Political Polarisation during COVID-19
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
Political polarization is the vast growing gap between liberals and conservatives,
Republicans and Democrats in the United States, leftists, and extremists in India. A lot
of research states that illiberal and dictatorial leaders are putting democracies in danger all over the world. How has the pandemic affected democracy?
The coronavirus is subjecting countries around the world to a punishing test of solidarity at a time when many were already consumed with harsh political and societal divisions. A grave public health emergency may draw a country together and give the illiberal leaders a chance to rise above and try to heal chronic partisan divides. However, on the other hand, heightened public anxiety, strained governance capacities, and the
differential impact of the virus on particular groups may exacerbate long-standing
Case studies prove that in some countries the virus has temporarily lowered political temperatures. In others, it has heightened tension, both within a government camp and between main contending camps. The pandemic has reinforced a spiral of polarization and democratic distress. Democracies such as India, the United States, Turkey, Poland, and Russia have all reacted to the virus differently, resulting in major revolutionary movements as well.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has long polarized Indian politics with his Hindu nationalist policies. He has championed national unity during the pandemic. His conciliatory messages, however, have been unable to contain rising societal
polarization. Throughout the crisis, hate-mongering voices in the television media and society have branded India's Muslim minority as a vector of disease. This hatred has fueled discrimination and even violence. Speaking out against the government results in the cornering of individuals. Umar Khalid, a former leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for protesting against the capital punishment meted out to convicted Kashmiri leaders, Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. An actor's tragic death led to the media hounding his partner, Rhea Chakroborty. It seemed too obvious that the media was trying to cover up the more important news, the border conflict with its neighbors, the rising coronavirus cases, the suppression of activists speaking up against the government, the introduction of the divisive farmer and labor laws. The Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament is said to have passed around 15 bills in about 2-3 days, not answering questions at any of their sessions. The government also stated that they did not record any data untimely deaths of migrants or the deaths of the health workers. Failure to respect health workers and soldiers, who risk their lives every single day, is heartbreaking.
Donald Trump came to power in 2016, earning fervid popular support especially among blue-collar white men, with his promise to return America to greatness by combating illegal immigration, negotiating beneficial trade deals, taking a tough economic stance against China, beefing up the military, obliterating ISIL, and eschewing political correctness. In his term, he has managed to create social divisions and stirred hostile reactions with controversial policies and regular inflammatory remarks. At the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, he stated that China should be held accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic. Such statements not only instigate unnecessary conflicts during a trying time but also leads to questioning of morals of our democratic leaders. The United States is the worst-affected country from the pandemic, with over 2,00,000 Americans losing their lives to the disease. The virus has also crippled the country's economy with over millions of people losing their jobs. In such a dire situation, the killing of an innocent black man, George Floyd, worsened the associations between people of
different skin colors. The Black Lives Matter movement led to protests all over the
country, to oppose the oppression and discrimination faced by black individuals in
During such challenging times, political leaders should try their level best to bring
people together instead of deepening the furrow of hatred. Leaders should not fight over trivial subjects like religion, caste, skin color, gender, and class.
In the words of Alan Moore,
"People shouldn't be afraid of their government.
Governments should be afraid of their people."
Written by Shreya Datta