Kolkata: The extension of the Corona- Lockdown for another 18 days till 3 May on the morning of Baisakhi/Bihu/Poila Baisakh festival would have made us less gloomy had the Prime Minister Narendra Modi cared to assure both middle class and poor Indians— “Mitron, Stay put at your home, roadside shelters or wherever you are! I will take care of you and your family’s survival needs when you are inside your Lakhsman Rekha! Nobody will die of hunger, lack of roof over head or sickness in crowded confinements under second phase of lockdown as long as I am around!”
We Indians would have hailed him as our savior, not only from Corona but also other viruses like democracy-mania and dissent-philia which still infect some of us. Instead, we would have joined in the bhakti- chorus– Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai! (It’s possible if Modi is around) and celebrated his declaration as the heralding of the Ram Rajya.
Also, the Punya Tithi (The birth anniversary) of Babasaheb Amvedkar would have been more solemnly observed today if his self-proclaimed disciple had dealt on the icon’s idea of making political freedom meaningful by ensuring the freedom from hunger and the fury of the elements. Our new messiah could have helped us to hide the ugliest disjunctions between the nation’s rich and poor which had been exposed by an invisible enemy so nakedly before the world.
Did he care for the hungry multitude?
The prime minister could have assured food to those stranded jobless and homeless migrant laborers queuing in Delhi since morning for mid day or evening dole outs from Delhi government or the neighborhood Samaritans. He could have saved them from police lathi charges as there were too many jostling for too little. He should have sent few from his army of uniformed and civil attendants to deliver food packets to the weeping young parents with a newborn at a construction site, only a few km away from his Lok Kalyan Marg residence in Delhi.
He should have asked the man in Agra not to collect again the contaminated milk, accidentally spilled on road, for his children while almost competing with the street dogs. After all, no more we are under the colonial rulers who had famished Indians, Bengalis to be precise, to die in millions before they left us. He has reportedly received thousands of crores of money in his PMCares fund, which is supposed to be used for the relief of these lockdown victims. The FCI and other government warehouses are also full of grains which could and should be used to feed the starving millions. He could have declared a Centre-state jointly run and supported community kitchens or rations for anybody hungry till the lockdown is over.
But our Mota Bhai did not offer anything reassuring which he could or should do while counting his ‘Saptapadi’, the seven point dos and don’ts for the poor and well off citizens during the second phase of national lockdown. Instead, he reminded the poor that enough has been given to them under his Garib Kalyan Yojna and now they have to fend for themselves. Well, for the record, Modiji did repeat his appeal to employers and landlords not to retrench or evict the laborers. But neither he cautioned about any stern action against those who have already driven out their workers nor he offered any state succor for those were at the receiving end.
As if we are already in a heaven-made Sat Phera with him for Sato Janam that makes the nation’s five-yearly elections mere trivialities for earthly renewals, he spoke mostly like the Puranic demigod king who expected his subjects to obey his wishes as divinely sanctioned oracles or face his self-righteous wrath. But at the end, our Big Brother cautioned us, more brazenly than the overlord of the Orwellian dystopia of 1984. He said he would watch us during next week while certain laxity in lockdown may be allowed in view of the harvesting season and other economic factors.
Like the colonial masters, he put the onus on the people to ensure that their areas do not become the ‘hotspot’ for the corona transmission, failing which they would forfeit the right to minimum movement further. Good citizens were exhorted not only to obey the lockdown regime but also enforce it on the slackers and irresponsible (La Parawahi) neighbors. Else, all will suffer stricter confinement. It’s like the old-days ‘collective penalty’ and punitive actions that were used to be imposed on villagers where rebels against the Raj and its native allies had influences.
Silence on hate-mongers and vigilantes
No, he did not utter a single word to distinguish between the community pressure for conformity to norms set for public good or civic senses and the communal bullying by hate-crime groups and vigilante summary trial gangs, mostly allied to the ruling Sangh Parivar. These bullies are now working overtime in Hindi heartland and beyond in tandem with the ‘Godi’ media; mainly TV channels and social media to fan anti-Muslim mass hysteria by holding the entire community responsible for the current corona contagion in the country.
Taking the advantage of initial irresponsible acts of the Tablighi Jaamat that had added to COVID-19 positive cases and deaths in India, hosts of highly exaggerated and completely fake videos and reports have been circulated. The drummed up hate-campaign has already triggered mob-lynching and intimidation of Muslim laborers from Delhi to Jharkhand. The World Health Organization and other international bodies have condemned the hate campaigns that blamed any particular religious, race or social groups for the pandemic. But our prime minister’s silence on the issue is deafening.
On the other hand, his encouragement to community policing on actual or perceived deviants from lockdown regime would be construed as a license to the ‘Goli Maro’ gangs in their new avatars. Muslims would be now the veritable public enemy number one in India on the health issues too like the Jews and Gypsies in Germany and many other European Christian countries from the Middle Ages to the Nazi period. Apprehensions are not misplaced given the history of witch-hunting which has been justified in the name of science, public health and national interest time and again.
Crusade against Corona?
But question still remains what Modi has done to combat the corona virus spread in India other than imposing two spells of prolonged lockdowns. Many experts felt that he had completely disregarded the WHO guidelines as well as suggestions by others. Did he go for the ‘testing- testing-testing’ as the WHO director general had been asking for repeatedly? Today, the PM mentioned the availability of 200 labs for testing and 600 hospitals to observe and treat corona cases now in India. But he did not utter a single word on the availability of the test kits and number of tests done and PPE for health workers as well as its cost-sharing.
The WHO had focused on the mandatory screening- testing as well as isolation-quarantine-treatment of infected and his/her immediate contacts, primarily targeting foreign and Indian nationals who had flown in India from China and affected other countries.
Instead of sweeping countrywide lockdowns for prolonged periods that will also kill people and their livelihoods, it stressed on region/area specific lockdowns along with intensive public health campaigns with adequately trained and protected health workers. For the scientific and medical communities, lockdowns are secondary to the Public health infrastructure which the populist and right-wing governments have systematically derailed for decades for private sector benefits. Now, the powers that be are using lockdowns to hide their crimes and make a spectacle of out of a pandemic. Modi is one of them.
I mentioned in my series of reports that the WHO had declared COVID-19 as a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ 30 January 2020. The first case of corona infection in India was reported on the same day. The world body called it
‘Pandemic’ or a global epidemic on 11 March. What the government did in between the dates and even after to prevent the pandemic spreading in India?
On 23rd February, Donald Trump came on for two days visit. All WHO cautions against public gathering were thrown to the wind as ‘millions of Indians’ were assembled in Ahmadabad for road shows as well as a gala reception for him, named ‘Namaste Trump’. Both the prime minister and Home minister were present at the under-construction stadium where it was held.
Why Health ministry said that there was no Corona-induced ‘health care emergency’ and Union government wrote to the states to the same effect as late as on 13 March? Why International flights were not stopped before 22 March?
There are so many questions over the entire time line of the government’s omissions and commissions. But our modern-day messiah never likes to take questions, except from the chosen few in Godi media. He always commands through TV screens. And, given the ‘apolitical consensus’ prevalent now among the political class of the country including most of the Opposition parties, our Huzur Mai-Baap must be on the cloud nine now!