Crucifixion before accountability

It goes without saying that India is passing through an unprecedented and very difficult times. Very recently there have been elections for some State Assemblies as well. The loss, or rather inability to come to power in West Bengal, of the party in power in the Centre has discredited the PM, but the explanation for this loss has been democratic and founded on cultural rationalisations; the PM has not been the subject of personal abuse. In fact, the PM himself has congratulated the winners.

But in the case of the COVID, the PM has been the subject of widespread personal abuse; he has been accused by name as someone who is personally responsible for the unprecedented rise in both numbers falling sick and losing life. These are issues on which nobody would be happy about, and definitely not the PM either. But this does not by any means justify the loss of rationality and subject the PM to all possible personal and political accusations. If the PM has been responsible for all the causes for the spread of the pandemic and the consequential loss of lives, our robust democracy would see to it that he pays the democratic price.

Having said that, I would hasten to add that time is for fighting the pandemic in a collective way, and not for exploiting the atmosphere for political or other vested reasons for crucifying the PM. Let us try to understand the scale, complexity, and dynamics surrounding the present pandemics such that as of now we focus on collectively fighting the pandemic; the crucifixion of the PM in person can wait.

First, given the depth and spread of the disease, the PM has not wasted time in responding to every criticism of him in person; this is very unlike him as exemplified in other instances. We must at least have the minimum magnanimity to accept that he has given all his attention to fighting the disease from the moment its fast explosion became a reality.

Second, let us also accept the fact that the world does not have an appropriate framework of lessons from earlier experiences like the present one; what happened a little over a century back was during a period of very little science and no information technology. In modern period of science and technology, we can only refer to the HIV epidemic. Writing a Foreword to a book on AIDS and Governance, Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda, then President of Zambia wrote in 2006: “It is now more than 20 years since the first cases of AIDS were diagnosed. Today, Africa is facing a crisis with frightening implications on populations. A crisis which, I feel, should be declared as an emergency requiring extraordinary and urgent measures to address; a crisis that not only needs the urgent attention of our governments but, more importantly, their commitment to act. Indeed, I sincerely believe that the AIDS epidemic in sub-Sahara Africa should be enough reason to compel our leaders to do what is right in the fight against the disease. For this pandemic has already taken millions of our people especially the young ones in the prime of their lives. And many more are living with HIV/AIDS. I wish in this regard to share with you an underlying motivation for my commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS. When I was still in office as President of the Republic of Zambia, I lost my son in December 1986 due to an AIDS related illness. At that time, there was not so much known about this disease as we know today. As such, there was so much stigma against AIDS patients. I realised that if we had to make progress in the fight against AIDS, there was need at high political level to provide leadership to encourage openness in dealing with people infected with the disease. I viewed this to be important in order to break the wall of silence, which was mainly due to stigmatisation as AIDS was viewed to be a disease of shame. I wish to stress the fact that I believed then, as I still do today, that if we succeeded in breaking the wall of silence, many infected people would be encouraged to come out into the open and seek medical treatment and our doctors would learn more about the disease for the good of humanity. With this objective in mind, my wife and I decided to make public the cause of the death of our son. I convened a press conference at which I announced that my son had died of AIDS. Many people did not understand why my wife and I decided to announce publicly the cause of our son’s death. But for us, this was an attempt to help remove the myth surrounding HIV/AIDS among our people. I have also taken an initiative to encourage people to go for voluntary testing so that they can know their status. In 2002, I took an HIV test after which I publicly announced the results, which were negative. But I said that even if I had been found to be HIV-positive, I would still have made it public and used that status in the fight against this pandemic. I’m glad to mention that since then, the issue of stigma is becoming less of an issue and that there are many Zambians who are going for voluntary testing. As you are aware, this is important so that those who are found to be HIV-positive would be counselled on how to live positively and those that are negative are given the necessary information on prevention. ……..………..In view of the foregoing, there is an urgent need for close partnership among the stakeholders involved in this fight. The involvement of political leaders is important because people do listen to what they say. Political leaders and governments need to work closely with non- governmental organisations, communities, people living with HIV/AIDS and international partners in order to develop effective strategies for combating HIV/AIDS.” Kindly mark the importance attached to stakeholders and politicians in Kaunda’s statement.

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