Recently, I started reading Raghuram Rajan‘s ‘The Third Pillar’, in which he brilliantly describes the critical role of community in a nation and how the state and markets do not give much importance to it. I could not help but circumspect those 3 pillars from the perspective of our country, where the state and markets have become powerful by oppressing the community.
A country consists of state, markets and community – the people. If we consider the case of India, the pandemic throws a shaft of light on the excruciating pain that our community is in due to flagrant policies, constant neglect by the atrocious state, and gluttonous markets which fund the political parties and get benefits from state in form of policy formation which suits their business interests.
Let’s first look at how the government neglected its people. First of all, the government did not fail; you only fail when you at least try. Going by their horrendous policies, they have actually succeeded in crushing the backbone of people economically, socially and politically.
During March 2020, the government announced a harsh lockdown with just a 4-hour notice period and crores of migrant laborers felt the brunt of the consequences of that unplanned decision. The government left them on the streets and a lot of them had to walk barefoot for thousands of kilometers without a penny in their pockets and food in their bellies. As if this was not enough, migrant laborers had to face the wrath of lathicharge by the police. After criticism and questioning from online media (as mainstream media was busy giving a communal angle to the Tablighi jamat case), the government started shramik trains and then there were issues regarding fares and trains deflecting, amidst which many died in trains without food and water. In the parliament, the government said that it did not have any data on deaths of migrant workers. After such atrocities, the shameless government denied even compensation for the workers who were murdered by government apathy.
Even the middle class has not been untouched by the wrong policies of the government. Our economy, which was already crippling and crumbling due to demonetization and GST, took a devastating blow due to the unplanned lockdown. A report by Aziz Premji Institute stated that 230 million Indians fell into poverty and the government’s response to it was a hollow rhetoric of Atmanirbhar. It neither gave income support to people in the form of direct income transfer nor gave any relief in income tax and GST.
Economically devastated people had to face the second wave of Covid or rather we should say had to bear the wrath of the government which does not care. From people gasping for oxygen to bodies floating in the Ganga, such was the dystopia we went through due to negligence by people in power. In the ongoing monsoon session of the parliament, the government has said that nobody died due to the lack of oxygen, implying that Indian lives do not matter at all to them.
With job losses and declining income, we are crushed by the soaring inflation due to high fuel prices. We can be sure that this would not be the end of our pain. By looking at their policies, it looks like policymakers have taken an oath to crush common people in every possible way, from poverty to healthcare facilities. Every section of our society, be it workers, farmers, middle class, students, activists or journalists, have felt and are still feeling the brunt of a government that only wants to hurt people.
Now, let’s move on to the accomplice in apathy- capitalistic markets. The fact that India Inc.’s profit to GDP ratio is at 4 year high of 2.6 % and Indian billionaires’ wealth increased by 35 % during the lockdown while 230 million Indians fell into poverty summarizes the two extreme points of reality of heaven and hell in the same country. The rich made profit on the backs of the stressed and overworked working class by firing, cutting salaries and slashing bonuses. Corporates donated generously to political parties (the ruling party of BJP in 2019-2020 got Rs 750 crores in donation money, five times of the Congress- the main opposition party) and as result they got reduction in corporate taxes. The fiscal burden was put on common people as GST has increased government reliance on India’s indirect taxes, which is hurting the poor and middle class of country. In addition to all these, the government catered them new labor codes, farm laws and diluted environmental laws which will help the capitalists grow rich while creating inequalities and putting our environment in danger. People are suffering at the hands of the private sector in education and health too as with dropping incomes they are unable to pay fees. These are consequences of low budgets in public education and health, and not just an immediate effect of economic distress. Neo liberal economists and market oriented policy pundits celebrate these facts as factors inducing growth. They have not only normalized but glamourized this modern slavery by corporates and governments.
It seems people in power are annihilating us on all fronts of life, from economic to political. This dystopia in which we are suffocating can never be forgotten; the images from walking workers to dying patients gasping for breath should always remind us that democracy cannot be taken for granted. If someone denies it we must fight for it and snatch it from them. Though the recent farmers protest gives a glimmer of hope, we will need a larger representation of various sections of society to turn protests into a larger movement. We need to overcome our religious, cultural and linguistic differences in order to form a strong united front against wrong policies. Our mindset, which criticizes being political, should change if we want to defeat fascist capitalist forces who use political platforms to crush our freedom and rights.
Sonit Surana is an undergrad student pursuing engineering from Howrah, West Bengal. He likes to extensively read and write on socio-political issues. He also writes poetry and believes in using art as a mirror to reflect truth to society.