P Chidamabaram agreeing with Narendra Modi over COVID-19 marks intersting change in Opposition mindset
For a change, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram is supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the measures the Central Government has taken to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus .
The former finance minister is suddenly playing the role of a constructive opposition leader. He is not vitriolic, not unduly critical and not seeing it in black and white as he is generally used to be on anything relating to Modi and his government.
Note what the former finance and home minister said in the opening paragraph of his statement on Modi’s 24 March address to the nation: "The Prime Minister's announcement yesterday of a nationwide 21-day lockdown is a watershed moment in the battle against COVID-19 . We should put behind us the debates that took place before 24 March 24 and look upon the nationwide lockdown as the beginning of a new battle in which people are the foot soldiers and the prime minister is the commander. We owe a duty to extend our total support to the prime minister and the Central and state governments.”
The usage of phrases like “watershed moment”, ”people are foot soldiers and the prime minister is the commander”, "owe a duty to support the prime minister" for actions taken by Modi are surely very noticeable to a student of politics.
If the name of the author of the above paragraph is not specifically mentioned to a reader, he or she would ordinarily assume it to be written by a BJP leader or a professed Modi supporter. It's true that Chidambaram has been advocating for a complete lockdown and Modi did so, but the former finance minister is not fighting to claim the credit. In fact, a week ago he had also supported Modi after his first address to the nation on the COVID-19 disease.
Tough democratic ideals say that the Opposition shall play a constructive role, but in the last several years — more so since the arrival of Modi at the national scene and assuming the Office of the Prime Minister since 2014 — the Opposition, the Congress, in particular, has seen nothing good in Modi and his government.
Even on COVID-19 Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been tweeting against the Union Government. He even hinted at a "criminal conspiracy" and accused the Central Government of acting against national interest at the behest of some unnamed power centres.
आदरणीय प्रधानमंत्री जी,
WHO की सलाह
2. सर्जिकल मास्क
का पर्याप्त स्टाक रखने के विपरीत भारत सरकार ने 19 मार्च तक इन सभी चीजों के निर्यात की अनुमति क्यों दीं?
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 23, 2020
I am feeling sad, because this was completely avoidable. We had time to prepare. We should have taken this threat much more seriously and have been much better prepared. #CoronavirusPandemic https://t.co/dpRTCg8No9
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 24, 2020
Quick aggressive action is the answer to tackling the #Coronavirus . India is going to pay an extremely heavy price for our governments inability to act decisively.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 18, 2020
Chidambaram’s line is, however, different. The former finance minister has given a 10-point suggestion to the government, one should say constructive suggestions.
Between Wednesday and Thursday, the Modi government has initiated a series of measures to help the poor and the needy — a 1.70 lakh core economic package to support 80 crore poor people including direct benefit transfers and additional free ration to farmers, women and Jan Dhan account holders, Ujjawala beneficiaries getting three LPG cylinders free for next three months. The BJP-ruled government in Uttar Pradesh has been transferring money through DBT to needy persons. That is being done with or without Chidambaram’s suggestions.
The big question, therefore, is: has Chidambaram changed or has he simply become more pragmatic? This question becomes even more relevant in view of the recent developments – Jyotiraditya Scindia a childhood friend and one of the star leaders of Congress has left the party and joined the BJP pulling down Congress’ government in Madhya Pradesh and setting the stage for the return of a BJP government in the state.
Besides, Chidambaram’s close confidante and senior party leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi is moving a private member bill on population control (a highly contentious subject for the Congress) in the Parliament. The list would go on.
Chidambaram has spent months in jail in an alleged corruption case. He is currently out on bail. As the home minister in the UPA government, Chidambaram was believed to be proactively pursuing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case against Amit Shah and by extension against Modi. There were some other cases and issues where he was believed to be specifically targeting the current leadership of the BJP.
It, therefore, becomes interesting when Chidambaram tells India Today in an interview that it is time that the “iron or bamboo curtain” between the Modi government and the Opposition is removed and a process of dialogue begins, and that it is time India stood as one nation and one people. Also interesting is when Chidambaram's remark about the economy when he said that under the current circumstances nobody will blame the Modi government even if the GDP slips below 3 percent.