Authored By: Nikhil Erinjingat
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, frequently uses alliteration and acronyms in his speeches and policies, and ironically 3 Cs might define his second term- CAA, Corona, China. The year 2020 has been a year of constant unrest, beginning with the CAA-NRC protests, then the Coronavirus, and later the Chinese skirmish at the Galwan Valley. The Bharatiya Janta Party returned to power in 2019 with a historic mandate with new promises and policies. However, soon enough the government has come under criticism from across the world and within the country for its decision to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), Corona pandemic lockdowns, and the Chinese standoff. These three events might define the Modi’s second term if the government does not do something miraculous to pull itself out of this predicament.
The CAA Conundrum
Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi was considered the epicenter of the Anti-CAA movement. The Government arrested and detained several protesters from and around Shaheen Bagh for seditious comments under infamous Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) which is called draconian law as per several human rights activists and lawyers. Subsequently the Supreme Court appointed senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran as interlocutors to amicably resolve the protests at Shaheen Bagh. However, the Government still remained under the scanner of various human rights organizations within the country and abroad, including the UN Human Rights body which approached the Supreme Court claiming CAA to be in gross violation of the secular fabric of Indian Constitution. The government replied by calling CAA an internal matter of India and denounced the action of the UN body. Even within the nation, the public and state governments were divided on CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue with several states passing resolutions against the implementation of the CAA and NRC. The Kerala Government became the first state government to move the Supreme Court against the CAA, claiming the law to be violative of Article 14, 21, 25, and the basic structure of secularism.
For a government which reminds its people of the atrocities of the Emergency(1975) has become one of the most criticized (if not the most) since the infamous Indira Gandhi- led government in 1975.
For India, Corona pandemic is not just a health crisis but also human rights one. The Corona pandemic has tested the effectiveness of almost all government departments, with the Health ministry taking the greatest hit. India’s already poor health facilities are strangulated with the rapidly increasing cases of hospitalization of corona patients. As per the National Health Profile 2018, Government of India spends less that 1% of the country’s GDP on public healthcare, which is less than Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The proportion of ventilators to number of patients admitted is extremely poor, causing havoc in public hospitals. In early June Delhi government was expecting a rise of COVID-19 hospitalization cases to 80,000, which is ten times more than the beds they had. Even in Mumbai the COVID-19 wards with ventilators were 99% full.
Along with the failing health system in the country, the government was also criticized for its failure to manage the migrant crisis. While thousands of migrants were on the road (literally) without adequate food or shelter, the government sent planes to bring home NRIs from foreign countries. Images and stories of migrant workers who walked and cycled thousands of kilometers to safely return home were juxtaposed with images of NRI quarantine center facilities on social media The Centre’s decisions to deal with the migrant crisis, especially, to make the poor and famished migrants pay for their transportation was condemned by the courts, opposition, and several state governments.
The pandemic and the lockdown thereto have also put the Human Resource Development Ministry, which oversees the Department of Education, under severe criticism from the students, their guardians, academicians, and several state governments. The University Grant Commission’s (UGC) recent guidelines which mandated the final year exams have been denounced strongly by several state governments which are not in a position to conduct exams amid the pandemic. The students are also protesting on social media against the decision of the Government to conduct exams due to travel constraints, lack of study material, inadequate effective access to the internet, among several other reasons. On the other hand, awarding degrees without conducting exams will violate the Legislative Acts of several Universities, and the UGC with HRD ministry claimed that they have considered the interest of all the stakeholders before issuing the guidelines to conduct final year exams. However, unprecedented times require unprecedented decisions with health-safety being the utmost priority. The UGC and HRD ministry need to explore options of grading students on basis of assignments or projects. The aim of the examination system is to judge the competence of the students, and in these difficult times which can be through various other methods such as assignments, presentations, and projects. Insisting on pen and paper exam or online mode in India where internet connectivity is a major issue.
Similarly, the government collected donations to aid the fight Corona through Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund). However, when several activists sought disclosure of the information relating to the Fund, the government in an RTI reply it to be outside the ambit of the Right to Information Act. Several government departments donated one day’s salary of their employees to the Fund as well. Petitions seeking disclosure of financial details of the PM CARES Fund has been filed in the Delhi High Court, and the matter is sub-judice
The Government’s overall handling of the corona situation has come under the scanner. Several decisions of the government have united the opposition and the people against it. Reported cases of corona is rising without a peak in sight. The Government is battling the “invisible enemy” and requires all the stakeholders on its side. However, despite the PR strategy, the Government seems to be losing the numbers.
The Chinese front
The BJP’s victory in the 2019 elections has been attributed largely to the Balakot airstrike. The government, however, cannot adopt a similar strategy in the Indo-China standoff at the Galwan Valley essentially because of the unbalanced equation of power between India and China. Even though China has always been an unfaithful neighbour to India, India cannot afford to fight a war with China or conduct surgical strikes in Chinese occupied Indian territory due to unequal military strength and economic power Even if India wins the battle, despite its disproportionally small military and economy, it might be a pyrrhic one. The Chinese standoff requires India’s careful and conscientious efforts to break the deadlock and emerge without any loss.
In June 2020, 20 soldiers of the Indian Army were killed in Action at the Galwan Valley. The public was up in arm against the brutality of the Chinese military. The situation was worsened with the Prime Minister’s speech which claimed that the Chinese have not taken or occupied Indian land. Even though the Prime Minister’s Office clarified the statement later, the damage was already done. The Chinese media (controlled by the Chinese government) took advantage of the opportunity and praised the Prime Minister for his statement which took a toll on his public opinion in the country.
Despite hours of negotiations and deliberations, the Chinese government refused to withdraw its forces back to the earlier status quo. The Chinese situation is being considered as a failure of the Modi government’s foreign diplomacy by the opposition with Rahul Gandhi (an opposition leader, and an MP) releasing frequent videos criticizing the Government’s efforts to disengage China in Ladakh.
These three issues- CAA, Corona, and China have caused significant damage to the public opinion of the government. The Modi government’s notable achievements of surgical strike, airstrike, and the Ayodhya-Temple decision have now been hidden behind the garb of CAA, Corona, and China. The government has four more years of power which will decide what Modi will be remembered for in his second term; the Corona pandemic does not seem to wane anytime soon, and the Chinese front needs to be managed carefully, otherwise the Chinese will hit back later, if not now. The CAA protests have now gone online and might resurrect once the lockdowns are lifted and the pandemic is over.