The present scenario of expanding and deepening anxiety world-wide, when developed nations are caught napping, panic responses, there is a babble of confusing opinions ranging from tea-drinking as a sovereign remedy for the pandemic to the possibility of riding out the crisis with nothing on hand for at least a year before a safe and effective vaccine is invented and allowing millions to die untended, we are now faced with a global crisis that will spare no one. For the first time, our Prime Minister has admitted that we are far from a developed nation.
It is a crying shame that when testing-kits that would have cost Rs 450-500 were available in near future, sole manufacturing rights have reportedly been granted for a kit that might cost Rs 4,500. And Yogi Adityanath is allowed during the lockdown to install a deity in a temple while common people are mercilessly thrashed by the police for moving out into the streets to meet some pressing need. But one hopes good sense will eventually prevail over blind and narrow politics and the nation will unite in protecting itself from the inevitable crisis and its fallout.
It will be unimaginable folly for the bigoted saffron groups and their numerous comrades in folly to seize this moment as an opportunity to finally establish saffron dominion. And it will mean irreversible disaster for a country that has come so far. So national energies must be mobilised and concentrated on various aspects of national survival—there must be not only fast-paced and suitable epidemiological research on a massive scale, likewise on health-service options and means and social work for tending to the sick and the needy as well as suitable organisation of production and supply of minimum essential commodities including masks,sanitisers and testing-kits.
Such ideas can never come out of a single head or a close cohort of heads. There must be open exchange of ideas, of creative but responsible opinions. Freedom from fear must be its core, not choking off differences. All political and social responses must be shared in an open unbiased manner within parameters given by this catastrophic crisis. Leadership can no longer mean oracular guidance but transparent and informed communication and co-operation of talent and energy in an environment of freedom and goodwill. Any craving to claim sole credit for success in such a Herculean task will be doomed to go down in history as a monumental failure.
One fears there will be casualties during the fight-back which will hurt us a lot. There must be sympathy and charity in the midst of cruel pain that might make us despondent, frustrated and inward-turned. We either work together and survive or individually perish like flies. We are at war with an enemy that has an unknown and quite alien character. It may deceive us with temporary retreat only to overwhelm us with sudden attacks. It appears to have Protean characteristics. The best experts say it will be at least a year before a safe and effective vaccine is found. And we do not have sufficient resources to maintain the social distancing for months together. There is no guarantee that a lockdown will permanently check its progress. A workable solution must be found for a model of social production and supply sustainable in our conditions making inescapable allowance for painful sacrifices.
One hopes that our present leadership does not deceive itself by trying to lay down the law in every field. The circumstances demand that they listen to others and make no claim to infallibility. P Chidambaram has made a fairly sane statement though one wishes he had not insisted on uniformity in the name of unity. OP Vijayan has shown sensible traits of leadership without any concession to superstition. In Odisha the Chief Minister seems to have taken some wise steps. The list can go on if people with ability and talent are not hamstrung for the sake of narrow party interest and are encouraged to help with ideas of a practical nature.
Now for a glimpse of the larger background. It is a pity that beguiled by the rhetoric of globalisation we failed to notice the rapacious interests at the helm. Globalisation was not a mere spontaneous process. It has been overseen at every turn by nations that thought it would serve to their maximum profit and benefit. There has been more or less unhindered movement of capital, skills and resources, but to eventually most unequal distribution of benefits. There have been fantastic growth in speed and volume of communication but restricted access to technology and content in vital areas.
The poor and the needy have been driven into sweat-shops by multinationals. Public health services and cheap food supplies in these countries have been brutally wrecked in the name of an end to subsidies, and rulers of these unfortunate countries are getting delinked from their poor and no more given to thinking of them as compatriots. Trade relations are thrust down the throats of weaker countries with most unequal terms with some sops like ‘geographical indicator’ and ‘indigenous knowledge’ like intermittent drizzles in a desert. At this point they no longer pretend to be a united community and are in open conflict with bared claws and teeth.
Proxy wars in various parts of the world have ruined ancient developing nations and turned them into despised homeless refugees. The peace their arms have established has meant misery and despair for millions in weaker countries. And they have broken pledges to other countries at will. There is world trade but no world government to control and limit their greed and their ravenous exploitation of nature precipitating a climate crisis threatening extinction of life.
The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be separated from this scenario. It presumably arose out of a virus found in the saliva of bats. The virus has opportunistically jumped from one species to another and is playing havoc. As long as it inhabited the saliva of bats it did them no harm because perhaps there are antibodies in bodies of bats taking care of them. Humans have none. Countries like ours are on the brink of an existential threat because of the pandemic spreading. And I wonder if we can win this war in our country by blindly imitating Western countries.
We have got to learn from others but use the knowledge with due adjustment to conditions here. While physical contact must be reduced to a minimum, we may use vestigial community links through mobiles and the net to share experience and organise delivery of supplies and services at minimum risk. The government must not leave mobile communications at the mercy of big business but invest to make them wider and deeper and, importantly, cheaper.
And since the crisis may continue and in fact deepen, there must be appropriate contingency plans and training for volunteers and workers to continue skeletal production and supplies. And proper monitoring not by saffron goons but volunteers from all parties and organisations. Rationing for all may have to be introduced, especially on the irresponsible rich. Provisions must be made for the elderly. Experience of war-time Britain and Cuba under sanctions may be drawn upon. And all this means a major reorientation in policy away from the allure of globalisation. All parties need to confront and address this choice.
The big immediate question is one of at least minimally effective treatment.
There are credible reports that drugs enhancing human resistance and immunity are available from some countries. We had become dependent on international giant pharma houses for vital bio-technological research neglecting our own talents and capabilities. Some of our sharpest brains are at work in their labs for their enormous profits. We must encourage and support our own virological and pharmaceutical research. Safety procedures and appropriate testing need to be in place. We have talent enough to use,but all is wasted in our acquiescence to dependent conditions.
And let there be an end to communal poison and search for false enemies, and the wretched hocus-pocus about cow dung and cow-urine.
The author is a socio-political commentator and cultural critic. The views are personal.