One of the hallmarks of the Central government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has been the transparency with which it has been tackling the situation. The Prime Minister, in particular, has been regularly interacting with different groups of people—from the media and government officials, to state representatives and village panchayat heads—over video conferencing. He has also been appearing on television to speak to the country directly. The daily press briefings by government officials on the coronavirus situation in the country has added to this openness, considering no attempt seems to have been made to conceal the fact that the numbers are soaring.
The regular updating of statistics on the Health Ministry website too is helping in curbing the spread of fake news. This is a pleasant surprise, considering communication has been one of the weakest points of this government, both in its first term and second, in spite of having one of the best communicators in the world at the helm—Prime Minister Modi. It is for the lack of communication that the government allowed the narrative over the Citizenship Amendment Act to be hijacked by vested interests. In the process, a whole community fell victim to a terrible campaign of misinformation and disinformation, and was out on the streets, protesting an imaginary situation of statelessness. Apart from the violent fallout of the protests, one of the most tolerant and democratic nations in the world was branded as an Islamophobe and got equated with Hitler’s Germany—which is outrageous.
All this could have been avoided if there had been greater clarity in communication—even a daily press briefing by the concerned ministries would have hammered home the point that no one needed to fear anything about the CAA. But of course the government seems to have learned its lessons from the botched handling of the anti CAA protests, which should explain the current openness—and that’s the way it should be. Responsible governance demands transparency, especially when it comes to controlling the spread of Covid-19, and this is largely being followed by most state governments. In this context, it’s sad that Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal government made opacity and obfuscation the cornerstone of its anti-corona policy, and it was only after harsh warnings from the Centre that it got active in real terms. The damage, meanwhile, has been done and there is no knowing, as of now, how this weak link will jeopardize India’s fight against the pandemic. If India has to win this war, it must fight together, rising above politics, and transparency is one of the most potent weapons in its armoury to this end. Joyeeta Basu