COVID Times Should Not Be Used As A Cover to Push Narrow Interests


COVID-19 pandemic as well as the lockdowns which followed in most countries have caused a lot of distress . However the wider bitter reality is that these times were also used to push the narrow interests of very powerful persons and forces. Inequalities have  increased greatly.

While tens of millions have suffered great distress and loss of income, the fortunes of most billionaires have increased rapidly and the number of billionaires has also increased as perhaps  never before. In the middle  of the increasing distress of most people, the fortunes of the richest persons have boomed as seldom seen earlier.

According to  Forbes’ annual list of the wealthiest released very recently the number of billionaires has increased by 660 within a single year to 2755 now. There are 493 new entrants to the list this year, a record. As many as 86 per cent of the billionaires are now richer than a year befor. For some, like Elon Musk, the rise is to an almost incredible extent.

What exactly is happening? What is clear to most people is that in times of exceptional distress and difficulties, very special steps should be taken to reduce inequalities. In particular those who are being   enriched rapidly can be taxed to take away an important share of their extra earning for helping those who have suffered  for no fault of their own. In some countries some steps in this direction were taken, but overall such efforts have been feeble, including in the larger countries like India.

On the contrary there is increasing evidence of national economic interests being harmed, as seen from the perspective of common people, to benefit narrow powerful interests, including favored billionaires, and assets of public institutions of national importance being sold to private parties at very favorable terms.

In several countries authoritarian forces have used COVID times to increase their domination. There have been more  curbs on voices of dissent, more arrests and other victimization of political opponents and a clampdown on democratic protests by people. Anti-people laws have been pushed through hurriedly and policies have been changed to favor powerful interests including favored billionaires, strengthening the system of crony capitalism.

In various sectors powerful interests were trying to increase their domination and penetration  but due to resistance and democratic protests these were being held back to a greater or lesser extent.  In more recent times the control of these forces has expanded more rapidly and restraints exercised by parliamentary procedures and democratic opposition have declined. An example of this is the way in which the three controversial farm laws were passed very hurriedly in India bypassing proper parliamentary procedures despite the opposition by farmers. Similarly opposition of workers and trade unions was ignored to push the codification of labor codes which was being opposed for quite some time by most of the central trade unions. In important sectors like  education, health, insurance and banking policies of privatization are being pushed aggressively.

In several countries environmental laws have been weakened considerably . Brazil is a country where there is more clear indication of the special COVID situation being used as a cover for this. In India too several regulations of environment protection have been weakened and the rights of gram sabhas , including those located in scheduled tribe areas and hence having special powers, have been ignored to push projects and policies favored by powerful interests.

It is due to such tendencies of powerful interests to use the cover of difficult times to advance their narrow interests that problems get aggravated in a big way. Exceptionally  difficult times such as these should instead see increased emphasis on protecting weaker and vulnerable sections as well on overall reduction of inequalities.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our  times ) and When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India).



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