It’s complacency, not conspiracy

RSS general secy’s remarks will only encourage a culture of evading responsibility

It’s complacency, not conspiracy

IN DENIAL: Whatever be Hosabale’s belief, the fact is that people have begun to distrust the State which has let them down. PTI

Manoj Joshi

Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation

The statement issued by RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale cautioning that ‘destructive anti-Bharat forces’ could exploit the second Covid wave to ‘create an atmosphere of negativity and distrust’ is, to put it politely, tone-deaf. Just what he means about being ‘cautious of conspiracies of these destructive forces’ is not clear, unless he is pointing fingers at those who are criticising the handling of the pandemic by the government.

The Sangh Parivar will be the net loser in trying to push critics of the government’s ineptitude into the category of anti-nationals.

There is no doubt that we confront an extremely serious crisis that has bred an atmosphere, to use his own words, ‘negativity and distrust’. But what did he expect? People are right now running from pillar to post for oxygen cylinders, keeping relatives alive in makeshift gurneys outside hospitals and cremating their loved ones post-haste in makeshift crematoriums.

They are in a negative mood, and yes, they have begun to distrust the State which has let them down. Hosabale’s response to all this seems to focus more on what ‘anti-Bharat forces’ may be up to rather than the travails of the ‘Bharat vasis’. All this is even more remarkable because Hosabale (67) has an ABVP background and is well educated and was expected to be a modernising force in the outfit since he is one of the few in the higher echelons of the outfit to have worked in a front organisation like the ABVP.

Instead of worrying about destructive anti-Bharat forces that could take advantage of the situation, Hosabale would have done signal service if he had led the process of introspection as to where things went wrong. The RSS has a big equity in the BJP government. It is perhaps the only organisation which the government will listen to in the present circumstances. See how Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan fobbed off the advice offered by former PM Manmohan Singh.

Such an exercise would reveal that complacency, bred by overweening arrogance, was the major problem. Responsibility for this rests on both the Union and the state governments, but more on the former because it guides issues under the Disaster Management Act. There must be some explanation as to why the government ‘experts’ did not anticipate this second wave, since such waves were occurring around the world.

It would be evident, too, that there were spectacular acts of carelessness. Running a multi-phase election campaign which featured mass rallies was not the acme of common sense. Hosabale wants people to show ‘self-restraint and discipline’ but that advice could have been better directed to PM Modi and Home Minister Shah’s electioneering. As for the states, Uttarakhand took the prize in permitting the Kumbh mela. The erstwhile RSS pracharak and CM Tirath Singh Rawat made the extraordinary claim that ‘Ma Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow’ that would protect the devotees. Ganga Ma did not oblige either the devotees or Rawat himself.

Hosabale’s remarks will only encourage a culture of evading responsibility. Some of this extreme attitude can be seen, for example, in the response of UP CM Adityanath to reports that patients and hospitals are struggling to find and maintain oxygen supplies. Reportedly, Adityanath has asked officials to take action under the National Security Act, seize property of people who spread rumours. He has asserted that the problem is not shortage of oxygen, but black marketing and hoarding. All this has an echo to the 1970s when shortages of food and consumer items were ascribed to hoarding. The quality of policing in Adityanath’s bailiwick is evident from the fact that 94 of 120 orders on the NSA were quashed by the Allahabad High Court in the period between January 2018 and December 2020.

A more proactive government could have anticipated the second wave and unrolled a vaccination programme at the highest possible speed. Instead, the government dawdled and diverted the effort by boasting of their success and busying themselves exporting vaccines. The government experts could not have been unaware of the scale of the task the country would have had in vaccinating a country of 1.4 billion.

Yet, no effort was made to put down extra money to speed up things, create more lines for vaccine production and construct storage and distribution networks and oxygen plants. Indeed, Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla was criticised for drawing the attention of the government to the issue of planning and guiding vaccine manufacturers for procurement and distribution of the vaccine. India also did not cater for the possibility that the AstraZeneca vaccine may develop problems and that would have left India high and dry. Ignore for a moment the fiasco about unrolling the indigenous vaccine on August 15.

The US government, for example, put down serious money in six different vaccine projects since early 2020. The sense of purpose has been evident from the fact that it has managed to fully vaccinate 29 per cent of its population so far, while India’s figure is just about 1.6 per cent. Given India’s well-known capacity as a vaccine producer, this should not have been the case. That it happened is an administrative failure.

The Sangh Parivar will be the net loser in trying to push critics of the government’s ineptitude into the category of anti-nationals. It is this kind of attitude that probably led to this crisis in the first place. When you believe that everything that you do is right and all critics are motivated by some sinister desire to undermine you, you are unable to see the problems till they hit you in the face.

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