As Indians Say #ResignModi, A Petition Races AheadBloombergQuintOpinion
One of the most powerful viral videos to come out of India’s Covid-19 emergency is that of a young woman, grief-stricken, breathless, dishevelled from hours of caregiver duty – and very, very angry. “I’ve deposited Rs 4.70 lakh and they don’t even know which test my dad has done and which he hasn’t,” she says to local news channels outside a Lucknow hospital. “Oxygen has run out twice since morning. Upstairs, there are people whose oxygen is in single digits. My dad’s oxygen was at 6. Here they are using hand pumps and charging Rs 40,000 a day.”
“So please tell people that what Yogi Adityanath..,” she says, pausing to spit out a Hindi expletive at the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh before continuing, “said about taking legal action against those who said that there was an oxygen shortage…I’m here, show me what you’ve got.”
As India hurtles headfirst into its worst health emergency as an independent nation, citizens are holding key politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party namely Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Adityanath—who won't even acknowledge the catastrophe in his backyard—accountable.
The medical community says the Prime Minister is a “super spreader”. Local and international editorial cartoonists lampoon Modi almost every day. A television actor recited a poem titled ‘Emperor of the Crematorium’ about the man who would “soon even get dead people to vote”. And hashtags such as #ModiMadeDisaster are increasingly popular on social media.
And as citizens, celebrities, international diplomats—and even desperate hospitals—look to social media and each other instead of the glaringly absent Indian state for help, a petition demanding Modi’s resignation has quietly snagged 7 lakh signatures in just six days, becoming one of the most popular in recent years on change.org.
But even those of us who stopped watching compromised Indian television years ago know that there are no cries for the Prime Minister’s resignation on prime time news shows. In fact, the petition’s 26-year-old author Mrunal Mathuria is taken aback by the overwhelming support. “I thought I would get 500-1,000 signatures,” he says over the phone. “I didn't even send it to my friends because lots of them are BJP supporters.”
After writing the petition, which lists 10 “heinous acts” committed by the Prime Minister in the past year, from the time he announced a sudden lockdown in March 2020 “without consulting ICMR appointed COVID Task Force scientists” to the time he “demanded Facebook & Twitter delete posts critical of the administration”, Mathuria shared it on four-five like-minded Facebook groups and tagged a few politically-active social media users. He also emailed it to some independent media houses but none of them responded.
Many similar petitions demanding the resignation of Modi have barely caught anyone’s attention these past few years, but this one outlines in detail why the prime minister must take responsibility for the “mess that has been created under his supervision” this past year.
The support for Mathuria’s petition is the cry of a nation breathless from the lack of oxygen, one that is in the midst of a “viral apocalpse”. It’s a timely outlet for the rage and despair of citizens who have been forced to consider what our lives are worth to this government we twice-elected.
Even as the state’s mishandling of this crisis had terrifying repercussions on the ground, Modi and Shah stayed focused on their campaign rallies and the fight for West Bengal.
“PM Modi has to resign,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on April 18. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress swept the state’s assembly polls, winning 215 of 294 seats. TMC politicians had earlier said that Modi’s mocking ‘Didi O Didi’, which the Prime Minister used repeatedly in many huge gatherings in the midst of the pandemic, was an insult to all Bengali women, many of whom support Banerjee. In the video of Modi’s speech, the women in the audience look distinctly uncomfortable at what TMC legislator Mahua Moitra referred to as behaviour of a “streetside fellow who catcalls”.
It’s a tone Modi has used often. Writer Arundhati Roy described it in her recent essay as a “customary braying sneer, in which every taunt and barb rises to a high note mid-sentence before it falls away in a menacing echo”.
Other independent columnists chimed in too. “It’s best to state this simply: Narendra Modi needs to go. Amit Shah needs to go. Ajay Mohan Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath needs to go,” author Ruchir Joshi wrote in The Telegraph newspaper on April 28.
Around the same time, Facebook said it blocked the hashtag #ResignModi by “mistake” and “not because the Indian government asked us to”. As India crossed 3.5 lakh new infections, the government found time to order Twitter to remove posts that were critical of the way it had handled the pandemic.
Mathuria who has dabbled in community radio and independent media hopes people will do more than just sign the petition. “I really hope that this doesn't stay an online petition. I hope it grows and becomes a political discussion about what we need to do next.”
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.