Sometimes explanations for complicated phenomena can be simple. After all that has been written about Narendra Modi and the BJP, it takes only one phrase to encompass much of what is wrong with them - lack of character:

. Not a single person in the government has resigned. When leaders feel a moral responsibility, they resign even though there is no direct causal relationship between their actions and a tragedy but simply because it is the right thing to do.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is responsible for health yet feels no obligation to resign. All the doctors and experts on the panel that advises the government on the handling of the pandemic are also holding on to their jobs even though they all failed to predict the second wave or, if they did, found their warnings ignored by the government which again dictates that they should resign.

In 1992, when a Russian plane that Aviation Minister Madhavrao Scindia had leased happened to crash, he resigned. No one died in the crash.

Every day over 300 people in the Indian capital have been dying and, as one doctor put it, ‘first you can’t get into a hospital and then when you die of covid, you can’t get into a crematorium’, but no one has taken moral responsibility.

Not a single minister in New Delhi or in the states, including Modi himself, has expressed any sorrow over the unprecedented suffering and loss of life. Empathy is missing in the entire BJP leadership.

In America and Britain, during the daily press conferences held by governor Andrew Cuomo and by Boris Johnson or Matt Hancock, the latest death statistics were always accompanied by an expression of sorrow at the loss of precious lives.

It is quite an extraordinary statement about this government’s sensitivity that no one in the party has come out to say, in person or on Twitter, they are distressed at Indians dying painfully either from the disease or from lack of oxygen. Not a single person. This is not complicated; it's the normal simple instinct of human empathy. At this time of great fear and grief, the BJP is missing. What is the point of a Home Minister if he has nothing to say on a catastrophe of this magnitude?

No one has admitted mistakes might have been made. With the one exception of BJP spokesperson Lalitha Kumarmangalam who has said on TV debates that ‘mistakes were made’ in holding election rallies and the Kumbh Mela festival (though she studiously uses the pronoun ‘we’ to spread the blame), no one has entertained the notion.

The holding of the Kumbh Mela was such an outrageous and gratuitous crime that one or many heads should have rolled. But so deep is the insecurity in BJP leaders and so vile their 'value system' that they conflate honesty with weakness, not realising that people respect those who have the courage to admit honest errors. But no, Modi must be continually projected as a towering giant, a colossus, who is immune to mortal failings.

No one has gone to a hospital or isolation centre to express their solidarity with patients, medical staff, or families. Obviously Covid protocols and lockdowns make it difficult for any minister to visit a hospital but if doctors and nurses can work in hospitals wearing PPE kits, surely a minister could put on protective clothing and visit a ward, if only fleetingly, as a gesture of empathy?

If Modi wanted to make a gesture, he could postpone or cancel his self-aggrandising Central Vista project in the capital. This won’t create oyxgen or beds but it would show that his heart isn't in building a new monument at a time when Indians are dying in a way no one has ever seen before. Instead, he is behaving like a Central African potentate ploughing on with grandiose projects while his subjects wither and die.

No one has had the courage to face the media. Modi has made it a cardinal principle never to give any interviews. A catastrophe of this magnitude has not made him change his stand. Apart from one press conference by Vardhan where he pooh-poohed the oxygen emergency, every single minister has stayed hidden away, refusing, as elected leaders answerable to the public, to take questions. They need to realise that answering questions and being accountable is not an 'optional extra' they can use or not use. It is their duty. .

No one in the BJP has the intellectual wherewithal to handle this emergency. Where are the leaders with administrative experience, the education, an understanding of what to do and how? Many are barely educated, their knowledge limited to simplistic religiosity and worship of the cow and the Ganga river. No one has the intellectual heft or resources to get a handle on a crisis of such complexity.

Many BJP leaders are like Balram, the protagonist of the novel White Tiger whose knowledge is the sum total of whatever he has picked up from reading the scraps of newspaper cuttings in which the pakoras he buys are wrapped or the pictures in the half torn, out of date magazine he thumbs while waiting in a doctor’s clinic. Like lack of character, you can only hide lack of education so far. Something always happens to expose it.

No one is prepared to admit they are out of their depth. This is a corollary of lack of intellectual capital and ability. Do Yogi Aditynath and Tirath Singh Rewat know anything at all of science or medical data? Since they lack confidence, they refuse to bring in experts who would do a much better job than they of tackling the pandemic. Somewhere in their minds, obscurely, they know they are not up to the task and this insecurity prevents them from admitting mistakes or seeking out the many able administrators in the country such as those who, under earlier governments, launched India’s immunisation policies or succeeded in containing HIV.

Instead, they blunder on alone, fearing they will be shown up if really smart and experienced people turn up. If they need to defend themselves, they can always quote Modi who once said 'hard work is more important than Harvard'.

No one in the RSS, the chest-thumping custodian of Hindu culture, has emerged to do anything of substance to respond to the frantic cries for help. What on earth is the point of having all its resources, five to six million members, and a network that spans virtually every district, when it can’t even dig out a few gas cylinders?

All those meetings over decades thundering on about Hindu civilisation's achievements that can put the western world's achievements to shame and what does the mountain deliver but a mouse?

Other NGOs and civil society organisations have rushed to help in any way they can but the RSS is cosy at home. If the Sikhs in the capital can organise ‘oxygen langars’ why can't the RSS put its foot soldiers to work? Can't it deliver meals? Organise a few ambulances? Deploy its workers to help bereaved families at crematoria? If ever an organisation was shown up as deficient in a time of need, as being good time boys, it is the RSS.

Character is destiny, they say and right now no amount of weaselling, obfuscating, brazening it out, or downright lying can hide the fact that Modi and the BJP don’t have any.

Cover Photograph PTI

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