The classic BBC television sitcom, Yes Minister, superbly captures the intriguing relationship between politician and bureaucrat. In one memorable sequence, Sir Humphrey Appleby, tells his minister James Hacker, “You are not here sir to run this Department.” An offended minister responds angrily, “What do you mean by that? I think I am the man in charge, the people think I am too!”. The bureaucrat is unfazed: “With respect Mr Minister, you and the people are wrong!” “And so who runs the department?’ asks an exasperated minister. Sir Humphrey smiles, “I do!”
“Hey, news television seems to have finally broken out of the Hindu-Muslim mindset!” I exulted to a colleague soon after the lockdown was announced last month. As news channels rushed to speak to doctors and bio-medical researchers, it seemed like a whole new world of public health and virology was being discovered. Sadly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just days later, the Tableeghi Jammat story broke and the familiar faces and narrative had returned on many tv screens. #CoronaJihad, #Tableeghistan, #Tableegh-Pak conspiracy, the shrill, sensationalist headlines and hashtags were back.
It is perhaps a less known fact that Narendra Modi’s political career was dramatically transformed by a natural disaster. The alleged mishandling of relief operations during the 2001 Kutch earthquake by the Keshubhai Patel government in Gujarat forced the central BJP’s hand and Mr Modi was sent to Gandhinagar as a replacement. The rest as they say is history.
In the build up to the 2019 general elections, the BJP’s most potent campaign plank was to pose a direct question: ‘Modi versus who?’. By foregrounding the leadership issue, the BJP was able to successfully make the elections a quasi-presidential battle in which a fractious and divided opposition had little chance. Now, nearly a year later, the Covid-19 crisis may have provided a glimpse to leadership options in the future: the chief ministers of 28 states and eight union territories are at the frontline of the corona virus battle.