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Voters in a queue at a polling booth to cast their vote, in Delhi Assembly Election-2008, on November 29, 2008.

A democratic state resting on the system of free and fair election based on 'one man one vote' to choose rulers who would use the sovereign power of the state to deal with the world outside and provide equitable treatment to all citizens at home, is, in a nutshell, the description of India as a nation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned with a thumping majority for his party in 2019 on the strength of his government's performance in the first tenure. The Indian voter has an astute sense of judgment when it comes to evaluating the ruling dispensation and responds upfront in appreciating good work or signaling disapproval of whatever seemed to be against the interests of the people at large. Prime Minister Modi arrived on the national scene in 2014 on his own merits as the people were looking forward to replacing a rule that symbolized unchecked corruption and weak governance -- Modi rode on the promise of personal integrity and strong administration and fulfilled that adequately in the first spell of his government. The opposition forces did not inspire confidence -- they seemed to be criticizing the regime on everything -- and the political will Prime Minister showed in dealing with a hostile Pakistan on the national security front as well as the popular outreach schemes his government launched after assuming power, contributed to the bigger victory of Modi's leadership in 2019.

In the second tenure of the Modi government, the opposition in concert with the lobby of Left-liberals, human rights activists, and advocates of 'pluralism' -- both at home and abroad -- built a narrative of 'intolerance', 'Hindutva' and 'authoritarianism' around Prime Minister Modi and set off a social media combat against the government. The outbreak of the Corona pandemic gave the opposition some further points on which to attack the Centre's handling of the health emergency. The opposition is carrying out a battle of perception against the Modi government for achieving its political objectives.

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The distress caused to the migrant labor, the breakdown of the medical care system during the pandemic resulting in a large number of deaths, and the wide economic distress suffered by wide segments of the population -- their impact was more in northern states -- were among the factors that would no doubt impact public opinion. Prime Minister Modi, however, clearly comes off as a leader who devoted all his time and energy to the handling of the emergency and whose intentions to do good to the people were unreservedly accepted by the public at large. In terms of leadership qualities, there is no diminishing of his image. His government has to show concrete results in providing vaccination, financial aid to the people pushed towards destitution and security to every citizen against the trend of public violence raising its head in many areas including West Bengal, Maharashtra, and UP.

Citizen Welfare The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi distributing the Sanction Letters to the identified beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Rural), Rural at a function, in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on June 20, 2017. Wikimedia Commons

In these times people of India are going to need special attention from the state in the areas of health, economic deprivation, and personal security. The pandemic has cast upon the democratic state the duty of guaranteeing welfare to the citizens in distress. The Modi government has made some mega announcements about vaccine production and procurement which has given a sense of optimism to people in urban centers. Carrying the vaccination drive to rural India -- to identified areas of states that were badly affected -- is a new challenge where the center-state joint schemes to handle the Covid disaster would prove effective particularly with the meaningful involvement of the district administration. The Prime Minister in a thoughtful move spoke to district magistrates across the country twice and this would set the right atmosphere for a concerted national effort to deal with the pandemic in an ongoing fashion. Mobile arrangements for teams of technical staff, paramedical personnel, and people handling the movement of vaccine stock, visiting contiguous panchayat centers, can be made by district officials while pradhans of the panchayats can keep the registered residents ready for the jab. If there is a primary medical care unit in the panchayat then that should become the vaccine center. Since pandemic is a subject of disaster management, the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel can be utilized for the vaccine drive in rural India.

The Centre should push towards coverage of half of the population for vaccination on a priority basis as this is considered by medical experts to be the threshold for containing any further Covid waves. The speedup of the construction of hospital infrastructure, neglected for decades, is going to help a great deal shortly. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has himself launched a nationwide 'skill training' program to raise a hundred thousand 'corona warriors' who would assist the medical teams handling the virus affected people in various ways -- helping with home isolation for instance -- and in the process set the right kind of socio-economic to environ in the country. People have noticed the sincerity of the Modi government is trying to do whatever was possible to mitigate the suffering of the citizens.

An overpowering challenge for the country's governance is the running loss of millions of jobs that the pandemic caused pushing large segments of the population below the poverty line and subjecting innumerable families to a crisis of basic needs like food. The pandemic did see a socio-cultural surge in the country by way of individuals and institutions distributing food and other essential items to the needy on a large scale but the government has the ultimate responsibility of tackling hunger and poverty as part of the economic revival that is being attempted -- this is the challenge faced by other pandemic affected countries as well. Digitization has helped direct transfers of financial aid from the government to the right persons but the situation warrants decentralization of welfare effort to the district level for a realistic outreach.

Citizen Welfare Digitization has helped direct transfers of financial aid from the government to the right persons but the situation warrants decentralization of welfare effort to the district level for a realistic outreach. Unsplash

Cash distribution to the families in dire need may be attempted by the state depending upon its capacity but the need is for generating work that brought income. In Indian conditions, priority is rightly being accorded to assisting MSMEs. 'Vocal for local' was an insightful policy of revival of the economy 'from below' based on local demands, local procurement, and local delivery. India has at the same time the advantage of its top businesses including IT majors retaining their potential of globalization -- this has helped the fundamentals of its economy. The welfare function of the democratic state demands micromanagement that cannot be handled without flawless Centre-state cooperation. Pandemic has revealed how politics marred a national endeavor for achieving what essentially was an apolitical mission. A serious study has to be made on the question of strengthening 'cooperative federalism' in India by making reforms within the Constitutional framework of the nation.

An important aspect of the prolonged corona crisis is the protection of citizens against crime and public violence. Predictably the era of pandemic lockdowns saw a rise in cyber frauds on one hand and local crimes like housebreaking, murderous attacks for revenge, and sexual assaults on minors, on the other. A reduced police presence and difficulties in taking a complaint to the authorities because of corona curbs, seem to have made the desperate offenders even less fearful of law enforcement. Any case of individuals or groups indulging in violence in public reflects poorly on the law-and-order machinery of the state concerned as police is a state subject.

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However, since an open society like India's is vulnerable to enemy agents and politically motivated elements out to indulge in acts that caused internal tensions and destabilization, the Centre must look into ways and means of improving the functioning of the police across the country in consultation with the states. The system of police beats in both urban and rural areas has to be reestablished and necessary resources provided to the person closest to the ground for improving the public access to the police. Innumerable gangs of cyber hackers have become active in the country trapping mobile phones and bank accounts for fraudulent transactions. The situation requires substantive enlargement of the machinery tasked with the detection of cyber-crimes -- this can become a factor affecting internal security itself.

After the results of the recently held Assembly elections were announced, there has been an intensification of the 'war of words through social media and press conferences, between the opposition and the ruling dispensation on the Modi government's handling of the pandemic and action initiated by the Centre against misuse of Twitter, YouTube, etc for promoting communal discord or inciting disaffection towards the existing order. Domestic politics is beset with legal battles. The opposition camp is deriving strength from the new phenomenon of large groups of retired senior bureaucrats and police officials despatching signed letters to the Prime Minister criticizing the Centre's policies -- ranging from Covid vaccination to utilization of funds for various schemes -- and in the process becoming a part of political activism. All this can, however, influence only a section of the middle class and intelligentsia -- the political fortunes of a party in Indian conditions are determined by the 'masses' or the public at large that go by their own perceptions of the image of leadership at the top and the moves made by it for the benefit of the common man. The Modi government has remained proactive in dealing with the pandemic and its impact on the economy. This is the time for it to reach out to the segments of the population that is in distress because of unemployment and lack of income. Welfare moves of the democratic state are apolitical and they need to be supported up front by all parties regardless of ideological differences. (IANS/KB)


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