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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 21, New Delhi, May 8, 2021

Desperate People Tell Leaders: Go | TJS George

Saturday 8 May 2021, by T J S George

IMPRESSIONS

The Telegraph said what others hesitated to state openly. "It’s best to state this simply," said the Kolkata daily. "Narendra Modi needs to go. Amit Shah needs to go. Ajay Mohan Bisht, aka Yogi Adityanath, needs to go." This view is not new. What is new is that it is being publicly aired. The public mood in India has changed. Tired of the pretensions, and the proprietorial arrogance of he Government, people have found the courage to come out and openly attack Naredra Modi and his self-centred approach to administration.

Modi of course is the greatest exhibitionist India has seen. His histrionics have tried to give the impression that Indian history began with his rise to power. His public relations programme was a bit too obvious to make any impact. Remember the picture of him reading books with an obedient peacock standing nearby? On the day India set a world record for the largest number of Corona cases in a 24-hour period, his radio programme Mann Ki Baat talked mostly about toys and childhood. It’s no wonder that a rudderless-nation hears calls for Modi-Shah-Bisht to go.

As India’s most image-conscious prime minister, Modi must be particularly upset about the way the world has revised its estimates of him. The US think tank, Freedom House, has reported that "democracy is on a dangerous decline in India." Other India-watchers have spoken about the rise of authoritarianism and "illiberalism" under Modi
But does Modi really care any longer about how the world looks at him? It is unlikely because he does not even care about conditions in the country getting worse and thereby exposing his incompetence. GDP growth at 4.5 percent is the lowest in the last five years. Production of industrial goods has been flat for quite some time. Unemployment at 8.5 percent in October 2020 was an all-time high. But who can forget Modi claiming that his Goods and Services Tax solved all problems. That was reminiscent of his infamous demonetisation, a "colossal policy failure" as some economists described it.

Writer Pankaj Mishra put it bluntly when he wrote that India’s Covid tragedy was avoidable and is largely the fault of a boastful, incompetent government. Typical of newspaper comments on India was the London Times’ statement: "Modi flounders in India’s gigantic [ Corona ] second wave." The chief of World Health Organisation cited India as "a devastating reminder" of the damage Covid could wreak.

And how did India respond? It kickstarted new programmes for the construction of three secretariat buildings in the pet Modi scheme called Central Vista Project (total estimated cost Rs 20,000 crore.) No one in the ministerial mansions heard people asking: How many hospitals, oxygen plants and vaccine manufacturing units could have been built with the money spent on the World’s Tallest Statue, World’s Largest Stadium, World’s Grandest Central Vista? But oxygen plants cannot boost the ego as profoundly as the Tallest and the Largest can.

It is small men who do things in the hope that their smallness will be seen as bigness.
People have been hitting back, bringing Modi’s bloated ego several notches down. A retired professor in Punjab demanded the removal of Modi’s photo from Covid vaccination certificates. In the south these certificates did not carry Modi pictures. Obviously the Big Man knew that South India was not Punjab. The Government’s mishandling of the crisis was noted worldwide. "A lethal, fast-paced second wave has brought India’s health care systems to the verge of collapse" said the director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics in Washington (who happens to be a man of Indian origin). He went on to say: "India’s rapid slide into this unprecedented crisis is a direct result of complacency and lack of preparation by the Government." Saying that India is now a living hell, The Guardian said Modi "should make amends for mistakes that have caused enormous suffering." The Australian newspaper said: "Arrogance, hypernationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis of epic proportions." Radio France was more downright. It said: "Health has collapsed in India. The main culprit is Narendra Modi."

Modi had the thick skin to claim that India was doing better than others in fighting Covid. Actually India was lagging behind as a direct result of official negligence. In 2020 India was the third highest in the world on Covid count and the lowest in testing. In Delhi a woman went from place to place looking for oxygen for her brother. No one helped and he died. The women cried out helplessly, before cameras: "Modi. Delhi Government. Who will reply? This Modi. For what did he take my vote? Why is he destroying the country?"

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