Political class losing standing during COVID-19?

Political class undermining its reputation further during COVID-19?

The kind of bickering that is happening must sound tragic to the ears of people who are suffering

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. (Credit: PTI Photos)

A crisis of a century, like the COVID-19 pandemic, gives the leading lights of society, including the political class, a chance to redeem themselves. Over the last 50 years, until when ‘the politician’ still retained some of the esteem earned during the freedom struggle, we have seen a steady erosion in their standing. Over time we have seen corruption, criminalisation and the misuse of power turning ‘the politician’ into a necessary evil. 

The pandemic presented our politicians a great chance to reinvent themselves as responsible, empathetic leaders dedicated to the service of the people. But how have they made use of this opportunity? 

To start with, they failed the millions of migrant labourers and lakhs of others stranded far away from their homes. That the unplanned lockdown has dealt a severe blow to the lives of daily/weekly wage earners goes without saying. But what matters more is what the politicians were doing before the lockdown and during it.

In the initial days of COVID-19, it may be recalled that former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and her parliamentarian son Dushyant Singh were attending parties (after which they had to go for isolation). Then in the middle of the lockdown, a former Prime Minister, H D Deve Gowda, was found busy organising his grandson’s wedding without any regard for the current social reality -- thousands of families have been forced to postpone marriages or making it a truly small affair, not to mention the risks of the event. As far as the norms of physical distancing is concerned, hundreds of videos have emerged showing how politicians are floating them with a sense of impunity.

As if all this was not enough, many political figures are now involved in petty spats, like during normal times. Sonia Gandhi's attack against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claiming the party was focussed more on spreading the 'virus of hate', and the BJP’s reaction to it, claiming she was doing 'cheap politics', is a glaring example of it. Meanwhile, Kapil Sibal has done his best to use the crisis for political advantage by claiming the Citizenship (Amendment) Act-National Register of Citizens (NRC) should now be forgotten as things of the past.

At the state level too, there are many such examples. In the worst hit state of India, Maharashtra, the ruling Shiv Sena mocked its arch rival Raj Thackeray (who for his part demanded opening of liquor shops to augment the revenue of the state), claiming that for Raj a rice plate is as important as a peg. What happened in Bengal was also unwanted and unwarranted. The state witnessed a full-fledged political battle between the governor and the chief minister after the state chief secretary’s unusual attempt to precipitate a crisis during the central team’s visit to the state by saying that it will not be allowed to move around.

Without going into the details, we may take note of the sharp political content of the letters shot by the governor and the CM, all in the name of combating the situation. After initial criticisms coming regularly from the governor, Mamata Banerjee dashed off a letter that reminded the governor that he was ‘nominated’ while the CM was constitutionally ‘elected’, and also took exception to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s ‘tone, tenor and language’. Dhankhar reacted by tweeting that the 'state and people cannot be made to suffer at the hands of those who compromise constitutional prescriptions'. Then in his letter to the chief minister, the governor alleged that she was violating Articles 166 and 167 of the Constitution.

We will not go into who is right and who is wrong in the case of Bengal, in the case of Maharashtra (where former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis too has attacked the government for lacking in coordination), or at the national level, for this not the time for it. But we need to point out that this kind of bickering must be sounding tragic to the ears of people who are suffering.

The attitude and mentality of the political class across party lines is further eroding the prestige of ‘the politician’. It is high time the political class realises that they are committing harakiri.

(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of books including, A Naxal Story. He is a deputy editor at the Bengali daily, Aajkal) 

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.