Elected autocrats, their pandemic responses

 GS 2 : Health & Governance

Context: In the following article the author talks about how  populism, polarisation and insularity have made the pandemic that much worse in the the U.S., India and Brazil.

Issue at hand:

Most dismal performers in the democratic world to combat COVID-19 challenge  according to author have been the United States, Brazil and India.

Despite its vast wealth and resources and its low population density, the U.S. has one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world.

Author argues that countries like Brazil and  India have gravely mismanaged the situation posed by COVID-19 despite having good economic conditions.

The reactions

In the case of U.S, President Donald Trump initially refused to come to terms with the threat and wilfully downplayed the gravity of the pandemic.

The response by US to tackle the pandemic was crippled by policy incoherence, partisan attacks on Democratic Governors and open hostility to the scientific community.

The same lackasidal approach was also seen in Brazil where measures to combat the pandemic have come from governors and mayors and have been met with fierce opposition and public mockery from Mr. Bolsonaro.

In case of India the leadership never outrightly denied COVID and took decisive measures, imposing a nation-wide lockdown in March 2020. But failed to consult with experts or any of the Chief Ministers that govern India’s federal States.

The welfare consequences of the lockdown were severe as tens of millions of urban migrants were forced into a mass exodus back to their villages.

The pandemic subsided for some time, experts warned of a second wave driven by new variants, govt. dragged its feet on vaccinations and forged ahead with large-scale election campaign events and religious festivals

 But of all the policy failures that have led to calls for the government to resign.

Government’s decision to stay within its Budget allocations and charge States for vaccines is something not vouced for.

Author tries to compare the leaders of these 3 countries by calling them  elected autocrats.

came to power as classic right-wing populists, rulers powered by messianic faith have little patience for experts and science.

All three have surrounded themselves with yes-men and ruled from the gut, peddling triumphalism (all three prematurely declared the pandemic vanquished), quack remedies (injecting disinfectants, the waters of the Ganga) and sheer macho bombast.

The line of nationalism

Author argues that these leaders  feed on polarisation. All three have championed a virtuous nationalism — rooted alternatively in evangelism in Brazil and the U.S., or Hindutva in India.

Ethnicised nationalism works by demoting the “other” — Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, gays, secularists and all those who subscribe to ideals of civic nationalism — to the status of the undeserving and the morally deficient.

The author says that in US the leadership colonised immigrants, channelled white supremacy and stoked fears of Blacks invading suburbs.

The Brazilian leadership routinely smears opponents as banditos or communists and has a long track record of making homophobic and misogynistic remarks.

In India Muslims have been sidelined, and author says that they have been denied political representation thus designating them as “others”.

In diverse societies, ethno-nationalism can only fuel social polarisation, and a polarised society is a society that cannot mobilise the trust and solidarity that responding to a pandemic calls for.

The most common sensical public health measures — wearing masks, restricting social interaction, testing and getting vaccinated — all became politicised in the U.S., India and Brazil.

Author argues that these leaders personalised, centralised and insulated their power. All three have attacked the Constitution, demanded fealty from independent institutions, over-ridden the authority of expert institutions, tampered with data, assaulted the independence of the media.

The core tasks of a government in times of a pandemic — coordination across levels of government, clear and consistent communication of basic policies and health measures, support for frontline workers and standing together. These were ignored.

A pushback

Author argues messianic populism, social polarisation, insularity and centralisation has made the pandemic that much worse and poisoned the waters of democracy.

Throughout the crisis, health-care workers and civil society organisations have stepped up where their leaders have failed, and democratic institutions have pushed back.

US leader have been shown exit by the voters. The Brazilian Senate has launched a very public investigation into Mr. Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic and his poll numbers have plummeted.

 Central ruling party have lost State-level elections in India and the Indian Supreme Court has called out the incoherence of the government’s vaccine policy.


It is high time to realise that democracies do demand accountability. Thus pandemic should be handeled by keeping these social divise factors at bay and standing together.


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