Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon


Political leadership and the higher echelons of bureaucracy have forsaken their responsibilities to the nation and the people

Two major decisions may turn out to be deflators to India’s fight against the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. One can foresee that the blame game will find the ‘people’ at fault. Authorities who approved the holding of the Kumbh Mela and the election rallies across the country will bear no responsibility because attribution of their effects on the spread of Covid-19 will remain debatable.

The holding of the Kumbh Mela despite indications of the arrival of the second wave is intriguing and unjustifiable. This is a decision, the strategic effects of which could be to diminish our economic progress to an unknown degree. When one applies the philosophical tool, Hanlon’s Razor, to the decision, it reveals that decision-makers are not stupid, they simply might have abdicated responsibility to a higher force we all call God. The principle of Hanlon’s Razor is simple: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Let us for a moment agree that in assessing someone’s actions, we should not assume a negative intent if there is a viable alternative explanation, such as different beliefs, incompetence or ignorance. In any case, the Hindu divinities and electoral compulsions seemed far too powerful for the authorities to resist. They chose to close their eyes to the real dangers of lakhs of people gathering in the midst of an uncontrollable pandemic.

Religious and electoral activities were allowed and the lives of people have been put at grave risk. Political leadership and the higher echelons of bureaucracy have forsaken their responsibilities to the nation and the people.

Contrast the above two decisions with the decision to postpone the crucial Class XII exams. Overlooking the logistics of the operations, the schools being shut, the precautions of social distancing could possibly have been enforced in dispersed locations across the country. The outcome is that millions of children, parents and teachers have been plunged into mental turmoil.

The difference in standards being applied is glaring. Cut to a year ago, the treatment meted out to the Tabligh-e-Jamaat gathering stands out in comparison with the Kumbh Mela where the government itself is complicit by way of being the organiser-in-chief. Of course, it is all in the name of the gods, particularly the Hindu gods. In the election campaigns, too, gods and overt and covert calls to religious majoritarianism are holding the centre stage. Sadly, communalism is the currency of electoral power in India.

The blind faith of the people in God is now accompanied by blind faith in India’s most popular leader of contemporary times: Narendra Modi. The force that has emerged has only grown from strength to strength. Power is exercised over people without checks and balances of institutional arbitration.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been empowered by Parliament to take measures that could have stopped the Kumbh congregation and the gatherings at the election rallies. But the NDMA is headed by the prime minister himself and is administered under the Home Ministry. The other members of the NDMA have preferred silence and kept their jobs. The EC, a supposedly independent agency, has exhibited an increased proclivity for bias towards the ruling party.

Bihar polls

The totally unnecessary eight rounds of polling in West Bengal are illustrative of this submissiveness. The fact that the EC sneaked through the Bihar elections in November 2020 without too many problems might have contributed to the foolish confidence in its own capabilities which were then widely hailed. Just a glance at what is happening in the US and Europe should have opened their eyes to the catastrophes of the pandemic.

Power loves sycophancy. Sycophants prefer to tuck their tails behind blind faith and self-preservation. Serious doubts have arisen about the independence of key institutions including the top judiciary. Covid has exposed India’s leaning towards a Hindu majoritarian agenda. Leaders respond to it and often forget that they are merely reaping the benefits of the seeds of polarisation sown in the past. Since constitutional propriety is no more an insurmountable hurdle, religious mascots are having a free run. Social stability is being increasingly weakened with religious polarisation.

However, it is never too late to reverse the course. It can be done if the most popular leader wants to. The PM, enjoying the trust of the majority, is perched on a high peak of popularity. Soon, the election results will be out. It might be useful here to recall an old Roman phrase: Memento Modi, in Latin that translates to “Remember that you must die.” It was not intended to be morbid or dark; rather, to clarify, illuminate, and inspire.

The phrase is believed to have originated in the Roman Empire. After military victories, the heroes were paraded through the streets on chariots. Then, the Romans would place one person in the chariot whose sole responsibility was to whisper in the hero’s ear throughout the parade. “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!” Translation: “Look behind. Remember thou art mortal. Remember that you must die!”.

Memento Modi served as a tool to invoke humility in moments of glory. It can also serve as a tool for providing clarity. For the winners of the election, this is not the time to celebrate. The political leadership must ensure that victory is taken in their stride. They must in all humility be guided by their inner voice as conveyed by the phrase Memento Modi. Dedicated service for the upliftment of our nation from its present state of morals and national reconstruction must remain our topmost priority for a long time to come.