Inevitable Blame Game
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
When COVID-19 is at its peak, the nationis also in the midst of a worst blame game never witnessed before.
The Delhi High Court and Madras High Court, hearing separate cases on 29th April, questioned the Centre’s actions during the second wave of the pandemic. The Centre was blamed for short supply of oxygen to Delhi, and lack of planned and informed action in Tamil Nadu by the courts. On 1May,the Delhi High Courtwarned the concerned officials of the central government of contempt proceedings for failure to supply the allocated 490 metric tonnes of oxygen per day. “Water has gone above the head. Enough is enough…We cannot shut our eyes to people dying in Delhi “, the court bluntly said and instructed the Centre to arrange for tankers also.
From the angle of politics, Congress leaderRahul Gandhi alleged that the Centrehad completely failed to understand and tackle the pandemicright from the beginningdespite repeated warnings and accused the government of controlling the truth by manipulating the data –a clear political attack.
The Chief Justice oftheMadras High Court even questioned the Centre what it was doing for the past 12 to 14 months without anticipating the second wave of COVID-19 and getting prepared to face it.The hectic measurestaken whenthe wave is at its peak,were belittled as “adhocism”.
The Election Commission of India has beensingled out as the main culprit forthe outbreak of second wave of COVID-19in Tamil Nadu and Puducherryby the Madras High Court by its failure to enforce pandemic protocols during election campaigns. It blamed the ECI invery strong terms that the Commission “should be put on murder charges”.
It is reported in the press that the court remarked that, “You (ECI) are the onlyinstitution responsible for the situation that we are in today. You havebeen singularly lacking any kind of exercise of authority”, referring particularly to lack of action against political parties holding rallies despite court orders. TheCommission replied that itwasthe responsibilityof State Disaster Management Authority under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and not of the ECI to enforceCOVID-19 instructions.
The remark of the high court is indeed very harsh and difficult to digest particularly in the context of the manner and style of electioneering going on in the country. The responsibilityof partiesand leaders is no less than that of any official authority. Those having ambitions to govern the State also have to set example for others.
The Madras High Court, however,put the blame by oral observation and did not include this in its final order. The Commission didnot fail to point out that the second wave of the pandemic hit the State two weeks after polling.
The CEC appealed to the Supreme Court against the scathing remarkson the performance of the poll body as “uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory”. It questioned whether it was justified in the least for an independent constitutional authority to make allegations against another which would effectively tarnish the image of the latter. The petition asked whether the high court was justified in making the ECI fully responsible for surge in cases. The apex court, however, asked the EC to take the court’s observations in the right spirit.
The State Election Commission in West Bengal provided guidelines for COVID-safe campaign. The EC directed the district machinery vested with election work, responsible for enforcement of laws including the Disaster Management Act to implement and monitor implementation of COVID norms during the campaign and take appropriate action in case of any violation.
Despite rapid surge in the number of COVID cases, political rallies of Prime Minister Modi, Home MinisterAmit Shah, and Chief MinisterMamata Banerjee attracted vast crowds evidently oblivious to the onslaught of a deadly epidemic.In response to deteriorating pandemic crisis and severe criticism from many quarters of flagrantviolationof COVID rules by leaders themselves, several parties including the BJP, TMC, Left Front, and the Congress cancelled rallies in West Bengal. It was on 19th April, when West Bengal reported nearly 20,000 cases and over 50 deaths that the BJP put a limit of 500 people to attend rallies and cancelled road shows where keeping social distancing was impossible.The State reported about 800 cases when first phase of voting took place, and the number increased nearly six times by the fourth phase of polling.
Large social gatherings and religious festivals have also been blamed as super spreaders of the virus, but not at the right time to stop them without any hesitation.There seems to be a common practice in the country to allow events to take place and blame the organisers later. Commercial interests and social enjoyment derived from crowd gathering override invisible health interests. Who can take theblame?
Thus, the Kumbh Mela went on with usual enthusiasm and religious fervour at Haridwar and other holy places en route the Ganga and temple festivals in many States as if life is normal. COVID norms became irrelevant while social-religious events became one’s life mission.
Worse still is the question raised by some — why not religious gatherings when political gatherings are allowed?Evidently, breaking COVID protocolis going on with competitive spirit and as assertion of equal rights.Thrown to the windis the life and livelihood of people. What flourishes is the pandemic andchaos and tension amongpeople. Should not people organising social events and festivals accept the blame for the second wave?
At the same time, people cannot pretend to be meek victims of the faults of others. Their cooperationin adhering to COVID norms is practically nil. Information machinery has been doing a good job of conveying pandemic related developments,the precautions to be taken, the risk in non-compliancewithregulations, etc. Lockdown is not seen as a method of cutting thespeed of the disease, but as an official restriction enforced on their freedom and can be defied if possible. Wanton disregard forrules and regulations normallyseen in traffic regulations is openly seen everywhere. When things go out of control, they are the first to blame others particularly the agencies working day and night.
Pandemics are not routine occurrences to have ready solutions on hand. The whole world is learning about the Coronavirus which is revealing several characteristics one by one. We can only be prepared by remaining alert that the virus will not vanish, but will assume different forms.
A concept in epidemiologyattributesspreadof a disease to”interaction of the agent, host,and environment”. Every individual may be a recipient and carrier of the virus and therefore, mustbe coaxed or forced to adopt appropriate COVID-19 behaviour.
Blame game is a universal phenomenon and is going on at various levels within and between nations.Centre, States, private sector, health personnel, patients and their kin blame one another. It is like lighting cigarettes when the house is on fire.India is facing a crisis of confidence fanned by political rivalry. Unity is the need of the hour. — INFA