Not just Modi but Hindutva too failed India during Covid crisis

It is not just Modi’s unilateralism and centralization of powers that are responsible for the Covid calamity. Hindutva is the bigger culprit

Ravi Shanker Kapoor |

Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

While most of the domestic mainstream journalists are muted in slamming the Narendra Modi government’s pathetic response to the corona crisis (thus many of them earning the epithet of ‘godi media’), the international media is not constrained in their criticism of his regime. Even the medical journal Lancet has denounced the government for having “squandered” its early success in checking Covid-19.

“Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable,” The Lancet said. It added, “India squandered its early successes in controlling Covid-19. Until April, the government’s Covid-19 taskforce had not met in months. The consequences of that decision are clear before us, and India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages.”

That governance under Modi is over-centralized is self-evident. Then there are other issues—his unilateral (often whimsical) decision making, his penchant for events and jamborees, his love for grandeur, the ruling dispensation’s almost entire focus on fighting and winning elections, a perverse obsession with realpolitik and the concomitant disregard for propriety and morality.

The result: devastation caused by the second corona wave, with casualties mounting and patients running from hospital to hospital. Everything that could have gone wrong has, thanks to Modi’s monumental incompetence. His incompetence, however, should not be treated as a personal matter; indeed it is the abject failure of the ideology and the movement he represents and, to some extent, personifies: Hindutva or Hindu nationalism.

This ideology did not bring forth what is best in Hinduism; instead it crystallized into a hodgepodge of false premises, unsound theses, outlandish doctrines, cow worship, and hatred for Muslims. One word that describes it perfectly is obscurantism.

In a 2017 article (https://www.thehinduchronicle.com/2017/04/pseudoscience-vastu-get-legitimacy/), I wrote, “That the government run by the biggest Hindu nationalist party would glorify the country’s [past] achievements is a given; what is objectionable is its bid to [glorify] all aspects of Hindu India, including what is rotten. Superstitions, pseudoscience, elaborate rituals, excessive religiosity, taboos like the one on sea voyage, etc., have been the bane of our country since time immemorial. These were the factors that made us so weak that we were ruled by foreigners for centuries in the first place. To glorify everything Hindu just because our ancestors practiced them is downright stupid.”

Further, I wrote, “Hindu nationalists lack discernment; they can’t tell a real attainment from blight. They don’t seem to be interested in scientists like Aryabhatta and Varahmihir, in litterateurs like Kalidas and Shudrak, and in the philosophies of various schools; they are only focused on pseudoscience. Today they are keen on Vastu. A few years ago, they wanted to promote astrology.”

In June 2000, the then human resource development ministry Murli Manohar Joshi had mooted the idea of introducing Vedic astrology courses in higher institutions.

Hindutva becoming obscurantism is not an accident; the kind of people who nurtured it—the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, etc.—were never big admirers of the universal ideas like individual liberty and limited government. They regarded modern ideas and values as Western and thus of dubitable genuineness. Now whichever group—fascists, Nazis, communists, socialists—discarded the Western Enlightenment values ended up triggering chaos and worse; Hindutva champions are no exception.

It needs to be mentioned here that the ecosystem they created could not have done any better against the Covid crisis. These folks believe that everything that has been invented was actually invented five thousand years ago by Hindus; such claims are regularly made by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.

This explains the voodoo response to the coronavirus: remember taali bajao-diya jalao? Combined with ignorance and superstition—the Uttarakhand Chief Minister saying that Mother Ganga’s blessings will take care of the virus—it caused immense damage.

And, of course, then there was a stubborn adherence to the discredited ideologies of Swadeshi and socialism which hopelessly delayed, if not derailed, mass vaccination (https://www.thehinduchronicle.com/2021/04/like-nazi-germany-india-also-has-ss-socialism-and-swadeshi/). Such is the stubbornness of Modi and other Hindutva champions that they can’t shed their shibboleths in dire emergencies.

In a nutshell, it is not just Modi’s unilateralism and centralization of powers that are responsible for the Covid calamity; the ecosystem—whose product and function he is—is the bigger culprit.

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