India must learn lessons on political consensus from New Zealand

| Updated on June 10, 2020

The island’s politicians portrayed a united front in the Covid-19 fight, as against the chaos that is reigning in India

In a week that witnessed a surge in Covid-19 cases, chaos reigned in place of sober political stewardship. Bickering and blame-game in an all-party meeting convened by Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal was followed by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal snapping at the LG for overturning his controversial directive to reserve the city hospital only for Delhi residents. Home Minister Amit Shah found the moment opportune to celebrate one year of the BJP’s return to power and convened web rallies to hail the economic and political achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Home Minister declared the pandemic would not deter the BJP in its drive to expand, as his webcasts were beamed across West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar, where the ruling party has ambitions of wresting political power. Never one to be outdone, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Centre of ferrying in migrants without consulting the State government in special trains that she labelled as “Corona Express”, as they increased the influx of unchecked arrivals. The Home Minister told her the special trains run by the BJP-ruled Centre will “signal her exit from the CM’s post”.

Hollow triumphalism from the ruling BJP when India’s strategic response to the coronavirus pandemic has turned out to be underwhelming, has been matched only by the flippancy of its political rivals. There has been no joint action or concrete strategy, despite an all-party meeting having been convened last month. The Congress’ bid to organise buses for migrants in Uttar Pradesh was rudely spurned by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) party chief Mayawati, too, said: “The Congress is the real culprit in the plight of crores of migrant workers in the entire country due to coronavirus lockdown…” Various appeals from Opposition leaders for convening an emergency session of Parliament or at least the Parliamentary Standing Committees have thus far been summarily ignored — even as no signs of preparedness or discussion on the impending crisis were visible till March 23 when Parliament was still in session. Contrast this approach to the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, a country that has eliminated the pandemic with zero active cases. Before the island country announced a national lockdown, the New Zealand Parliament acted in concert across party lines, ensuring the passage of emergency legislation, including a massive stimulus package. Since then, while Parliament was adjourned, a special select committee, with a majority of members from the opposition parties, has been running public online hearings. They have questioned ministers and officials involved in managing the pandemic in a very public display of what parliamentary scrutiny entails in a democracy.

It is still not too late to learn from New Zealand, especially when India’s Covid-19 cases are rising exponentially. A sober, mature political response is the need of the hour.

Published on June 10, 2020

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