When leaders set bad examples

Photographs of the morning feasts, released to inspire citizens, showed close intermixing of our elected leaders.

Published: 29th March 2020 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2020 08:04 AM   |  A+A-

President Ram Nath Kovind

President Ram Nath Kovind (File Photo | PTI)

It is easy to proclaim a strict three-week lockdown, ordering everyone to stay indoors; easier still when the order-givers do not care about implementation details — contingency provision to ensure that life goes on, that the needy go to hospitals, that the poor manage to eat. In some cities 15,000 litres of milk and 11,000 kg vegetables/fruit were destroyed in one day as they could not be distributed. But Bengaluru, despite being completely shut, saw milk distributed.

Where’s the bungling? The solitary good news is that all government-run quarantine centres in the country have been supplied with copies of the Prime Minister’s speeches as reading material for patients. However, some bad examples set by leaders have been adding to the mess. Right in the middle of this crisis month of March, the first citizen of India, President Ram Nath Kovind, was busy with breakfast programmes for members of Parliament. One day, South Indian MPs were given the Rashtrapati Bhavan mega breakfast. Another day, MPs from UP and Rajasthan had the privilege. By Rashtrapati Bhavan’s usual banquet style, a breakfast means 90 men and women getting together and interacting with one another at close quarters. It is the opposite of social distancing. Photographs of the morning feasts, released to inspire citizens, showed close intermixing of our elected leaders.

Shashi Tharoor said it was “a very pleasant occasion”. It was also a very unpleasant example set by the President of India and by the country’s MPs. Smriti Irani (highly talented in making any bad situation worse) said that “all protocols were followed”. Did the viruses also follow protocols? Why do our netas make things worse? There was supreme irony in the Prime Minister’s call for applauding health workers. Yet another public relations extravaganza, it led to complete disregard of the basic principles of avoiding crowds. Large gatherings danced in the streets, making noise by clanging kitchen utensils and flaunting the national flag as proof of their bonafides.

The mass celebration in response to Modiji’s call was the antithesis of what the corona situation demanded. When social distancing is the order of the day, political leaders promote social mingling. Uttar Pradesh showed how irresponsible this could get. The chief medical officer of Ayodhya summoned the courage to advice the chief minister against large gatherings. But the BJP stalwart that is Yogi Adityanath put ideology above common sense and announced an all-out celebration of Ram Navami. “Millions of people are likely to attend,” they said proudly. It took pressure from multiple sources for the state government to cancel the Mahotsav festivities. Even when a potential medical calamity threatens the world, leaders think mainly of how it can be used to their advantage. Leaders of some countries inspire. Canada’s Trudeau won applause by speaking to his people candidly and showing that he was in it on behalf of the people, and not for himself.

England’s Boris Johnson is an accidental prime minister who does not inspire his people. Even he got into the swing and told the people, “Stay two metres apart. It’s not such a difficult thing.” But Donald Trump blamed the media for “siding with China” on the issue. As for Indian leaders, why can’t they stop mass gatherings? Why can’t they put off celebrations and so-called patriotic demonstrations in favour of this party or that leader? Why is it that only liquor buyers in India stand in queue with each buyer two metres away from the next? These are trying times when we can only raise questions. Answers must come from those who are supposed to lead us along the right paths.

But they choose the wrong paths in times of crisis. Our only refuge is in the wisdom of those who went ahead of us. I find the thoughts of two men appropriate at this moment. Branko Milanovic says in Foreign Affairs, “The human toll of the disease will be the most important cost and the one that could lead to social disintegration. If more people emerge from the current crisis with neither money nor jobs and if these people become desperate and angry, such scenes as the recent escape of prisoners in Italy or the looting that followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 might become commonplace.” Former IAS officer Jawahar Sircar says, “Amid the national emergency, Modi government has just notified (through a special Gazette of India Extraordinary) the Rs 20,000-crore Recreational, Official and Commercial Development Plan for the Rashtrapati Bhavan area. History will not remember him as a creative Shah Jahan but as a crazy Muhammed bin Tughlaq.”


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  • Truth

    March 13: 3400 people gather at the Nizamuddin markaz as part of a religious gathering March 16: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal announces that no religious
    2 years ago reply
  • Muthukrishnan

    I have consistently seen all the articles of George are only critical of Modi/Govt. He sees nothing good ever. I diligently skip this fellow's articles. There can be articles being critical of the Govt
    2 years ago reply
  • Amar

    Oh Joshua 2 continues its attack!!!!
    2 years ago reply

    Totally unwarranted at this time.
    2 years ago reply
  • a.k.sehanobis

    2 years ago reply
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