Antigen test India covid
A healthcare worker conducts a COVID test in the Dadar area of Mumbai, India Image Credit: Bloomberg

22 Indian soldiers died in Chattisgarh state of central India on Sunday in an ambush by the Maoists. India now tops the world in Covid-19 cases but the crystal clear priority of Indian politicians - across party lines - remains winning the assembly elections.

Elections are ongoing in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry and internal security and the pandemic spiralling out of control are not even remotely election issues.

These elections are being fought on the imaginary slur of “love jihad”, how incumbent West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, is allergic to religious sloganeering, and how votes to BJP’s opposition will “help a neighbouring country”.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in the 2014 elections, he and his Man Friday Amit Shah have endlessly and fiercely fought every single election tooth and nail.

For the first time in the history of India, union ministers campaigned in the Hyderabad municipal elections and will in all likelihood campaign in the upcoming Mumbai municipal elections.

No zero sum game

While most journalists hail this as evidence of the huge killer instinct possessed by Modi and Shah, your columnist differs.

Elections and electoral victory cannot be reduced to a zero sum game with leaders who bear enormous responsibility for security and public health being perpetually preoccupied in an endless 24/7 campaign mode. Governance should be the end result of electoral victory.

But, these days in India with a pandemic raging we have top leaders relentlessly campaigning in giant election meetings were people mill around without masks. Forget about social distancing.

We have Himanta Biswa Sarma, health minister of the BJP government and Chief Minister aspirant of Assam, go on camera and say that covid is over, there is no need to wear masks because if you do, how will you go to beauty parlours? Sarma then adds “if Covid returns, I will tell you”. Is this even remotely responsible behaviour?

Leaders address huge public meetings and not even one across party lines tells the audience attending to wear masks.

As Covid-19 figures reach frightening numbers and Maharashtra goes back in to partial lockdown, the central government for reasons that remain a mystery refuses to allow vaccination for all the population.

Currently, despite no shortage of the vaccine, only people over 45 are allowed to be vaccinated. A plan by the Maharashtra government to let people unable to come to hospitals be vaccinated in their buildings/homes was turned down by the centre.

With Mumbai being the economic capital of the country, you have got to wonder at a central government that seems to prefer a partial lockdown, leading to billions in losses to a joint strategy to tackle the pandemic. Is Maharashtra being punished for being an opposition ruled state, says a senior Shiv Sena leader to me.

BJP vs Banerjee

The shrill campaign tone adopted by the BJP against Banerjee even questioning her leg injury with the prime minister mocking her with a “didi oh didi” at every public meeting and state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh saying that Banerjee should wear Bermuda shorts not saris to display her legs gives you the bigger picture of the desperation to win the elections at any costs.

As Covid-19 numbers go up, tackling the pandemic is the least of the government’s preoccupations. Mass vaccinations which is the only way to tackle the scourge is not yet being allowed by the central government despite, every state government asking for it.

Similarly our soldiers are battling the Naxal scourge without state of the art body armour leading to horrific death tolls in every ambush. We can demolish and rebuild the central vista in New Delhi at a proposed cost of 20,000 crores but, not give our jawans the latest equipment.

It is debatable if the central vista — an iconic part of Lutyens Delhi — needs to go but clearly our soldiers needs should be priority.

Winning elections Covid gets out of control.