After remaining evidently absent from public view for almost the whole period of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has finally emerged out of the blue and returned to his old role. By leading two back-to-back virtual political rallies – one for Bihar and the other for Odisha – on June 7 and 8, Shah, subtly, has announced that the days of partisan politics under the NDA’s regime – stalled abruptly by the unprecedented pandemic – are back.
His return came at a time when the Central government is drawing flak from not just its opposition but from all corners. The unplanned lockdown, according to most experts, has miserably failed to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. At the same time, it’s been a bad period as the country has witnessed the economy plummet like never before, pushing a majority of the Indian public towards abject poverty and helplessness. The losses have been so huge that the government has had to roll back the restrictions imposed on people at a time when the COVID-19 positive cases are rising at an alarming rate every single day.
However, this hasn’t stopped Shah and his party from conducting political gimmicks by setting up LED screens for virtual election rallies.
Let’s try to explain in 10 crucial points why the opposition has been criticizing the centre for its virtual rallies amid an ongoing pandemic.
1. In his virtual rally addressing poll-bound Bihar, even as Amit Shah asserted that the rally wasn’t aimed at the elections and that it was merely an effort to connect people with the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign announced by the Prime Minister last month, he proudly exclaimed, “Under Nitish Kumar’s leadership, the NDA will come to power with a two-thirds majority in the coming elections in Bihar.” The main opposition party in Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, responded by saying that holding a political rally at this time could be equated to the ruling party ‘celebrating’ the devastation caused by the Coronavirus-induced lockdown. Declaring the day as “Garib Adhikar Diwas”, the opposition staged several protests, while clanging utensils and blowing conches prior to Shah’s rally.
However, Shah was clever enough to blame the opposition even in this situation. He said that the opposition indulged in petty politics. “Some people welcomed today’s virtual rally by clanging thalis [plates]. I am glad they finally heard PM Modi’s appeal to show gratitude towards those fighting COVID-19,” he said, mocking the opposition. Diverting attention from the migrant workers’ crisis that has affected Bihar like no other state in the country, the home minister chose to question the opposition leaders on what they had done for people of the state in comparison to the Union government instead of trying to address the people’s current and real concerns.
2. Amit Shah on June 9 slammed the West Bengal government over political killing in the state. Addressing a virtual rally, his third event since June 7, the home minister said, “BJP will never forget the sacrifice of workers” and promised to return the glory of the state. He also pointed out the measures taken by the Union government for the welfare of the poor. He criticized Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for not allowing the implementation of ‘Ayushman Bharat’ scheme. “Do the poor people of Bengal have no right to receive free and quality treatment? Why then, would you not allow the Ayushman Bharat scheme here? Mamata Ji, stop doing politics on the rights of poor people. You can do politics on a lot of other issues, but not on poors’ health,” he added.
Hitting out at the CM’s opposition to the Citizenship Act, Shah said that she should come clean about why she is opposing the law. “It will cost you dearly. What is your problem if Namshudras and other such communities live respectfully in the country? People of Bengal are asking you this question as well. You will have to answer,” he added.
3. Over 15,000 big LED screens and more than 70,000 smart TVs were installed across West Bengal by the Bharatiya Janata Party for connecting with party workers down to the booth level for the virtual rally conducted by Amit Shah. The state has an estimated 78,000 polling booths, according to PTI. The digital rally was held shortly after the treacherous Cyclone Amphan had torn into West Bengal, killing 72 people and completely devastating two districts in the state. On Twitter, the Congress and the Aam Admi Party criticised the BJP for holding the rally amid the Coronavirus pandemic and when “it did not have enough money to send migrants home.”
4. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on June 9 criticized the BJP for holding virtual rallies for the upcoming Assembly elections in Bihar and West Bengal and stated that billions are being spent on campaigning amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said, “Like in Bihar, billions were spent in West Bengal with a costly virtual rally today. Though it is proclaimed that these are not election rallies then why there is an attempt to reach the booth level. BJP is actually setting a world record of lies.”
5. In the virtual rally aimed at Odisha last week, Amit Shah admitted to the Centre’s failures but very quickly ignored responsibility by taking a jibe at the opposition. “Some short-sighted people, some people in the opposition… I want to ask them… there may have been lapses on our part, but our commitment was clear. We may have made a mistake, we may have fallen short, we may not have been able to do something. But what did you do? Someone talks in Sweden, in English, to fight against corona in the country. Someone talks in America. What did you do? Give an account to the people of the country. I have come to give an account. When the corona crisis hit, the Narendra Modi government gave a package of Rs 1,70,000 crore for 60 crore people, for the people of the country. You ask us questions? Apart from interviews, the Congress did nothing,” he said.
6. The Jammu and Kashmir unit of Congress on June 15 termed the BJP’s ‘Jan Samvad’ virtual rally in the Union Territory a ‘flop show’ and claimed that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had also failed to send a loud and clear signal to the country’s hostile neighbours including China and Pakistan. The J&K Congress unit also alleged that BJP is more concerned about political interests at the time of grave crisis following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic besides severe external challenges like the economy on a downward spiral.
7. Even after facing flak from all corners, the BJP’s spirits don’t seem to be deterred. Accusing Congress of indulging in “petty politics” during the COVID-19 crisis, BJP President J P Nadda on June 15 asked it to take ‘tuition’ from his party on how to act as the opposition during such situations. Addressing the Karnataka Jana Samvada virtual rally through video conference as a part of BJP’s series of virtual rallies, he also hit out at the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi over his comments during a conversation with former US diplomat Nicholas Burns and said the party should worry about its “changing DNA”. Nadda said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been leading the country from the forefront in the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic and the world had acknowledged it. “Modi has fought from the front. The world has recognised the way Modi has led the country during COVID with bold and timely decisions,” he said. Criticizing the opposition, Nadda termed as “irresponsible” their conduct during the COVID crisis. “I’m saying this with pain that when the whole country is fighting against COVID, the opposition has been framing a strategy to weaken the nation though its video conferencing,” he added.