Coronavirus: Why It’s Important to Question the Government

Almost a decade ago, when I was in high school, my Hindi teacher – who taught me many things about life and this world – told me that it is okay to see the garbage on the street and not the bougainvillea because seeing it is the first step towards cleaning it. Those who deny its existence can never think of doing something about it.

After all these years, I repeat this to myself every now and then.

It often gets difficult to talk about the grim realities when the world constantly expects you to be positive and look for the ‘silver lining’.

Let people post home workout videos and talk about how coronavirus is healing the planet, but at the same time let there also be a conversation about those worst hit by this pandemic and how the country’s political system has failed to address their needs.

After several arguments with family and friends, I realised how difficult it is to criticise the government – especially in the times like these. I have been called ‘unkind’ and ‘unempathetic’. How dare I be political when the world is falling apart? How dare I question the government in a crisis like this? I have been told that I am not appreciating the government’s efforts and hence discouraging it. I have also been told that it’s very easy for people to sit in front of their laptops and find faults and how that makes them ‘irresponsible’ citizens.

Okay, I hear you and that is why I request you to stay with me for a while.

Don’t dismiss me by saying that I am anti-BJP or anti-Modi. Hear me out. I am aware of the government’s efforts in fighting the pandemic. As a responsible citizen, I am expected to stay home and, if possible, help people in whatever capacity I can. I can also contribute by not taking rent from my tenants (if any) and by giving wages to people who work for me (if any). The prime minister has urged people to come forward and donate and I understand how that is the need of the hour. I understand how this is the fight that both the state and the citizens have to fight together.

Also read: How the COVID-19 Lockdown is Changing Me

However, in addition to all of this, I also read reports and articles that criticise the government, talk about the shortcomings of the system and discuss what all is going wrong. I share them with other people for these conversations need to be amplified. I believe this is another way to help the government and the nation, more so, in times like these. In my opinion, if we keep highlighting what the government has missed, it will push it to do better and keep its functionaries on their toes. Isn’t this what democracy is all about?

Trolling journalists who talk about the shortcomings of the government is unfair. They aren’t just “sitting in front of their laptops” and criticising the government for fun. It’s their job and a government, if it intends to, can only benefit from this.

Arvind Kejriwal recently requested the media to keep highlighting the Delhi government’s shortcomings so that it can immediately concerns. He also went on to appreciate the media for writing about the shortage of water in a slum near south Delhi and said that it helped the government provide relief wherever required.

It was only after considerable reportage and conversations about migrant workers – who, facing a loss of income, have been forced to walk back homes  – the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi government responded to the situation and arranged some buses. Although it wasn’t a prompt response and it still might not be enough, do you think the government would have paid attention to the workers had their plight not been brought to the fore?

Next time, don’t get offended when someone talks about poor health infrastructure or the daily wage earners who might die of starvation before the virus hits them. Also, do not start defending the government immediately. They have their spokesperson; you are not obliged to be one.

As a citizen, one has the right to criticise the government and that in no way implies that one is not being supportive or empathetic towards the medical staff, the police and various other professionals who are at the forefront. Criticising the government does not make someone anti-national. As Theodore Roosevelt rightly said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.”

Prakriti Singh is pursuing her masters in Media and Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Featured image credit: PTI