When our lives have no values before power-hungry politicians
Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
The Corona pandemic has triggered a sense of consternation in the mind of each human. Life is always uncertain but has become more uncertain. The entire humanity is paying a heavy price through the frightening second wave of Covid infections for arrogance, narcissism, complacency and nonchalance of some world leaders including that of India.
The value of our lives has become meaningless before power hungry politicians. The pandemic is raging like never before and takes the shape of an epidemiological tsunami. The second wave of pandemic appears to be more insidious, and gruesome than the earlier one and the infection is spreading like a conflagration.
Before the resurgence of the second wave Covid pandemic, Toby Ord, one of the leading philosophers, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Futures of Humanity Institute, had warned that humans face risks that give no second chances. The Covid-19 pandemic is a forewarning to us. It is an existential risk that confronts human beings. We face possible catastrophe which threatens the permanent destruction of humanity’s potential such as human extinction or an unrecoverable collapse of civilization.
The poet and philosopher, a Spanish-born George Santayana had said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The above lines are applicable to our ruling dispensation at the Centre who learned nothing from the first wave of pandemic and allowed the second wave of the pandemic to rule the roost and inflict heavy damage and making our lives more uncertain, miserably.
Politicians have not learned from pandemic and used this crisis to strengthen their stronghold and become more rapacious for power. They are apportioning blame and shifting responsibilities and indulging in mudslinging.
The assumption of smooth economic recovery is now in question as the production chain is going to be disrupted again. Experts believe that the second wave has hit the economy with fury and will extract a significant economic cost.
The abysmal failure of government in tackling pandemic is manifested as new cases surpassing even the United States and Brazil in terms of new daily infections. On 18th April, India became the second country in the world to record more than 250,000 cases in a single day, after the US.
Compare this with a stringent lockdown when India had just over 500 cases. The per-day cases peaked mid-September in India with over 97,000 cases reported per day and came down to below 9102 on January 26, 2021, before rising again under a second wave from March 2021.
By January 2021, earlier, when other countries saw second and third waves of infections, India had shifted into triumphalist mode. India started tom-tomming about succeeding in subjugating the virus under PM Narendra Modi’s apt decision-making. Now the situation is out of control. With hospital beds, ventilators, and oxygen already in short supply, the future looks scary and petrifying.
What is preposterous is that if anything well happens, the government tries to take credit. But attributes its all failures to the act of God or predecessors. The Indian immune system just fought the virus better. When the first wave of pandemic lost its intensity automatically and infection and fatalities rate declined due to herd immunity and better immune system spurred by unhygienic conditions, the ruling dispensation left no stone unturned to take credit for ending the pandemic. The union health minister declared that the country had entered “the endgame” of its own battle against the pandemic.
In the world total infection has exceeded 14.24 crore while death surpassed 30.42 lakh. Active cases in the country have been rising for the past 41 consecutive days and at 20,31,977, they now comprise 13.26 per cent of the total infections which is more than 1.53 crores, just behind the US which has more than 3.15 crore.
The overall death toll rose to 1,80,530 with the addition of a record 1,761 new fatalities, the highest per day. In terms of the number of deaths, the US has the highest number of deaths followed by Brazil and Mexico. India is in 4th position. India is number one in term of daily infections. The daily infection in India had climbed to more than 2.73 lakh per day (highest single-day spike) as against 73,697 new cases only in US as of 19th April 2021. But, unfortunately, the national COVID-19 recovery rate has further plummeted to 85.56 per cent.
When the vaccine was invented, there was a lot of publicity blitzkrieg for political mileage and the government took pride in exporting to the world, though its credibility, efficacy in preventing infection is yet to be proved. Even, our valuable times are killed for publicity of vaccine while listening message when we call others through mobile. Our Prime Minister boasts of our vaccination programme. But unfortunately, our vaccination rate is below that of the world even abysmal compared to many countries.
Of the 171 countries and territories administering vaccines and publishing rollout data, 67 are high-income nations, 90 are middle-income, and 14 low-income. As per Our World in Data – a collaboration between Oxford University and an educational charity – shows the total number of doses given per 100 people, mostly first doses.
As of 19th April, the vaccination rate in India per 100 population is 9.0 lower than the world average of 11.6 and much below than Israel (116), UAE (97.4), UK (64.6), America (62.6), Spain (26.4) Germany (26.2), Italy (25.2), China (13.4), even small country like Seychelles (114.1). Some have more than 100% means there are more cases of second doses.
In early 2020, when the first wave of pandemic swamped India, the Indian government took recourse to some unscientific activities like Janata curfew, switching off lights, banging plate, blowing the conch, and poorly or shoddily planned stringent lockdown.
Let us exonerate ruling dispensations as the pandemic was a new experience for them and at a time when some other global leaders were downplaying the dangers of the virus. World leaders like erstwhile US president Donald Trump and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro had dismissed the biggest threat the world has faced in over a hundred years as much ado about nothing or treated pandemic as something unimportant.
But India had enough time to avert the second wave pandemic or diminish its devastating consequences. But Indian government did not get prepared for any exigencies, and deplorably was caught off guard. No attempt was made to strengthen our decrepit health infrastructure. When some hope for economic growth based on a low base was seen due to pent-up demand, the government resorted to publicity blitzkrieg despite having a record-breaking contraction of the economy with the concomitant fiscal apocalypse in 2020-21.
The government went on celebrating it and discussed the prospect of V-shaped recovery when the economy was plagued by the peril of K-shaped recovery (i.e., rich getting richer, poor getting poorer. The ministers, some bureaucrats gave statements in such a way that nothing wrong had happened to the Indian economy. There was frequent misuse of world development and growth that India has achieved under Modi regime. The pandemic holds a mirror to what types of development achieved.
Ruling dispensation at the Center was very complacent after the infection rate declined. They concentrated on spreading their suzerainty, election rallies, and winning states. The complacency was so ghastly that the ruling dispensation became phlegmatic, insensitive to others’ sufferings, and was oblivious of the bitter fact that a large number of people have succumbed to pandemic while most of the people have undergone the mental agony, anguish with a family torn apart, savings depleted or indebtedness escalating. The power-hungry ruling class did not even care about the plight of vulnerable sections of society and their misery, squalor, wretched lives during the pandemic period.
The government tried to derive political mileage from each rupee spent out of taxpayers’ money. Past failures and their causes, impacts were never discussed but the illusion of hope for the future was created always as nobody has seen tomorrow and in the long run everybody is dead. In order to camouflage failures, the illusion of a $5 trillion economy, self-reliant India was created.
Any country trying to perform well must emulate those who are better than it and pay heed to criticism. In each time government and its officials went on comparing India’s performance, people’s suffering with worse situation/records of predecessors or any other countries to create a false impression that India is better placed. When people are dying, there was blatant publicity that India has a lower fatality rate. The tone and tenor of government were so supercilious that the life of people is meaningless and those who perished deserve to die.
The government resorted to pseudo nationalism, cheap populism and utilised the vulnerabilities of people during a pandemic to buttress its own surreptitious agenda of increasing political stronghold and fascism throughout the country by subverting media, decimating oppositions, and taking anti-people, anti-labor and pro-corporate, pro-rich measures.
The undemocratic, oligarchic attitude of ruling dispensation is corroborated as Sweden-based V-Dem Institute dubbed India as an “electoral autocracy while “World Press Freedom Index dub India as flawed democracy with India’s position declining in the global democracy index. India has fallen two places in the 2020 Democracy Index report released by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The country was ranked 51st in 2019, released on February 2021. India has fallen from a global ranking of 27 in 2015 to 53 in 2020. India has dropped two places on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders and is now ranked 142 out of a total of 180 countries. India has ranked 136th position worldwide in terms of press freedom in 2015, out of 180 nations
Media was subverted to hide failures of the ruling class and create emotions among people by discussing emotional and extraneous issues. Ministers killed the space of writers/critics by writing articles in their favour. But hatred was created in higher magnitude against critics, dissenters. Oppositions were targeted instead of ruling dispensations. Intellectuals are made to fight each other to defend failures of the ruling dispensation.
Many towering personalities preferred to remain neutral, apolitical instead of pointing to the weakness of the government. The odious attempt by the government to camouflage failures and media failing to expose the weakness of the ruling class made the latter complacent, undemocratic and autocratic for which the ruling class could not foresee the danger of the second wave of infection.
Modi got blinded by the applause. Arrogance is reflected in his obsession for global praise. Modi swell with pride while there is appreciation but if any criticism, there was outright rejection. In a hard-hitting and sharply critical interview with, ‘The Wire’, the eminent historian Rama Chandra Guha squarely blames Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership style as the principal reason for the mishandling of the present COVID-19 crisis.
According to him, Modi’s “explicit contempt for education” and his lack of reliance on experts have led to the present crisis. He further made stringent criticism on Modi’s “sycophantic cabinet”, the country’s institutions, including the Supreme Court, which has let down the country and the yes-men officials and bureaucrats who Modi has surrounded himself with.
The rapacity for power is reflected in election campaigns, frequent meetings, rallies and roadshows. The Election Commission decided to hold the West Bengal assembly polls in April, which saw massive political campaigns with large crowds at Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and J.P. Nada’s rallies where lakhs of people attended with no masks and no sign of physical distancing. The scenario appeared like Covid never hit India and the main issue before ruling dispensation is to capture power.
Faith in own party ideology and religion took precedence over humanity and constitutionalism. The unfettered congregation in Kumbha Mela is a glaring example. Narendra Modi does not speak up against such type of congregation because a big section of these sadhus plays a pivotal role in the mobilisation of Hindu votes during elections.
During pandemic when there was a need for more redistributive policies like income transfer to vulnerable people, wage subsidies, unemployment benefits, and other fiscal measures such as more investment in health care, education, and other basic public services, the government did just reverse. By contrast, the government went ahead with extravagant spending to feed his vanity-Central Vista and building new parliament.
Instead of strengthening the public sector, the government resorted to aggressive disinvestment and privatisation of the public sector. The more privatisation means the more transfer of national assets to private individuals and the decimation of the voiceless.
Agricultural laws enacted to decimate farmers and support corporates despite vociferous protest, strike by farmers. Labour laws were changed to suit corporates to the detriments of workers. The interest rate was cut again and again to reduce the interest liability of corporate and government itself which worked to detriment of savers as their real return (nominal interest-inflation) turned out to be a huge negative.
Instead of taxing the rich, corporates at a higher rate, the government went on increasing taxes on petroleum products that not only spurred the rise of prices and inflation but also eroded the purchasing power of people and dampened their standard of livings.
It is not only politicians but most of human beings have not learnt from pandemic too. Rather many of them have grown more arrogant, greedy, vindictive, and selfish. That is why we are witnessing the second wave of the pandemic in a more grueling form.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.