Barack Obama speaking on 16th May spoke for the first time about the coronavirus pandemic and the responses of the ruling elite. He observed that, “More than anything this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama told graduates from several dozen historically black colleges and universities. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” he said as he discussed the implications of the pandemic during the online event, without naming any specific leaders. After remaining silent for a long time, former President of the United States has nailed the issue finally. He has categorically stated that those who are in power to govern the countries have utterly failed in most cases and they do not even appear to be incharge of responding to the pandemic. Much worst is how to comprehend the emerging scenario after the onslaught of COVID-19, how to respond in this situation, what kind of permissions to be given and what kind of restrictions to be imposed, etc.
Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his address to the nation on 15th May, 2020 among other things spoke about the labourers, workers and people affected by the lockdown. He was concerned about the daily and weekly wage earners. He accepted the fact that due to the lockdown everything of the daily wage earners is gone. Hence, he raised the question, “How long can we go on with the lockdown?” He also declared that the people of this class are dying more by starvation than by corona virus. He also expressed his concern that the country needs to save these people from starvation. The Prime Minister of Pakistan at least took the name of the migrant labourers and daily wage earners. He also had the sense to admit that the country needs to save the migrant labourers from starvation as well as corona.
It is extremely unfortunate that rulers of India not only did not plan the response for Covid-19 adequately but also did not plan properly the lockdown. The lockdown in India is in its fourth phase. Whether it is the first or the second or third or the fourth phase, the government of India hardly showed any understanding of the virus that has affected the entire world; it hardly showed any appropriate plan to respond to this deadly virus; it hardly showed the political will to work out a comprehensive plan called lockdown; it hardly showed any openness to consult those who could contribute to protect, save over 130 crore population; it hardly showed any willingness to get suggestions from experts in various field; it did not have any sincerity to implement its own plans.
As many have stated with pain and anger that the Government of India was and is engaged in knee-jerk responses; in obscure and obscurantist practices; extremely unplanned and half planned moves; made tall promises but did not put in place systems and mechanisms to realise these promises; cynically poked at those countries where the number of positive cases of the virus was increasing; boasted of imposing lockdown without putting in place other necessary things; irrespective of being a federal government did not take into account the views and efforts of the state governments; now not knowing what to do and putting the responsibility on the state government; failing to take note of the good work of many state governments, civil society organisations; etc.
One of the segments of the Indian population which was totally and fundamentally devastated by both the omission and commission of the government of India is the migrant labourers. From 25th March, 2020, the horrible plight of the migrant labourers has hit both the national and international media. It is this section of the population who come from the lower caste and class but are the backbone of Indian economy. But it is they who did not figure at all in the announcements and pronouncements, programs and plans, packages and reliefs of the government.
Irrespective of the fact that the migrant labourers were on the road walking hundreds and thousands of kilo meters from the month of March itself, there was no plan to reach them home or provide relief or make travel arrangements. Irrespective of many dying on the way, being killed, run over by train, etc. not even scant attention was paid to address their issues. It is becoming more and more clear that it is not due to lack of political will that the ruling elite failed to take care of them in the lockdown but it appears that they wanted them to be wiped out from the face of the earth.
The Prime Minister of India addressed the nation on 12th May, 2020. But there was nothing substantial in it which could be claimed as contributive for the welfare of the citizens of the country. Forget about the migrant labourers, there was nothing for any Indian citizen. But by saying that his government is providing Rs. 20 lakh crores for various responses he tried to play politics. The Finance Minister too made lots of announcements around this Rs. 20 lakh crores. Lots of talk but no substance. From all these the citizens of the country feel that the ruling elite has deceived, divided, defeated and decimated India.
Prime Minister’s Promises and Reality
It is expedient to examine the Prime Minister’s 12th May, 2020 speech to see what kind of response was planned or not planned by his government. The Prime Minister announced special economic package of Rs. 20 lakh crore which is nearly 10 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He further said that the finance minister will announce details of special economic packages. This should have delighted the countrymen but instead of this, the citizens are fully convinced that this huge amount would be used to syphon the money to its political ends only. This is because, the citizens know very well now that this has been and is the character of this government. We will take up the fate of this Rs. 20 lakh crores when we analyse the announcements made by the Finance Minister.
The Prime Minister listed five pillars for a self-reliant India. They are: economy, infrastructure, tech-driven system, vibrant democracy and economic demand. On the face value, these five pillars appear to be fine. But as one delves deep into the political economy of these announcements, there are misses between the cup and the lips. The Prime Minister paid lip service to economy. Further, there have been hiding the facts by this regime in the past. Economists are of the view that in the absence of credit impetus from the banks, early revival of credit to industry, services and even agriculture appears difficult. But further easing of rates may push inflation further up. Thus, on the one hand, there does not seem to be the possibilities of economy reviving for the betterment of the common man of the country. On the other hand, there is the possibility of inflation which will further add to the miseries of those who are in the margins of the country.
What is more worrisome is that due to late and unprecedented rain last year paddy crop was badly affected in most parts of the country. In the past, the governments used to appoint central teams to visit these areas, make assessment and based on this the government would provide compensation to the farmers. But that practice is given up long ago. With the unplanned and unscrupulous imposition of lockdown, the wheat, oil seeds and pulse seeds could not be harvested. This put the farmers in a big way. But also added to the woes and worries of the agricultural labourers who would have earned some wheat, pulse and oil seeds for their consumption. Moreover, due to the rains now crops like potatoes, mangoes, litchi etc. are badly affected. There is no mention of compensation for these farmers. Without these issues what kind of economy is the Prime Minister speaking about.
From the time the present regime came to power it has been talking of infrastructure. But what has been concretely done is everyone’s guess. Let us give an ordinary example to highlight that this too is only a talk not to be meant for action. During the last heavy winds in Varanasi, the constituency of the Prime Minister, a tamarin tree fell near BHU campus. It took 4 days for 3 labourers to cut this fallen tree and clear the path. It is through this way the essential supply and food materials are to reach the people and relief materials had to be reached. Since there was no trimming of the trees, in many places electrical and telephone wires were snapped off causing lots of problem for the citizens.
Technology driven system is one of the pillars for revamping India in the COVID-19 and post-covid phase. This is great. The Prime Minister has been harping on technology driven system where everything will be at the use of the citizens. If this is true why was this not pressed into use when millions of migrants had to walk for days, weeks and months to reach their home. Why should a mother tie her child to a trolley and pull that child for miles? Where was and is this technology which is supposed to drive the country? Is it only for a select few who plunder and destroy this country. Why not this technology be used in the service of the common citizens?
It is really amusing to hear the Prime Minister speaking of a vibrant democracy at this juncture. From the time he assumed the post of the Prime Minister, he and the coterie around have been doing one thing well, that is, destroying every democratic institution one by one. Whether it is the Supreme Court and the judiciary, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Revenue Bank of India (RBI), National Human Rights Commission, National Minority Commission, etc., have been destroyed and decimated beyond repair. Except him and the coterie around him who are in the plunder and destruction mind and mode, nobody else matters in this country.
Even the election commission which used to function as an independent body has been forced to toe the line of the ruling elite. The manner in which the last general election was conducted and rigged is still fresh in the minds of the citizens. Even those who are supporters of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) would have felt ashamed of the way the voting machines were used and misused to come back to power by hook or crook.
Money power, muscle power and mind power were nakedly used to allure, to coerce, to frighten not just the opposition but also the voters so that the Prime Minister can come back to power. It is in the last general election the democratic principles associated with election, electioneering, use of machines and counting of votes were blatantly thrown to the winds. If one were to conduct the elections at this juncture, the Prime Minister and his party would be totally wiped out. But the common citizens are of the view that in the next elections too, the same person and party would try to come back to power by hook or crook to hide all its sins.
The citizens of this country have not forgotten the total arrogant way in which the Citizen’s Amendment Act (CAA) was passed and promulgated. Instead of doing things that would alleviate the sufferings and miseries of the citizens of the country, the Prime Minister and his coterie tried to do away with the citizens themselves. Realising the danger to democracy, youth and students all over the country, erupted in huge and massive protest saying a big ‘NO’ to this sinister plan. Apprehensions were also expressed from other countries. But the Home Minister while addressing a rally on 21st January, 2020 in support of the CAA, said: “Today I have come to Lucknow to say it aloud that whoever wants to protest, can protest, but the CAA won’t be taken back”. This is not the indication of vibrant democracy which takes into account dissent and protest. Rather it shows the destruction of democracy by those who were and are supposed to defend the age old democratic principles of this country.
In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister, reverted back to his pet theme, “Making India Self-Reliant”. He also claimed that this is the only way to make 21st century belong to India. The Prime Minister announcing a special economic package of Rs. 20 lakh crores linked it with the self-reliance of the country. He claimed that this will play an important role in the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’. But the Prime Minister did not spell out how this self-reliance would be achieved by India and how the self-reliant Indians would be during this Covid-19 crisis, during the lockdown and the post lockdown phase. The Finance Minister who is supposed to unpack the Rs. 20 lakh crores announcement has not done it. Thus, the citizens of this country are left in darkness and deception. It just appears that these are only for talk and no action.
It is crystal clear to all the conscious citizens that if the Prime Minister had asked himself what does this self-reliant India means to the migrant workers to drag their children in make shift carts for hundreds of kilo meters, he would have felt remorse and would have done something right on March 22nd, 2020 than talking out of his sense.
Further anyone who cared to follow the address of the Prime Minister to the nation would have realised the painful fact that he enjoys indulging in day dreaming about India’s or his role as world ‘saviour’. He stated, “When India speaks of self-reliance, it does not advocate for a self-centred system. In India’s self-reliance there is a concern for the whole world’s happiness, cooperation and peace.” If this was the case, Indians would have been satisfied. Leave out the role of Indian government in world order, even the plight of the migrant labourers could not be addressed appropriately by this government. The already impoverished and pulverised widows, orphans, daily wage earners, migrant labourers, terminally ill patients, women headed households, etc., are on the verge of starvation. But the Prime Minister had no word for them.
Another time pass of the Prime Minister is projecting himself in the name of the country as being accepted and praised internationally. He claimed that in a world that is fighting life and death, India’s medicines today bring a new hope. “With these steps, when India is being praised everywhere in the world, every Indian feels proud,” he said. He totally pretended to be oblivious of the fact that the whole world has been decrying his decision to impose lockdown without taking into account the hardship that would be unleashed on the citizens.
The migrant labourers have been teaching a lesson to the Prime Minister of this country what it means to be a vibrant democracy, a vibrant secularism and a vibrant humanism. This news was on the headlines about two migrant labourers who had the only identity of being migrant labourers but different from birth, place and religion. It was reported that a 24-year-old migrant worker, who was dumped on roadside by fellow travellers in Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district after falling sick during a journey from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh in a truck. His friend Mohammad Yaqoob also got down with Amrit and took care of him. It is also reported that when Amrit finally could not stand the hardships and died, Yaqoob wept for his friend. This clearly and categorically shows that India irrespective of the ruling elite trying to deceive, defeat, divide and decimate the country, will not allow their sinister plan to succeed. Every conscious citizens bow their heads and salute the likes of hundreds of Amrit and Yaqoob who have held this country together.
The deception and dishonesty of this government is clearly seen in the declaration of the Finance Minister who claimed that the migrant labourers are provided food three times a day. This is utter lie. Surely in some places, in some states, by some governments and by some civil society organisations food is being provided. But to claim that all the migrant labourers are provided with food is falsehood. What to speak about other places. In Varanasi, the constituency of the Prime Minister migrant labourers who have migrated from Pakur district of Jharkhand to work as construction labourers are given food once a day. The time of the delivery of food is also sporadic. It could be in the morning, noon or late night. If one misses taking food one day, his or her name is struck off. It is for sure that the Minister is having three meals a day and is comfortable so she presumes everyone is like her.
It is heartening to see that the citizens of the country are not fooled by the present regimes plans and programs to deceive, defeat, divide and decimate the country. Voices of dissent are seen, heard everywhere. Irrespective of the attempt to put down protest, the citizens are speaking, writing, communicating the deception that is going on by the present regime. It is not going to be too late that the citizens will over throw this regime. Then the present rulers will know what a vibrant democracy, vibrant pluralism, vibrant secularism, vibrant republic India is.
Dr Prakash Louis is a researcher, writer, activist and coordinator of Catholic Church Covid Response Team, Varanasi.