No way out of the crisis | india | Hindustan Times
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No way out of the crisis

The BJP can learn much from our official response to a pandemic. Like what not to do, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2009 23:43 IST

The video of the week has to be this encounter in Singapore between a masked Amar Singh and a masked reporter of the NCR TV channel. I knew you wouldn’t believe it, so I took a screen grab with my cellphone which I’m willing to share on the internet. It’s time-stamped 10:50 pm, Tuesday, August 18. The day the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cracked the whip on its fractious family, and about the time that the BJP leadership was yearning to slope off to bed in Shimla after having tacitly resolved to make blood sacrifice at the Chintan Baithak the next morning. Two completely disparate events, both revealing the efficiency with which opportunity can be turned into farce.

The N95 mask is almost a fashion statement but it’s actually a minor component of our pandemic containment strategy. Which is still in the making, going by the fluctuating statements of Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. It’s amazing, since we are veteran flu victims. Twice a year, the cities experience waves of a disorder generically known as “the viral” or calendrically, “season change”.

Mysterious diseases out of a Crichton bio-thriller are reported from small towns and villages. Man, there could be muhnochwas (face snatchers) out there, but we are only excited about the swine flu. It’s imported and besides, the World Health Organisation has termed it a pandemic. That means it’s everywhere, not that it’s about to kill everybody as we believe. Okay, so we’re getting it wrong but it’s all very stirring nevertheless, so what’s the problem?

Well, it’s an opportunity missed. Apart from new viruses sprouting like cabbages in our backyard, growth in international travel has increased our vulnerability to offshore diseases. Whose number is growing, by the way, because a series of diseases are jumping the species barrier.

Swine flu is the fourth case after mad cow disease and bird flu — and, decades ago, the much more dangerous HIV. Every pandemic represents an opportunity to develop a general containment policy, but we let it pass every time.

Something similar is happening in the Sangh parivar, which has just missed its chance for world domination. The BJP’s relentless failure in securing re-election suggests that the electorate has had enough of trishul-toting fundamentalism.
But there is now room for a sober, conservative, nationalist yet multicultural Right — untainted by murderous, xenophobic Hindutva. It could take over a huge chunk of United Progressive Alliance voters if it drops its baggage and outgrows its native suspicion of secularism.

That would call for intellectually honest free thought. We have been seeing weak, tentative symptoms of that excellent trait in the BJP leaders’ occasional ruminations about Jinnah, but it always ends in unseemly hysteria. The tilakdhari cadre base just isn’t ready for the experimental lifestyle. This time, of course, Jaswant Singh has gone down fighting, predicting a dark future for an India where freedom of thought has no place. He’s not my favourite thinker and it’s ironical to have this sentiment coming from a leader of the BJP, a party that has so little respect for the truth that it doctors school textbooks when it gets the chance.

Singh has finally spoken for democratic freedom. But meanwhile, with the reassertion of the RSS, the Right seems to have lost another chance to make itself acceptable to contemporary India.