The sense of shared responsibility in the cabinet of the current regime in Delhi is transparently self-reflective. While one union minister had earlier suggested a game of ‘antakshri’, another ever-happy minister asked all and sundry to watch Ramayana, while he watched it wearing a tracksuit on a giant television screen, in the comfort of his house.
This, while tens of thousands of workers and the poorest of the poor, with sacks on their heads, children and women carrying plastic bags, hungry, humiliated and hounded, were trekking on foot, many barefoot, across miles and miles of empty roads and highways around Delhi and its neighbourhood, mostly to Bihar and UP. At the Kaushambi bus terminal yesterday near Delhi, lakhs were jostling in close proximity, if not walking in huge processions of stunning despair, to catch buses to their homes. Indeed, it’s neither dark irony nor an ugly twist of destiny that the central government, and the other state governments, namely, Haryana, UP and Bihar, are all ruled by the BJP and its allies.
Why couldn’t the working people be convinced to stay back till the lockdown with full social security and dignity? If that failed, why not arrange for orderly mass transport from vantage points, with proper medical check-ups? Surely, if India is a superpower, and we are so proud of our ‘nationalist’ fervor, this could be done by this government.
However, both hope and home, seem far away for the Indian masses on the margins. And so does the muscular ‘stand-up’ India, skill India, swacch India and healthy India dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
DESPITE HIS LONG and dreary speeches at 8 pm on national television — in the second one he almost seemed on the verge of tears — the prime minister’s 21-day lockdown became an abject failure moments after the speech as hundreds scurried to stock stuff up in the just about 3 plus hours given to them as relief. Pray, like all other countries, even those ruled by his best Right-wing pals, much more time was given to the people to organize their lives and thereby not switch the panic button.
Indeed, either his experts have proved correct, or they have turned him into a total failure. With thousands on the streets, apart from their suffering, and the brutalistation by the police, the epidemic which seemed to be in control, seems now to be becoming a mass pandemic
So what stopped the PM to give this vast country of teeming millions just the last opportunity to organize their lives and homes, especially those in the margins, the have-nots, the working class, the poor and homeless, those who live in congested ghettos in communities and groups in a abysmal conditions and work all day to earn their daily livelihood; those who build the roads and highways, the stadiums, the gated middle class ‘societies’, the high-rise buildings of the rich and upper/middle classes?
So, did their existential dilemma cross the mind of our visionary PM, who has now travelled to over 70 countries all over the globe on public money, and who has hugged almost all top leaders of the world?
Or, was it intentional, a design, another model to be applied cold-bloodedly, based on the advise of his ‘experts’. He kept referring to ‘experts’ in his second TV sermon; pray, who are these experts?
Indeed, either his experts have proved correct, or they have turned him into a total failure as the head of the State. The lockdown has clearly failed. With thousands on the streets, apart from their hunger, despair and suffering, and the brutalistation by the police, the epidemic which seemed to be in control, seems now to be becoming a mass pandemic, thanks to the utter insensitivity bordering on cruelty, displayed by the Modi government and its leaders/allies in UP, Haryana and Bihar. But, then, since demonitisation, this seems to have become an ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’ of our populist ‘Dear Leader and ‘Great Helmsman’. And, clearly, they are too muscular and macho to learn from their mistakes.
Why couldn’t the working people be convinced in the first place to stay back till the lockdown with full social security and absolute dignity? If that failed, why not arrange for orderly mass transport from vantage points in the National Capital Region to transport them free to their destinations, with proper medical check-ups? Surely, if India is a superpower, and we are so proud of our ‘nationalist’ fervor, this could be done by this government.
Why were stadiums and empty high-rises and buildings not converted into temporary shelters and hospitals for the people in Delhi and in the neighbourhood, till the immediate crisis was over? Why were tens of thousands left to their fate, vulnerable to the epidemic, risking lives of millions others? So where was the ‘Laxman Rekha’ as the PM used rhetorically in his TV address, not applied on them too, with their fundamental right to life and livelihood intact?
Well, in states like UP and Bihar, where even doctors and nurses don’t have masks or protective gears, where scores of doctors have been in isolation, where ventilators are starkly in short supply, where hospitals and medical infrastructure are reeking of neglect and lack of funds, how will they cope with an impending tragedy looming large with this forced migration triggered by an unilateral lockdown without notice? Will not rural India, especially in the Hindi heartland, until now seemingly insulated from the virus, now become a possible melting pot of the ‘mahamari’? Can the state machinery led by the PM and his BJP/allies stop it?
Who will take responsibility, when the State absolves itself of all its responsibilities, and while its top Union ministers cajole the masses to watch ‘Ramayana’ and play ‘antakshri’?
ITS A BAD record the PM has cut, and it is there for the whole world to see. He has, unfortunately, yet again, proved to be a total disaster at the helm, with the economy down at the dumps, and unemployment at an all time high. Indeed, by his transparent failure in implementing this forced lockdown, triggering mass exodus of the poor, he has jeopardized the efficient running of several states.
The first warning by the WHO was sounded in early January. Rahul Gandhi spoke about the impending catastrophe repeatedly. States like Kerala, Maharashtra and Bengal had prepared itself with hospitals, medical infrastructure, insulation, partial lockdowns and universal social security. They did not ask their people to clap and beat sundry pots and plates at 5 pm, they took care of their doctors, nurses, patients, people, the poor, with medical help and counseling, and a socially receptive structure of civil society cooperation.
In Calcutta, for instance, Jadavpur University students are distributing sanitisers and food to everyone across the city, especially to the cops and vegetable sellers, etc. Compare it to Delhi and Noida, for instance;, you can’t get a sanitiser in any chemist shop, or you can get only a fake one, at exorbitant rates. Ditto with masks.
So the big questions remains why did these migrants really leave Delhi and other big capitals? Couldn’t they have waited for three weeks to return to their jobs and life? It is apparent that they knew that their jobs were lost as soon as PM addressed the nation. The pandemic, they realized, was the last straw on the camels back.
Pinarayi Vijayan has proved to be a role model in tackling such gigantic, unprecedented, mass crisis. Apart from checking at railway and buses entry points, his government did not allow migration. The state government has organized healthy, clean, safe shelters for over 2 lakh migrant workers. The community kitchens here are an example for all to follow, apart from other practical schemes, including door-to-door food distribution, health care and counselling. Mamata Banerjee herself came out on the streets of Calcutta to tell the shopkeepers and buyers to observe distances and precautions.
So the big questions remains why did these migrants really leave Delhi and other big capitals? Couldn’t they have waited for three weeks to return to their jobs and life? It is apparent that they knew that their jobs were lost as soon as PM addressed the nation. The pandemic, they realized, was the last straw on the camels back. After all, these migrants that came to big cities to chase their dreams could not hold on to their lives in these metropolises when the economy had crumbled and there was no short-term hope of things looking up. The truth is that before the WHO announced the pandemic, Indian economy was in a shambles: GDP had tanked despite all the souping up by the government, unemployment had soared, exports had dwindled. The only thing that continued with gusto and aggression was headline management by the government of how strong the country was getting, and the progressive alienation of the minorities. The Delhi riots in which 53 was killed brutally is only one indication of the atavism gripping the country.
So is it any surprise that the lockdown was brought in not just to airbrush the inconvenient, but also to increase control over a nation whose institutions had crumbled and democracy was in severe recession.