Tectonic shift away from Western values
Every cloud does indeed seem to have a silver lining. In spite of the gloom and doom in the country owing to the lockdown in place to battle Covid-19, a section of the sangh parivar is cautiously happy, albeit for a completely different reason. This section feels the contagious coronavirus could distance the middle class from what they call adoration of the Western way of living. The old guards of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had always abhorred anything Western and have unsuccessfully tried telling citizens not to get swayed by it. The saffron brigade feels that the lockdown, forced by the pandemic, has deprived people of engaging in activities like holding parties, eating out and so on which they think are Western imports. The RSS had been lamenting the fact that the traditional joint family system had collapsed and even in nuclear families members were cut off from each other. In fact, it had even appealed to nuclear families to dine together, at least once a week in order to bond. A section of the RSS is thus happy that the lockdown has created a situation where families have very little option but to interact with other members. The re-telecast of serials like Ramayana and Mahabharata were also pushed with the same thinking. The saffron family feels that this way, especially the middle class, would be able to connect to and appreciate what they call Bharatiya sanskriti. Another section of the parivar, however, feels that Ramayana and Mahabharata may not succeed since, in the age of internet, people have multiple options of entertainment like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
While some politicians would go to any length for self-publicity, there are leaders like Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan, who shy away from taking credit even for genuinely good work. Gehlot refused to encash on the excellent work done in Bhilwara even as the success in containing the coronavirus there has become a national story. He let the Bhilwara administration take the credit. Gehlot went a step further by banning videography and selfies of donations and distribution of relief material since many people were using the philanthropic exercise for self-promotion. This is in stark contrast to the spectacle of BJP chief, JP Nadda, handing over 10 tiny packets of food to policemen that was watched by the nation.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been pushing Congress-ruled states to ensure that poor people are fed and looked after as much as possible; the Indian Youth Congress even installed a roti-making machine at its headquarters which produces 1,000 flat breads in an hour. Punjab which has a huge migrant labour presence didn’t witness any exodus even as millions of people were frantically trying to reach home by any mode of transport or on foot from different parts of the country because the state government there ensured that everybody is fed. Both Punjab and Rajasthan Police are engaged these days in distribution of dry ration. Actions speak louder than words, or pots and pans.
The Grand Old Party finally seems to be doing something right. Businessmen across the country are impressed by the Congress’s proposal for advance payment of 70 per cent of the salary bill of the micro, small and medium enterprises for three months by the Central government. Many businessmen running MSMEs have been calling Congress leaders and lamenting that the government has not been doing anything. “We didn’t know the Congress has made such a proposal; media doesn’t show these vital details. We have paid the March salaries to the employees without work but most of us may not be able to pay the next month. The workers will get into deeper distress,” one businessman told a former Union minister.
He also condemned the associations and federations of businesses that do not have the courage to speak the truth in front of the government. “Most office-bearers chant Modi-Modi and indulge in sycophancy to extract benefits for themselves. They should have clearly backed the Congress demand and pressurized the government to bear the salary burden of MSMEs,” the businessman said. Some top industrialists have also been privately telling Congress leaders that the miserable state of economy in the pre-coronavirus phase had broken the backbone of businesses, leaving them especially vulnerable in this crisis. Can this crisis be a turning point in more ways than one?
Keeping pace with a veteran can be difficult. The chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, has been meeting the media every day since the outbreak of Covid-19. This is the same strategy that he adopted during the two floods in 2018 and 2019 respectively and even during the Nipah outbreak.
But somehow Congress leaders haven’t been able to take this in their stride. Instead, state Congress leaders have been talking to media more often than before, as if they were trying to catch up on airtime.