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How would media have covered the pandemic if Congress had won the 2019 election?

As the pandemic progressed and it became clear the virus wasn’t going away any time soon, the media just fell silent. And pointed all its fingers at the Center. What began as the year for giving credit to Chief Ministers became a year where all the blame was put on the Prime Minister.

Imagine for a moment that on May 23, 2019, instead of winning 303 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP had won 271 seats, one less than the majority mark. To save both democracy and secularism, all other parties would have come together to form a government. Rahul Gandhi or a member of his family would have become Prime Minister. Or maybe the Congress would have won so few seats that the PM post would go to a third party with a 2-3% share of the national vote. Like I said, it is all about saving democracy. Narendra Modi would have become Leader of the Opposition.

(Who would be health minister? It is impossible to say exactly, but my guess would be Lalu Yadav’s daughter “Dr.” Misa Bharti. Did you know that she topped the MBBS exam at Patna Medical College hospital when her parents were ruling Bihar? For some reason, this distinguished medical scholar does not appear to be practicing medicine.)

Anyway. In that scenario, how do you think the media would be covering the pandemic right now? Let’s see: right now, you can go to mainstream or social media and find any number of taunts, jokes, jibes at PM Modi for the rising number of coronavirus cases in India.

Would it have been the same if someone else had won the 2019 election? Perhaps. But consider this: along with what you see, take into account what you don’t see. Maharashtra is India’s number one state in terms of coronavirus case load. It has been so practically since the beginning. Other states have seen ups and downs, but in case of Maharashtra, there has no been no lull at any point. Just a constant surge. No let up in test positive rate either. It was over 22% yesterday.

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I challenge you to go to mainstream media right now and find one line of criticism against the way the Govt of Maharashtra has conducted itself in this pandemic. In fact, Shiv Sena MPs right now on Twitter are taking potshots at PM Modi over India reporting the highest number of virus cases in the world. No sense of irony about which state is reporting the highest number of virus cases in India. That is how comprehensive the clean chit given by the media to the MVA government. Imagine if such a formation was ruling India.

Ok, but this is a pandemic. How can you blame individual state governments? But isn’t healthcare a state subject? It certainly is. And the media certainly brought this up, just in a different tone.

In March, media had already congratulated Maharashtra

Congratulations to the Maharashtra Chief Minister for making the war with Covid-19 look easy. You might notice that all seven Chief Ministers mentioned in the article just happen to be non-BJP Chief Ministers.

Some people were so excited about the suddenly high profile role of state governments that they thought 2020 would be the year of the chief minister!

Sagarika Ghose congratulating all non-BJP chief ministers, including Uddhav Thackeray.

Star Chief Ministers… Again, all of them non-BJP. Was there any state government which was vilified? Of course.

Gujarat was criticised even though it was and has been in far better place than Maharashtra

At the time Rajdeep Sardesai wrote this article, Gujarat was number two in coronavirus cases in the country. Who was number 1? Never mind.

So it’s not like they didn’t see the role of state governments. They just cheered non-BJP state governments early on. And savagely criticized the BJP ruled states. But as the pandemic progressed and it became clear the virus wasn’t going away any time soon, the media just fell silent. And pointed all its fingers at the Center. What began as the year for giving credit to Chief Ministers became a year where all the blame was put on the Prime Minister.

For Uddhavsaheb, who went on to earn the tag of “best CM,” this turnaround in media perception must be particularly pleasing. Not long ago, the only party that was vilified in media more than BJP was perhaps the Shiv Sena. But he only had to sign the magical dotted line that made him an ally of 10 Janpath. And with that, all accusations against his politics went away. All questions about his governance style and performance disappeared into the void of Indian secularism. Our media is very forgiving.

Then, the lockdown began and the migrant worker crisis gradually entered public consciousness. It started with thousands of workers in Delhi gathering on the UP border, unable to make a living in the capital any more. Interestingly, the media explained to us that the onus was not on the state they were fleeing from, i.e., Delhi. The onus was on the state they were fleeing to, i.e., Uttar Pradesh.

This narrative was soon repeated nationwide. Migrant workers hungry in Maharashtra: why won’t Uttar Pradesh or Bihar take care of them? Then, the Central government began running special trains to take migrant workers back home. That’s when they blamed the Central government for running “Corona express” as part of a conspiracy to spread the virus in West Bengal. Oh, I’m sorry. Mamata didi never said “Corona express,” she said that the “people” called it that. Shame on “people.”

Things have changed a lot since the early days of April and May. From number 2 at one point, Gujarat has steadily worked its way out of the swamp. As of now, it is not even in the top 10. The test positive rate has also dipped well below 2%. Since the beginning, Gujarat has seen 99,000 cases total, of which some 16000 remain active. For comparison, Kerala has seen 78,000 cases, of which some 22,000 remain active. Did you know that Gujarat has twice the population of Kerala?

But Kerala is reducing testing aggressively. The other day, it only tested 11,000 people, finding about 1100 positive cases. A rate of 10% compared to under 2% for Gujarat. At this rate, if Kerala reduces testing to zero, it will certainly stay far behind Gujarat in number of total cases.

Did I say Kerala? Did I say zero? It reminded me of this.

Kerala hailed for containing coronavirus now has over 22,000 active cases

That Hindu article dated May 5, 2020 is actually a little late in giving credit to Kerala for winning the war on Covid. This article in Quartz congratulated the Kerala government for winning the war on Feb 14 itself.

Since then, Kerala’s legendary Health Minister Shailaja “Teacher” has been giving regular coaching classes to the world on how to stop the pandemic. In the process, she has collected so many awards and accolades that it would take too long to list them all. It is like being asked to make a list of all the great innings of Sachin Tendulkar.

But as cases in Kerala kept surging, the media adulation slowly turned into silence. There was no follow up, no questioning about what Kerala did wrong. It seems Ravish Kumar gave up on his dream of a debate between Gujarat model and Kerala model. Earlier, he had asked if Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan should be made “captain” of India’s covid response.

But for the most part, silence from the media on Kerala. Silence on Maharashtra and “best CM.” When things go wrong, the really fearless media chooses silence over dissent against ‘secular’ governments.

In fact, silence has played a key role in India’s media history. Just before the 2014 election, the Congress ruled India for 10 straight years. This was the latest chunk in its near uninterrupted ~60 year rule out of 67 years of independence at that point. Can you imagine one of our fearless journalists sitting across from Sonia Gandhi and asking her these two questions:

(1) Why is it that India’s per capita GDP crossed Pakistan’s per capita GDP only in 2007? Why did it take 60 years for the average Indian to catch up to the average Pakistani?

(2) Why is it that less than 40% of Indian households in 2014 had access to toilets? Why were 3 crore households without electricity connections? Why did 15 crore households have no tap water?

If Sonia Gandhi wouldn’t grant them an audience, they could have just put their questions out there. In their editorial columns, on their Facebook pages or Twitter timelines. They didn’t. They chose silence.

Silence was the media’s favorite weapon for 67 years. They were silent during Lalu Yadav’s jungle raj in Bihar. They were silent when Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government allowed cheating in board exams in Uttar Pradesh. They were silent when Jyoti Basu’s government drove out all industry from Bengal and carried out massacres of political dissidents.

They have questions only for Modi.

So deafening is this silence that Rahul Gandhi can face the camera and boldly deny all responsibility for the actions of the Govt of Maharashtra, even though he has 10 Cabinet ministers in it.

If Congress had won the 2019 election, suffice to say that we would have complete media silence on the pandemic right now. For 67 years, they could not ask why Indians don’t have toilets, gas, electricity or running water. They have broken their silence now. They are asking why India is unable to stop the pandemic. After all, France did it. The South Koreans did it a long time ago. The USA is slowly getting closer to doing it. How can India be behind countries like France, South Korea and the USA?

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Abhishek Banerjeehttps://dynastycrooks.wordpress.com/
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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