Will Covid-19 epidemic sway India’s political narrative?

Migrants, with their belongings, going back to their native places.

Lockdown may have opened but the figures are still rising. Delhi alone is seeing a rise of an average of 2,000 cases daily ranging from 1,800 to 2,800 a day. But as the country opens up, there seems to be a certain devilmay-care attitude prevailing where a population fed up of lockdown, job cuts and economic losses is now willing to take the risk, putting livelihoods ahead of lives. Some would say rightly so for the bigger (or as much) danger is from the economy which saw its steepest contraction in four decades, with the GDP going to a minus 23.9 percent.

 Which is perhaps why the government is now pushing for a more aggressive opening up — to restarting the metro, pubs and bars. Interstate movement without special e-permits and passes will also be allowed from 7 September. The timing will always be questioned, did it make sense to lockdown when the virus was just beginning to spread, and open up when the spread is at the highest. At a time when countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are not allowing any one from India to enter and there is speculation that the US could issue the same advisory.

If there was any other Prime Minister in charge, questions would have been raised. But either it is because of the fact that the government at the Centre has successfully managed to deflect the mishandling to the Covid pandemic to the states, or the fact that the PM’s personal goodwill is so strong that it can deflect any criticism, from a badly managed GST, an ill-conceived demonetisation to the now. I would suspect the latter, for no one else can sell a story better than the PM. And with the greatest of aplomb. One only has to take a look at his latest lecture to the US (at the US-India Summit on 3 September) about how India managed the lockdown, “secured its poor and futureproofed its citizens”. All this with the economic statistics staring right back at him.

 Somewhere in the background is a video released by Rahul Gandhi where he talks about how demonetisation is responsible for our current ills as it dealt a death blow to the unorganised sector. For probably the first time, I have heard chatter on my WhatsApp groups that appreciates what Rahul had to say, without anyone adding a “But” in the end. Usually whenever there is any appreciation of Rahul Gandhi, it is always followed by a “But he is an armchair leader”; “but he is inconsistent”; “but he has no leadership experience”. But now this rider was missing. Are people, especially the middle class, willing to overlook these glaring faults in the hunt for an alternative? While not electorally strong, the fickle middle class is an influencer — or “was” an influencer before the Age of Modi. Remember how the Anna Hazare movement saw the downfall of the UPA? Of course, since one is dealing with Modi, all earlier calculations are thrown away for the only one thing you can count on, is that the PM will do the unpredictable, and walk away unscathed.