, generally to the people, is a fundamental tenet of democracy and the inalienable right of the people. Under what circumstances should such accountability cease to operate or such right be suspended and for how long? This is a question which democratic countries have answered in their own way whenever such situations have arisen. To the best of my knowledge however, this right has not been suspended anywhere, even in the most difficult times. People may have exercised self-restraint on their own but they have never been told that the right has been abrogated or suspended. The US was engaged in a critical war in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 70s. But the people of the US did not like the military involvement of their country in far-off Vietnam and the returning body bags. So, opposition to the war started to mount at the popular level and soon became a mass movement which forced the US administration to finally disengage. Old-timers would not have forgotten the sight of huge numbers of people regularly protesting against the government. Nobody asked them not to do so since the country was at war.
India, like the rest of the world, is facing an unprecedented crisis because of the Coronavirus. We have been told, specially by the Godi Media in our country that in such critical times, all of us should stand with the government, support whatever it is doing and not ask any questions, much less criticise it. Most of us have abided by this prescription so far. In any case, criticising the government and the ruling party was considered, even earlier, not only anathema but also anti-national. It is more so now. But this admonition does not apply to the BJP. They are free to criticise, even launch agitations against state governments where the party is in opposition. It freely demands resignations of Chief Ministers and accuses their governments of even imagined acts of omission. So there is no bar to politicking in these states because parties other than the BJP rule them.
But the matter does not stop there. State governors are the representatives of the government of India every state. It is a constitutional post with limited powers. But this high constitutional post has now been thoroughly politicised. Look at the way the Governor of West Bengal is behaving. He has no control over his actions and language. Every day, almost with monotonous regularity, he indulges in verbal duels with the elected Chief Minister of the state. Is the governor of Gujarat where the Covid situation has gone out of hand, behaving similarly? Certainly not, because Gujarat is ruled by the BJP. See how the Governor of Maharashtra was bent upon creating a constitutional crisis in that state by refusing to accept the recommendation of the cabinet to nominate the Chief Minister to the legislative council. Now the Election Commission has accepted the recommendation of the state to hold elections to nine council seats on May 21. This is in complete contradiction to its stand on Rajya Sabha elections which stand postponed indefinitely. MLAs are supposed to vote in both elections. How is voting by them in the council elections of Maharashtra safe in these Covid times while voting in the Rajya Sabha elections is unsafe?
The principle of federalism has been given a complete go-by. The centre is sending teams to states with power to give directions on the spot. In West Bengal, one such team went to a district which had no recorded case of Coronavirus. While criticism is not acceptable to the government of India, it does not tire of praising its actions day in and day out, as does the Godi Media. Is this one-way street acceptable?
The fact of the matter is that politics and politicking are forbidden for everyone else except the BJP and the central government. So, we must consider all bets as off now and start asking our questions.
China had warned the world about a new virus on December 31/January 1. The two first cases outside China were recorded in South Korea and the US on January 20. The first case in India was recorded on January 30. There was no doubt from Day One that if the virus spread in India, it would be on account of passengers coming from abroad. Why did we not put a complete ban on such travellers in January itself? Was thermal testing enough? When the virus started spreading, why was a lockdown not enforced immediately? Why did we have to wait until March 24 to enforce the lockdown? When our own medical staff was woefully short of protective gear, why were two planeloads of them allowed to be exported to Ukraine? Who was responsible for the purchase of faulty testing kits from China? And what action has been taken against the guilty? It was also clear as daylight from Day One that the state governments would have to bear the brunt in the fight against the virus. Yet, why was the first consultation with Chief Ministers held only on March 20? And most importantly, why was the fate of the migrant workers and students studying outside their states not taken into account when imposing the first lockdown on March 24 at four hours' notice? And why did it take the centre weeks to realize that there was a problem there? And now when factories are being allowed to open, trains are being arranged to take them home. Who will work in these factories? But surprise of surprises is that the financial burden of this has been put squarely on state governments whose finances are already in a state of collapse from before. Can anything be more insensitive?
The virus is far from tamed. The number of cases is rising vertically everyday. The Corona curve is far from flattened despite weeks of lockdown but the economy is certainly flattened because of the continued lockdown. There is no worthwhile financial package yet to revive it and keep it going. There is misery all round, brought about by none other than the government of India itself. And an incompetent government always looks for alibis. It was the Tablighi Jamaat earlier. It is the entire Muslim community now. In UP, hotspots are being deliberately identified by the mosque in that area. Majority communalism is in full play, aided and abetted by the central government. A supine media, a captive Election Commission, a laid-back judiciary and a helpless parliament are making easy the task of the government. Yet, if the opposition parties were to get their act together, start asking the right questions incessantly, plan going to the people and enforce democratic accountability, the government would have no place to hide.
'Bandi' appears to be the 'mantra' of this government. First it was 'note-bandi', now it's 'log-bandi'. The poor suffered the most then; the poor are suffering the most today. Yet, we are expected to stand up and clap!
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.