Every general election is usually pitched by contesting parties as “one of the most important polls of our lifetimes”. Grandiose statements are made. There are war cries all around which tell us how it’s a battle between good and evil. And the leaders of chief political parties are projected as the messiahs who will save the country from utter ruin that would surely follow if the other guy gets the job.
2019 was no different. Congress party brandished the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as harmful to the diversity of the country. The BJP painted Congress as a party filled with anti-Hindu and anti-national elements.
The then national president of the BJP Amit Shah likened the 2019 polls to “third battle of Panipat” which the indigenous Marathas lost to Ahmed Shah Abdali, a foreign invader from Afghanistan. The party’s supporters said it was not just an election but a civilisational battle.
It’s the latter whose narrative triumphed.
And the BJP has delivered in spades on the civilisational agenda. All the roadblocks for Ram Mandir construction are now removed and a grand temple will soon come up in Ayodhya. Decades long nationalist demand for abrogation of divisive Article 370 which promoted successionism in the Kashmir valley is fulfilled. Baby steps (outlawing triple talaq) are being taken towards a Uniform Civil Code.
Resolving these pending issues was a phenomenal achievement with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi kept his promise not only to his core voters but to the lakhs of party workers and elders who worked hard to achieve these goals.
These were the initial indicators of why the 2019 election was the most important election of our lifetimes. But the way PM Modi has handled the Covid-19 pandemic is the final evidence we need to conclusively conclude that that was not an understatement.
Neither the hardcore supporters of the saffron party nor the neutral, apolitical, non-traditional vote bank which sided with the BJP would’ve thought that their decision to elect Modi may prove to be one of the most crucial political decisions they make.
In fact, for thousands – especially old and those with preexisting health conditions, voting for him could ultimately prove to be the reason why they would be alive rather than dead. Of course, it would also be true for thousands who didn’t vote for him.
It’s too early to declare victory in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. But one can’t help but already see the importance of timely and decisive actions taken by the government.
The first high level meeting on Covid-19 was held by the Prime Minister’s Office on 25 January, five days before the first case of India was reported in Kerala on 30 January. Two more cases came in quick succession and all were imports.
The government’s first travel advisory for travellers coming from China had come on 17 January. To put this in context, the World Health Organisation was telling the world on 14 January that there was no evidence of human to human transmission of Covid-19.
On 26 February, when India still had no case and all the previous three from Kerala had got discharged, it issued another advisory stating that everyone coming from China will be quarantined and people returning from South Korea, Iran and Italy or having history of travel to these countries may be quarantined for 14 days on arrival to India.
On 2 March, in a fresh advisory, the government stated that anyone coming from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan will be quarantined. That day, India had only two active cases.
On 11 March, when India had only 70 cases and the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the government declared that anyone coming from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15th February, 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.
On 15 March, the WHO declared Europe as the new epicentre for Covid-19. Next day, the government banned all flights from Europe and Turkey.
India effectively came under nationwide lockdown starting 22 March and all international flights were banned and Indian Railways stopped operations from the next day. At this juncture, India had less than 400 cases.
The point is, India has been way ahead of any other country in the world in announcing travel advisories regarding temperature screening, quarantining and banning flights when the number of reported cases were so few.
Now, the compulsive and professional critics of the government can still find faults with such strict and early measures taken by the government but that would be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Nonetheless, more than anything, announcing nationwide lockdown was the toughest and most important decision Modi has taken so far in this fight. And it was taken when India had only 500 odd cases.
But most critics, be it in intellectual or political circles, lambasted the prime minister for imposing the lockdown in one go and not allowing millions of migrants to take busses and trains to go to their native places.
If Modi had lost the election last year, it’s most likely, some of these critics (which involve PM-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi) would’ve been in power.
Now imagine this. If the prime minister were to follow the advice of his critics and give even a couple of days’ window to everyone to travel and go to their native places after announcing a three week lockdown.
Even without that, we have reached from 500 to 5,000 cases in two weeks. That’s the situation when the whole country is forced to follow strict social distancing.
What would’ve happened if Modi’s critics were in power? One can only shudder to think.
All the Tablighi Jamaat members, all 2,300 of them, would’ve fanned out in different parts of the country taking the infection to each and every corner. They would’ve started community transmission by now and instead of 5,000, we would be at 50,000 cases (growing exponentially each day) with hundreds of more deaths with no resources to contain the outbreak or treat the sick.
Tablighi Jamaat would’ve been responsible for the dance of death in India and no one would’ve been able to trace it back to them.
If that didn’t happen, Indians have only Modi’s assertive leadership to thank for. Even a couple of days of window has made the difference between life and death of thousands of people. And it’s the poor who would’ve suffered disproportionately.
For most Indians, the 2019 general election was and will probably remain the most important election of their lifetimes.
Elections matter. Vote wisely.