What will Modi do now?

Just when the economy was in a nosedive came the pandemic, inviting a lockdown which has devastated it further, writes Saeed Naqvi

What will Modi do now?
A piquant picture of the post-pandemic world appeared in the spa town of Lazne Bohdanec east of Prague, when Czech police patrol ordered a bevy of committed nudists to “cover up” – with face masks, the new fig leaf. The police penetration of their idyllic parks has caused deep consternation: nudism brought them close to nature, of course, but also helped them tan. The latter objective stands compromised because of the pigmentation difference between the masked and unmasked parts of the body.

The minor turbulence in nudist parks, notwithstanding, the Czech Republic, indeed, countries of Eastern Europe, are feeling a little more satisfied than their West European cousins in the way they have controlled coronavirus. There is intense debate that borders between nations be sealed for longer than was imagined. Balkanization of Europe is, therefore, on the cards. There is, in Hungary, that looming figure of strongman Viktor Orban, causing a flutter in libertarian hearts because he accords efficiency with an iron fist precedence over freedom. He calls his system “illiberal democracy.” Does Modi’s state also qualify for such a change in name?

It would be disingenuous to hint that our very own Modi takes notes from Orban at dictation speed. There is just a coincidence:

In form and feature, face and limb

I grew so like the Hungarian

That folks went taking me for him

Though I’m a vegetarian

Yes, the manner in which Orban has consolidated power in the guise of fighting the Coronavirus bears resemblance. Orban has appropriated emergency powers for good; there is, on the other hand, no “declared” emergency in India. The prime minister does not need a formal emergency. His hold on the people is absolute. Can Orban, or any strongman anywhere in the world, bring the nation to its balconies beating pots and pans? Modi created the thousands of years old festival of Diwali lights in his very own image.

There could be some similarity with Orban in the way medics in the battle against coronavirus are being protected. Any interference with epidemiological isolation will attract a six year imprisonment in Hungary. Modi, in his ordinance, has gone one better: there will be a seven-year jail and Rs50,00,000 fine if anti-corona doctors are obstructed.

The perverse will say Modi is blessed with luck. Just when the economy was in a nosedive came the pandemic, inviting a lockdown which has devastated the economy. The historian, like the godi (lapdog) media, will explain away record unemployment and looming hunger, on the virus.

Ek na shud, do shud, goes the Persian saying, which means: the second has come as if one were not enough. Modi has been gifted with more grist to his mill of communalism.

The international “markaz” or the centre of Tableeghi Jamaat, a Muslim reform moment, headquartered in Nizamuddin, erupted last month with cases of coronavirus. Tableeghis from a dozen or so countries held a seminar on their mission. They are an innocuous group: they do not convert, nor do they preach jehad. But in their appearance they look like the two groups. A world in the grip of post-9/11 Islamophobia must have found the tableeghis as Godsend sources of information.

One has to fall back on the testimony of Shishir Gupta of Hindustan Times. According to him, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited the Markaz on March 28, strangely, at 2am to meet Chief of Jamaat Maulana Saad Khandalwi. The maulana is since, either missing or in a Saharanpur safe haven.

As a result of this summit, all the six to eight floors (only deep insiders have been to the highest floor) of the Markaz have been cleared of devotees. During peak season, the Markaz can accommodate 10,000 devotees. During the conference in early March there were 6,000 tableeghis in the Markaz.

A question the media has chosen not to ask: which official agency has, over the years, given permission to the Jamaat to build floors upon floors of structures which are brazenly illegal? Two floors were added in the past two years. This, when the Nizamuddin Police Station shares a wall with the Markaz. Nor does the archeological survey show any interest in recovering Ghayasuddin Balban’s Palace, the earliest such building in the area, which the tableeghis have encroached. It is an interesting aside that the Nizamuddin basti, its social texture, totally divorced from the tableeghis, has not reported a single case of the virus.

It cannot be denied that infected tableeghis somewhat stupidly travelled in all directions – Andaman and Nicobar, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kashmir and so on.

Meanwhile, what is one to make of the BJP leadership accelerating cases under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act – Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Omar Khalid and Jamia Students associated with the anti-CAA agitation which ballooned into the Shaheen Bagh movement. One had somehow, naively maybe, expected a more cooperative post-corona atmosphere. A more confrontational one is swimming into ones ken.

All of this is happening at a time when the lockdown is increasingly in bad odour. Experts like Dr Satyaprakash Muliyil, former principal of Vellore Medical College, Dr Mathew Varghese of St. Stephen’s Hospital and Professor Johan Griesecke, an internationally-recognized Swedish expert, have been advocating: “herd immunity” as the preferred option. The theory being that the coronavirus has come to stay, just as dengue and chikungunya have become unfortunate parts of our lives.

What does Modi do now? Does he lift the lockdown and face attending risks? A spike in cases and he will face the flak. If there is a no spike, the decision to have locked down will begin to look like a government-made-economic disaster. In any case, when and how does the lockdown end?

Has Veer Abhimanyu entered the Chakravyuh and there is no Arjun or Krishna to guide him out of it?

The writer is a journalist based in India

The writer is a journalist based in India.