We Demand Change : We want to breathe!

img1 Cedric Prakash
10 May 2021

An online petition on change.org demanding the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister has literally gone viral and has become one of the most popular online petitions ever. 

The author and originator of the petition Mrunal Mathuria ( he calls himself a concerned citizen) says in his opening remarks “The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic caught India totally off-guard. As I write this, many are losing their lives, countless are struggling for beds in hospitals, myriads struggling for oxygen and there are untold stories of the deceased not finding a place in the crematoria. The collapsed healthcare system of the country is brutally exposed at the cost of millions of innocent lives”. He goes on to add, “This is the time when any person in the position of power should take responsibility for the mess that has been created under his supervision and resign but our power-hungry Prime Minister won’t resign by himself and it is of utmost importance that we citizens come together and demand his resignation at the earliest and at any lives”. He also highlights ten  “heinous acts committed by our Prime Minister in the past one year”

Mathura’s concern  and demand is obviously that of millions of Indians. The  #ResignModi hashtag has been one of the top trending on Twitter for the past several days- particular since the Bengal Election results were announced. Facebook too had many such posts but  it soon blocked posts tagged #ResignModi; however  these posts were restored hours later, as a controversy erupted over government’s requests to remove social media content critical of the way the Covid crisis is being handled. 

The plain fact is that  the cry of  we the people of India is loud and clear, “we want to breathe: we want change!”. The petition is fast racing to the 1,00,000 mark – a goal  which Mathuria  has given itself; there is no doubt that he will achieve it. 

Writing in Bloomberg/ Quint Priya Ramani says, “The support for Mathura’s petition is the cry of a nation breathless from the lack of oxygen, one that is in the midst of a ‘viral apocalypse’. It’s a timely outlet for the rage and despair of citizens who have been forced to consider what our lives are worth to this government we twice-elected.”. Strong words indeed but correctly voicing the sentiments of a nation which feels breathless, brutalised and even murdered by a regime which is totally callous and has neither the ability nor the desire to govern wisely.

In tandem with the Government was a corrupt and biased Election Commission(EC). In a scathing oral order on 26 April, the Madras High Court  said that the EC  was the ‘only institution’ responsible for the deadly COVID-19 second wave India is seeing today.  

In March, the EC announced elections in four States and one Union Territory which would begin on 27 March with the counting of votes scheduled for 2 May. The second wave of the pandemic, had already begun tightening its grip on the nation by then. Hearing a petition on whether there were adequate COVID-19 safety procedures in place during vote counting at the Karur constituency, a bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthil Kumar Ramamoorthy said, “you [the EC] are the only institution that is responsible for the situation today. No action against political parties taking rallies despite every order of the Court. Your election commission should be put up on murder charges probably!” 
The bench of the Madras High Court also reiterated how the EC had been asked multiple times to ensure that the pandemic does not worsen because of elections, but these calls went unheeded, “Despite repeated orders of this court going on like a broken record at the foot of at least every election petition entertained that COVID protocol ought to be maintaining during the campaign time the significance of adhering to such protocol may have been lost on the Election Commission going by the puerile silence on the part of the Commission as campaigns and rallies were conducted without distancing norms being maintained and in wanton disregard of the other items of the protocol.”
The EC certainly did not take the ‘murder charge’  made by the Madras High Court lightly and  petitioned the Supreme Court saying that “the EC is not running the governance of the State. We only issue guidelines and directives. We don’t have the CRPF or any other force with us to check the people in the rally”. In the hearing on 3 May, the Supreme Court told the EC that, “some observations are made in larger public interest . Sometimes it is anguish and sometimes they are made to make  a person do the work, he is required to do…” 

In the  context of the Madras High Court observations, the EC  also wanted the media to be restrained and not to publish any oral observations; to this the Supreme Court told the EC that it would neither restrain the media from reporting oral observations made during proceedings in public interest nor demoralize high courts since both are ‘vital pillars of democracy’. It termed as “too far -fetched’ the poll panel’s plea of restraining media from reporting remarks made in court proceedings. 

In the written judgement on 6 May, Justice Chandrachud said, “The discussions that take place are of importance and are in public interest. It’s not a monologue that one person will speak and then judges will speak," Such dialogues and reporting of such dialogues by media create accountability, the top court had said while underscoring that anything to the contrary could be seen as affecting independence of High Courts. “We have to protect the judicial sanctity of the process. We have to make sure that High Court judges and Chief Justices are independent to make views. We have to make sure that media reports everything that happens in court so that we judges conduct proceedings with dignity," the Court said. Adding, “Courts are entrusted to perform crucial functions under the law. Their work has a direct impact, not only on the rights of citizens, but also the extent to which the citizens can exact accountability from the executive. Citizens are entitled to ensure that courts remain true to their remit to be a check on arbitrary exercises of power”. 

That the EC was playing to the tune of the Government was in no doubt: could they not have postponed the elections? Was it necessary  to allow big campaign rallies? Everybody cried “murder most foul” – when eight phases were announced for the West  Bengal Elections.  It is also now clear that the junior member of the EC did not always agree with his senior.  In a big slap to the EC Advocate Mohit D Ram, who has been panel counsel for the Election Commission in the Supreme Court since 2013, resigned  on 6 May from the poll panel  saying, “I have found that my values are not in consonance with the current functioning of the ECI; and hence I withdraw myself from the responsibilities of its panel counsel before the Supreme Court of India” It was there for all to see: of how Modi and Shah totally neglected the nation and went on a campaign spree. That the ruling regime was using muscle, money and manipulation – in every election is as clear as daylight. Today it is reported that  the pandemic is so widespread in areas which went to the polls, that in states  like Bengal – there is a possibility of every second person becoming COVID positive.   The nation today, is paying the price for their lust for power! 

The situation in all BJP -run states are disastrous. The worst is perhaps Uttar Pradesh. A recent report from the BBC said “The region around Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in the world for Hindus, is among the worst affected by the second wave of coronavirus sweeping India’. The report goes on to say, “Many angry citizens of the region, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, are now asking where their MP, Narendra Modi - India's prime minister - is in their hour of need. India’s devastating second wave has pushed the country's total number of infections to 20 million and the death toll to more than 220,000. In Varanasi, with the health infrastructure swamped, patients can no longer find hospital beds, oxygen, or ambulances, and getting a Covid test can take up to a week. In the past 10 days, most pharmacies have run out of basic medicines like vitamins, zinc and paracetamol. "We are inundated with calls saying help us get a bed or oxygen," said a local medical professional, who did not want to be named. "With the most basic medicines in short supply, people are even taking expired drugs," he said”

 UP , like Gujarat , Karnataka and others also like to fudge figures- play the reality down as much as possible. In government hospitals  in Ahmedabad- informed sources (who  wish to remain anonymous) say that the daily official figures are  at least ten times less than the actuals. On the ghats of the River Ganges the funeral pyres are burning non-stop: an estimated 300-400 cremations daily to the normal ‘peak’ of just about eighty. 

In order to defocus from the  complete  mismanagement and corruption of his own Government both at the Centre and in Karnataka , BJP MP from Bangalore South Tejasvi Surya read out a list of 17 Muslim staffers  in a hospital while making allegations about  ‘bed blocking scam’. His unwarranted, unauthenticated and communal allegations have raised a hue and cry from all sections of society. In fact  the latest in the ‘bed scam’ points to a BJP MLA and an aide!

The Government  has failed on all fronts ; it has not only proved the world that it cannot govern, it has conveniently abdicated their responsibility.Millions are affected by the pandemic today: thousands are dying, many in major cities throughout the country have no access to a hospital bed, oxygen or to a ventilator; necessary medication, oximetres and even vaccines are scarce. Ambulances are not available; there are heart-rending scenes of serpentine queues outside crematoriums  of those waiting to cremate their loved ones. Private hospitals charge exorbitant amounts – corruption(thanks to a corrupt regime) is mainstreamed: be it the in the selling  of  essential medicines  in the black-market  or in the manufacture of fake  imitation drugs. The Public Health System has just collapsed : doctors, nurses, hospital support staff and other caregivers have been working round the clock and are simply exhausted. 

The  situation of those  of those living in remote rural areas and in the slums; the poor and the vulnerable, are many times worse. No one talks about them. On April 30, the UP  State Primary Teachers Association President Dinesh Sharma  said  that at least 706 teachers died due to Covid-19 after continued duty at the panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh. Tonnes of aid which foreign Governments have rushed to idea – including desperately needed medical equipment are lying apparently undistributed.  The corrupt , communal regime with its Central Vista project, the destruction of the environment, the anti -people anti -democratic policies and the flagrant denigration of all Constitutional and independent bodies  have   systematically destroyed the nation. World media continually highlights the Indian reality with  leading editorials and op-eds written and TV programmes  showing the abysmal state of affairs in the country today! What a disgrace!

On 4 May celebrated writer and activist Arundhati Roy wrote a direct but powerful  appeal to the Prime Minister saying, “We need a government. Desperately. And we don’t have one. We are running out of air. We are dying. We don’t have systems in place to know what to do with help hand. What can be done? Right here, right now? We cannot wait till 2024. Never would people like myself have imagined the day would come when we would find ourselves appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for anything. Personally, I would rather have gone to prison than do that. But today, as we die in our homes, on the streets, in hospital car parks, in big cities, in small towns, in villages and forests and fields – I, an ordinary private citizen, am swallowing my pride to join millions of my fellow citizens in saying please sir, please, step aside. At least for now. I beseech you, step down”. She ends the letter saying, “So please go. It is the most responsible thing for you to do. You have forfeited the moral right to be our prime minister”. A few days earlier in an article in the prestigious  ‘Guardian’ Roy said  that was happening in India was a crime against humanity.

Like Mrunal Mathuria, Arundhati is speaking for the people of India: stop throttling us the way George Floyd was killed in the US on  the 25 May 2020: get off our  necks and backs. The regime must be tried for crimes against humanity there is no doubt about that! In the meantime we the people of India demand change now : we want to breathe!

*(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation & peace activist/writer.      Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )
 

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