President of India Ram Nath Kovind has written an article on coronavirus to remind us that we are merely biological organisms dependent on other organisms for survival and that humankind’s craving to control nature and exploit all its resources for profit can be wiped out in a stroke by a miniscule organism. He suggests that it is time to pause and think where we lost the way and how may we make a comeback. He also reminds us how in nature’s eyes we are all equal and how this little virus has erased all socially constructed differences between humans.
The President has pointed out some basic facts which the government is not willing to consider. G D Agrawal, of IIT-Kanpur fame, who became a saint in 2011 and came to be known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, used to consider river Ganga his mother. He gave up his life fighting to save the river, after a 112-days fast in 2018, after having written around four letters to the Prime Minister – none of which elicited any response.
Agrawal had highlighted the damage caused to the river by big dams, illegal mining, deforestation in its valley, and the flow of massive volumes of sewerage into it. He had discovered that a virus called ‘bacteriophage’, present in the river, was responsible for destroying harmful bacteria like Escherichia-Coli and thereby keeping it clean. Bacteriophage travels with sediment, and stops doing that once the water meets the walls of a dam. While the government’s decision was to protect the interests of dam builders and the mining mafia, contractors involved with building Sewage Treatment Plants, Agrawal was of the opinion that sewage – unclean or clean – should not flow into the river.
As this article is being written, two saints, Sadhvi Padmawati, presently admitted at AIIMS, New Delhi and Swami Shivanand, at Matri Sadan, Haridwar, are sitting on a fast to fulfill the unfinished agenda of Swami Sanand. However, the government doesn’t care about the lives of these saints willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the river. So far, four saints, including Swami Sanand, have sacrificed their lives for Ganga.
This raises questions over the government's intentions, which seems to be making use of the COVID-19 crisis to serve its own purpose, especially to wind up the anti-CAA, NRC and NPR protests that were being carried out throughout the country.
When the Lucknow police issued a notice to women at Ghanta Ghar to wind up their protest, they advised them to worry about themselves and that their veils would protect them. On 19 March, a heavy posse of police personnel tried to get the site vacated; they outnumbered the women present there. After a scuffle, the police realized that the women were not going to move, and withdrew from the site, leaving some of the protestors injured. The Uttar Pradesh Health Minister has now suggested that people who will not cooperate with the government’s efforts to control the outbreak of coronavirus will be sent to jail, which will only result in overcrowding of already overflowing prisons, posing obvious risk to the inmates in there.
The central government is also guilty of having allowed communal violence to continue in the national capital for more than three days in the last week of February, in which over 50 precious lives were lost – again in an attempt to wind up the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests. In Delhi, the government was successful in reducing the number of protests to half, but it clearly shows that the government is least interested in saving the lives of people. Steps taken to check the spread of coronavirus appears merely to be a public relations exercise for them. Otherwise, how is the Parliament still functioning, when all other public institutions have been closed; why are religious activities in temples of Ayodhya or Gorakhpur still continuing? Does physical distancing not apply to these places?
The government also is shamelessly using its official machinery as well as RSS cadres to achieve their political objective. Besides, they will now use the excuse of coronavirus to lament about the sorry state of Indian economy, which was already badly hit by the government’s ill-thought policies.
We destroyed a beneficial virus in Ganga, and now a sinister one threatens to destroy us! Swami Sanand, in his letters to Narendra Modi, written before and during the start of his fast, had warned that if he died while fasting, he’ll hold Modi responsible for it for having ignored the interests of river Ganga. How can we expect a government, which did not save Agrawal’s life, to be serious about saving the rest of our lives from coronavirus?
If President Kovind sincerely believes in “vasudhaiva kutumbakam”, which means that the whole world is a family, then the first thing he should do is to recommend the government against CAA, which simply discriminates between human beings, on the basis of their religion and nationality.
Sandeep Pandey is a socio-political activist and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee. He is associated with the Socialist Party (India). Views are his own.