CJ Werleman explores how the gross mismanagement of the Coronavirus’ second wave in India may have created serious problems for Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-populist Government

Donald Trump lost the 2020 US Presidential Election not for his racism, xenophobia or corruption but because of his mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic. People in 10 crucial battleground states rated concerns about the virus as their number one voting issue, according to a 27-page post-election autopsy completed by his campaign’s top pollster.

Trump’s downplaying of the virus and premature boasts of having secured victory over the pandemic, along with his spreading of misinformation regarding masks, cures and social distancing – as new daily cases and death counts rocketed – not only brought an end to his presidency, but also placed a major dent in the appeal of right-wing, nationalist-populist rhetoric.

A majority of Americans began connecting the dots between right-wing populism – or rather a more polite form of white nationalism – and the country’s COVID-19 catastrophe, which has now cost almost 600,000 lives in the US.

With India surpassing 20 million cases of the virus, questions are being raised as to whether the Indian Government’s almost criminal mishandling of the pandemic spells the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government and the Hindutva ideology that swept him and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in 2014 and again in 2019.

The international media has not held back in holding the nationalist-populist Modi Government directly responsible for what has been described by many as a “crime against humanity”, with epidemiologists warning that the actual number of cases and deaths in the country are as much as 10 times greater than reported.

“Arrogance and hyper-nationalism have created this crisis,” observed The Australian. “More inclined to self-celebration than to protect populations, Modi only aggravated the situation,” said the France’s Le Monde. “The Indian Prime Minister’s over-confidence lies behind the country’s disastrous COVID-19 response,” noted The Guardian. “The Government waited eight months after the pandemic began to invite bids for oxygen generation systems, most still aren’t up running,” reported Time magazine.

The result of the Indian Government’s arrogance, malfeasance and incompetence – along with its hostility towards science, facts and foreign humanitarian assistance – has left a nation left choking to death in the streets, graveyards piled with dead bodies and smoke from crematoriums blurring city skylines. 

Problems at Home and Abroad

Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist tiger he rides upon are concerned with eliminating people – specifically religious minorities – rather than caring for people.

The project to transform India into a Hindu rashtra (nation) has downgraded the country’s democracy and put it on a path to one-party autocratic rule, with Modi’s face and name plastered on every bus, train, building and cricket stadium.

Only a small number of countries in the world have named a stadium in honour of its leader, including: Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, and now Narendra Modi’s India. Earlier this year, the Motera Stadium in Delhi was renamed Narendra Modi Stadium.

But, after seven years as leader of the world’s largest democracy – if India can still be called that – Modi’s ultra-nationalist Hindutva agenda, including his aim of making the country a vishwaguru (master of the world) – “now lies in tatters”, according to many observers, including Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at India’s Centre For Policy Research.

That fewer than 2% of the Indian population has been vaccinated against the Coronavirus, despite the fact the country is the world’s largest producer of the COVID-19 vaccine, hasn’t gone unnoticed by its news media or ordinary Indians. Nor has it gone unnoticed that a photo of Modi’s face had been attached to every vaccine package shipped overseas as part of the Government’s foreign policy charm offensive.

In February, Modi boasted that India had “saved mankind” from the Coronavirus, attributing the “glory of winning the fight” against “the unknown enemy” to his Government and leadership.

Now that Modi has turned the country into a COVID hell-scape, his promise to elevate and project India’s prestige and prowess in Asia has been torpedoed. At home, he faces an even bigger setback, demonstrated by the results of this week’s five regional elections, in which voters in West Bengal delivered a stunning rebuke of Modi and the BJP by handing Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) party a decisive victory.

While the BJP fared better in the north-eastern state of Assam, it cannot be overlooked that Akhil Gogoi – who had been held in jail since 2019 on sedition charges stemming from his participation in protests against the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act – won a seat as an independent in which nine out of 10 voters are Hindu, while campaigning against the Act and the National Register of Citizens, both of which unfairly target Muslim migrants.

Even more concerning for the BJP and Hindu nationalism is the fact that a clear majority of voters in all five electoral states blamed the Modi Government for mismanaging the country’s response to COVID-19. Added to this woe is the way in which India’s mainstream media has turned against the Prime Minister, holding him directly responsible for the surge in infections and death.

Suddenly, for the first time in almost a decade, Modi and his Hindutva ideology have lost their aura of invincibility and inevitability. Could its COVID catastrophe save India’s democracy from fascism?


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