Opinion

Positive Result, Negative Time

How does the Outlook cover get decided? Through tough debate, deeply felt opinions, a sense of the public mood. The dilemma this time: should we foreground election results, amidst a pandemic? Here's why I voted yes.

Positive Result, Negative Time
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The quest for a compelling cover very much defines my existence as Outlook’s editor. To make a choice week after week is not easy, but it is a challenge that neither my editorial team nor I crib about. Decided collectively with me as the final arbiter, the selection of our cover stories is invariably the result of long conversations and a reflection of our own convictions. If we prefer one story over the other, it means we must be collectively concerned about the subject as much as we are about its capacity to touch a chord, ens­uring the magazine’s marketability.

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This week’s choice of featuring results of the recent, hard-fought assembly elections in four states and a Union territory on the cover posed a moral dilemma, though. Under normal circumstances, elections and their attendant drama and possible ramifications qualify to be a riveting cover. But these are abnormal times. A killer pandemic is on the prowl and people are dying in large numbers for want of oxygen and treatment—reducing our vib­rant cities to ghastly open crematoriums. What is winning and losing elections after all when so many of us are losing our battle to be alive, plunging friends and relatives to inconsolable grief?

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The question surely troubled me. That a television channel—otherwise famous for its flippant coverage of the death of act­or Sushant Singh Rajput—decided to skip live telecast of the election results on the plea that nothing should distract us from the dire Covid situation offered an opportunity for a tempting gimmick. But we des­isted, deciding to stick to the election results on our cover without taking our eyes off the health calamity that has befallen us.

For me, elections that decide our destiny are no less important even when we are engaged in a battle of life and death. Citizens choose what in their wisdom is best for them, and I am by and large in agreement with the choices they have made this time. Despite running the risk of annoying those who are staunch supporters of the Union government, I must say much of the reason behind the debilitating Covid crisis confronting us today is because of the irresponsibility of those in power. High on hubris, they dropped the ball and did precious little in the one year they had to prepare for the second wave. Medical infrastructure put together hastily during the first wave was criminally dismantled. No effort was made to augment oxygen supply and hospital beds. And despite having proudly proclaimed to be the ‘pharmacy of the world’ that is also home to the largest vaccine-maker of the planet, the inexplicable shortage of medicines and vaccines is deplorable and alarming.

Though the current crop of elections was not a referendum on the Covid crisis, its results have somewhat reined in the party that calls the shots. The BJP came a cropper in Kerala, which continued to remain a Leftist bastion, while its alliance partner, AIADMK, was nudged out of power in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. That the party retained Assam is a consolation since it failed to wrest what was touted as the ultimate prize: West Bengal. Here, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his match in chief minister Mamata Banerjee—the real Dada after being taunted as Didi.

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The results have, in effect, brought to the fore regional leaders—Pinarayi Vijayan and M.K. Stalin besides Banerjee—who together can hope to stand up to take on Modi. With elections scheduled for battleground states such as Uttar Pradesh next year, opposition leaders will take heart from Mamata’s success. That she could checkmate Modi will possibly encourage them to coalesce around a charismatic face and a common plank. All these are subject to ifs and buts. However, a rejuvenated opposition will hopefully chastise the ruling BJP enough to go back to battling real crises such as Covid more sincerely. Given our situation, we live for small mercies.

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Ruben banerjee editor in chief

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