There are several reports in the press here in Assam that in several rural regions people queuing up from daybreak for the jab were told that the vaccine stock was exhausted after three or four hours.Incensed they created a huge ruckus,and at times vandalised the vaccine centre and attacked the staff.A friend from the countryside told me on phone that out of 1000 people only about 250 had been inoculated.There was no assurance that they would have better luck next day.At the same time there are blaring advertisements and pompous declarations of the government’s success in this task.
People had overcome vaccine hesitancy months ago.The propaganda by loudmouthed Babas has fuelled distrust,but reality has now broken in and swept away the false fears.
At this moment the social scene is hair-raising.Several small businessmen have committed suicide in the last few months.There are reports about people in the countryside in desperate need of money have been reduced to selling a kidney or a slice of the liver.There used to be two or three roving vedors selling vegetables in my neighbourhood. Now there are more than a dozen.Yet the BJP government keeps on drumming about their achievement of some development .There are daily reports of a roaring black market in drugs,and the Chief Minister has ordered the police to shoot them. Hoarding of drugs is a crime no doubt,but it is fuelled by widespread social despair.
Against this background people’s fury at vaccine shortage is understandable.Before elections the voters were promised the earth,and now they are read homilies on Covid SOP and the failures of the Congress in the past.
BJP campaigners including the present CM had blandly assured an elated people they would be freed from the toils of microfinance which have shackled the poor.The budget also made vague but euphoric noise about it.Now the government has woken up to the fact that microfinance bleeding has holy sanction of RBI.
The situation is obviously desperate.And there is now the spreading awareness that their lives count for little.Vaccination is proceeding sluggishly and there is no prospect of speeding up the pace.
In a country of 130 crores after one and half years only 14 crores have been fully vaccinated.Daily doses fluctuates from three to eight millions,and there is no felt urgency in ruling circles to raise the rate of vaccination.The familiar scapegoat of laggard states is exposed by the fact that only the centre is in a position to provide necessary supplies.
That raises a disturbing question.Is the paramount power in the country at all serious in its task of saving lives!After all the periodic lock-downs and relaxations only delays the onslaught of the virus,not defeat it.Yet, the more the people are left without inoculation,the more there is scope for the virus to arm itself with deadlier potency.
The watchword of predatory finance capital and their political hirelings is: Turn every challenge into an opportunity.This has been religiously followed in crisis-hit countries by subservient politicians.
It seems that India is close to fitting the bill.The logjam in parliament is a chance to rush through contentious bills.And the Covid crisis as well as the economic downslide grinding the poor are opportunities to overturn all democratic barriers to unchecked power.
The approach is utterly cold-blooded, unyielding and tenacious.With panache and ideological mesmerism they are accomplishing what actually amounts to a silent coup.The character of the state is teetering on the brink.
The country has resources to vaccinate seventy to eighty percent of its population,but shows no interest in investing in it.In stead the lock-downs of various degrees have been used to gag political activity on the ground,eliminate small business and weaken middle-ranking enterprises to put in place complete control of economic activity by monopolists.The working people are an immense reserve army reduced to working for starvation-wages. Lockdowns also fragments resistance to isolated pockets.
Meanwhile there is no let up in holding jumbo events by ruling party and government.Sarbananda Sonowal the minister in charge of Ports and Shipping is to be hailed in a rally of fifty thousand people here though it is not clear how his ministry can help Assam.It underlines the importance the ruling party and government place on international trade which ships away primary products and natural resources and brings in products that rake in profits for monopolists.Since there are plans afoot to seize farmers’ lands and produce export-goods there,the proposed rally may well be intended to animate his drive to develop shipping tonnage and port facilities including huge warehouses.
The working people ravaged by the pandemic, bereft of decent livelihood,preyed upon by spiritual charlatans may psychologically be programmed into being wretched beneficiaries subsisting on small doles.Unless an alternative builds up from the ground.
Now this appears to be the game-plan.Pratap Bhanu Mehta has called for a second national movement for democracy.Does he stop short at basic rights and independent institutions, or go the whole hog to demanding food and livelihood security for all, and people’s participation in government?It is clear that without a massive upsurge among the people resonating with all these demands the idea of a second national movement will be a dead letter.Only if India produces leaders like Lula Da Silva and Ivo Morales to organize and galvanize the precariat can the reins of power be snatched from hands of those who work relentlessly against the best interests of the country’s people.
Hiren Gohain is a social scientist and literary critic