Who Caused Spurt in Covid-19 cases: Elections, Kumbh or Kisan Agitation?
Of late, a new tirade has been launched to make the present NDA government led by Shri Narender Modi responsible for the latest spurt in the number of Covid-19 patients in the country. They are advancing three main reasons: general elections to five State assemblies whose five-year term was expiring in May this year, elections to panchayats in some states, and the Kumbh mela.
Modi baiters now advance the argument that in view of the Covid-19 pandemic general elections to four states and one union territory should have been avoided. They seem to ignore the provision of Article 172 of the Constitution which provides that “(1) Every Legislative Assembly of every State, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer and the expiration of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of the Assembly”.
Article 324 vests in the Election Commission (EC) the responsibility of “superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President held under this Constitution”.
Clause (4) of the same Article further stipulates: “Before each general election to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of each State,…….the President may also appoint after consultation with the Election Commission such Regional Commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the Election Commission in the performance of the functions conferred on the Commission by clause (1).
NO ROLE FOR UNION GOVERNMENT
Provisions of the Constitution make it clear that the Central Government has nothing to do with the way, when and how the elections should be conducted. It is the prerogative of the EC alone. For performing its duty to ensure a free and fair election the EC, election commissioners and its officials make a number of visits to the state(s) where elections are due. Meetings with the political parties in the state are also held to have their views in the matter. The Central government comes into picture only if and when EC thinks the deployment of central forces is vital for the conduct of free, fair and peaceful election without a sense of fear among the electorate.
The Covid protocol was already in force in the states going to the poll when EC announced the election schedule and enforcement of Model Code of Conduct for political parties. The political parties and the general public were expected to comply with the protocol during this time too. Neither the EC nor the ruling party at that time held the protocol — wearing of mask, maintaining a six feet distance with others and frequently washing hands — in abeyance during the period of elections.
To raise a finger at the elections for the spurt in corona cases amounts to excusing the failure of the political parties of their simultaneous duty towards fighting the virus. Does the election time make the citizens oblivious of their duty towards the family, the society and the nation? In fact some political leaders are trying to compensate their failure to win the support of the electorate with mud-slinging on the issue of spread of corona virus.
Since the term of the five state assemblies was nearing the end, the EC was bound by the Constitution to hold elections to ensure that the new assemblies were constituted in time. In the absence of any political party demanding postponement of elections, how could the EC or the Union government move on their own to postpone the elections. If this had to be done, it could only have been done either by dissolving the state assemblies and imposing Presidents’ Rule or by extending the term of the present assemblies. In every option consent of other parties was needed in Parliament. How could the support of political parties be taken for granted?
In that case the Modi government would have been accused of partiality and helping one or the other parties in power at that time.
Had the people on their part performed their duty to religiously abide by the Covid protocol, there would have been no need for the state governments to re-impose lockdown or curfew, as they had to do at present. There were leaders who first condemned the lockdown and when it was withdrawn, they shouted why was it done. Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on record having opposed the demand for lockdown on May 5 and demanded its imposition the very next day.
On our part, we are derelict in the performance of our duty towards the society and the nation. In fact, we take pride in defying the law. More than 3 lakhs of our fellow citizens have fallen victim to this virus. Yet we are not faithfully abiding by the Corona protocol.
According to a latest report released in the third week of May, 50 percent of Indians do not wear mask at all. Of these 50 percent who wear it, 64 percent of them do not wear it properly, meaning they hang it over their chin and do not cover their nose which they should. That means only 18 percent of Indian citizens wear it properly. And then we have the cheek to hold the government responsible for the misery the nation is passing through.
In the world’s oldest democracy, USA, elections for the office of President were due in November 2020. The news about the havoc Covid-19 was unleashing the country over-shadowed the news about the progress of election campaign. There were even voices for postponing the election.USA was leading the world in the matter of more and more people getting infected and succumbing to the pandemic. Yet in that very critical situation democracy won and not the Covid. USA went through the election process and voted for its new President.
Much is also being made of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. First, it needs to be understood that no Mela — and for that matter, the Kumbh Mela — is organized by any social or religious organization, and least of all, any government. This is being held since times immemorial. What the government does is only to take steps needed for a smooth and orderly holding of these melas. Last time it was held in Allahabad when in UP the ‘secular’ government of Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav was in power. Azam Khan, the then Minister in Yadav ministry was incharge of the arrangements. One could see advertisement in newspapers and big hoardings with photographs of the then CM and the Minister welcoming the people.
An anecdote in this connection is relevant. Seeing lakhs of people gathered to take a dip in the holy Ganga during the Kumbh, the then Viceroy of India said to Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya: You must be having to spend enormous money to gather so many people for the Kumbh. Panditi told the Viceroy: Sir, only an aanna (six paisa today). Amazed, the Viceroy asked: What do you mean? Panditi explained calmly: That is the cost of the Jantri today. It is mentioned there when will the Kumbh be celebrated and people assemble at their own will.
Kumbh is much more different from other melas and celebrations like the Navratras, Amarnath Yatra, Chardham Yatra, and Kailash Mansrovar Yatra, Ganesh Utsav, Durga Puja, etc. Except for Navratras which are held twice a year, all are annual events. Kumbh comes after 12 years and Ardh-Kumbh after six years.
Our elders tell us that in olden times when means of communication, roads, trains and buses were scarce, people who wished to go to Kumbh or Chardham yatra would meet all their relatives and friends before launching upon their mission saying they may or may not return alive as it took 2 to 5-6 months to return back. Some really did not return because if they fell ill there was none to look after and give medicines they needed to cure them. Yet, it was their religious sentiment to have a dip in the holy Ganga that the trials and travails that lay in the journey did not deter them from this arduous mission.
If a person as old as 70 or more wishes to take a dip in Ganga during Kumbh he will not deter from doing so because of Covid as by the next Kumbh he would be more than 82 and there is no guarantee that he would live till that time. His sentiment to go now will further strengthen his determination. So, we need to appreciate the strength of his wish.
It is about six months that many kisan organizations, mainly from the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP, are sitting on dharna on the national highways leading to the national capital, New Delhi. They have never observed the Covid protocol of wearing mask and maintaining two yards social distancing. They have even refused to get vaccinated. A few days of the Kumbh makes our ‘secular-liberal’ intelligentsia, some in the media and political parties cried hoarse that the Mela has spread Covid-19 in the country. But chained by political and electoral considerations these gentlemen have turned blind, deaf and dumb to the role of kisan dharnas contributing to the spike in Corona pandemic. The states of Punjab, Haryana. Rajasthan and UP, in fact, owe the spurt in the virus to farmers who keep returning to their villages and then going back to the dharna sites.
That speaks volumes for the hypocrisy of our intelligentsia and a section of the media.
By Amba Charan Vashishth
(The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator.)