A culture of impunity lies behind India’s battle with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The perennial problem of VIP culture is no exception in the time of the pandemic. The ingrained red beacons, a blight on the governance and circumventing the policy ailments, are defeating the very purpose of India’s staggering 137 core population’s hope and aspirations for ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. The rhetoric ‘Every Person is Important’ is yet to be realised.
Executing the laws of lockdown, a policeman who stopped a bureaucrat’s vehicle in Jokihat region of Bihar was forced to do 50 sit-ups. There is no action taken so far despite the attention of Bihar Director General of Police. After the violation of congregation of Tabligh Jamaat Markaz at Hazrat Nizamuddin in the national capital, which cascaded numerous infection cases nationwide, above hundred people in a farmhouse near Bengaluru thronged in the wedding of former Prime Minister and JD(S) chief, HD Deve Gowda’s grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy. However, another wedding was dealt with differently where a couple was arrested in Navsari of Gujarat, abiding by the law of the land which is reeling under lockdown. To name a few who violated the law and were arrested were the DHFL promoters.
Again, the Uttar Pradesh Government sent 300 buses to bring back the students stranded in Kota, the hub of coaching in Rajasthan. Articulating the sense of injustice to social distancing, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar reasoned out the inability of migrants’ coming back to their home states. In a heart-wrenching tale, while walking a 150-odd km to her home in Chhattisgarh, the journey of this 12-year-old girl, the lone earning member in the family, ended with her death. The condition of migrant labourers throughout the nation is depressing and seeming to be out of control.
A few days back, an MLA, threw a birthday party in which several people, including children and police, were present. The episode of Baby Doll singer Kanika Kapoor is not forgotten yet. She was booked by the Uttar Pradesh Police for the negligent and malignant act to spread the virus. Eleven cricketers suspected of coronavirus infection fled from a hospital in Mumbai.
A railway official in Bengaluru who concealed the travel history of her son was found corona positive. The medical superintendent of the AIIMS in Bhubaneswar did not disclose his son’s travel history, which caused concern for the Odisha capital. In a similar disgusting fashion, a senior bureaucrat in West Bengal who permitted her England-returned son to commute to several parts of the State despite the medical advice to be quarantined. An FIR was filed against the Telangana Deputy Superintendent and his son for willful negligence.
The defying of lockdown is subjected to a violation of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which can invite imprisonment, or fine, or both. At the same time, the health workers, including doctors, are not adequately equipped with masks and gloves, whereas civil servants are fortified with all sorts’ preventive measures. The government’s attempt in Chandigarh to name and shame the VIPs who violated lockdown laws is vehemently lambasted by the Aam Aadmi Party. This grossly draws scrutiny on how a similar situation is being handled differently.
This largely questions the non-observance of social distancing in the light of national interest and legal mechanism. Are VIPs above the law when a calamity is wrecking the entire world? It seems VIP violations of norms are recurrent even in the times of pandemic. The execution apparatus looks dysfunctional before the VIP culture, and the glaring example of such lapses are aplenty and are still counting. However, last month for a cause, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered the removal of 1,300 policemen from the VIP duties, including from his own security. These withdrawal policemen have been deployed to fight against the virus.
With the death cases of coronavirus nearing 2,000 in India, the disastrous effect of COVID-19 remains unabated. So far, medical science worldwide is yet to develop preventive medical measures to counter this inflectional virus. However, the prime minister’s clarion call for social distancing is the need of the hour and proves to be a panacea along with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice for mass testing of people. Nevertheless, social distancing is being dodged and diluted, causing a serious threat to the millions of lives in the second largest populated country in the world.
The combat against the epidemic should not be half-hearted in any respect, be it misinformation which ranges from silly to dangerous or attack on corona warriors. India cannot pay the price of the scourge on negligence for this battle. The malaise of VIP culture is not to be tolerated and must be ironed out the wrinkles in India’s pandemic response.
Looking forward to the holistic handling of the pandemic!
(Dr Santosh Kumar Biswal is an Assistant Professor at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune.)