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Home > 2020 > LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.5

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 19 New Delhi, April 25, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.5

Saturday 25 April 2020

Today is April 24, 2020. Precisely a month ago, that is, on March 24, 2020, the PM had in an address to the nation on the Corona Virus crisis declared the Government’s decision to impose a lockdown across the country to meet the danger of the pandemic that was threatening to assume serious proportions. Though it was doubtless a delayed response to a massive crisis, the announcement was unequivocally welcomed by several publications including this one which was not in the least oblivious of the manifold problems faced by persons in the lower rungs of society, suffering from joblessness, hunger, starvation and yet being forced to cover huge distances on foot on their way to their homes as there was no transport available on account of the lockdown.

A month has elapsed after this lockdown was set in motion. Reports today, based on figures collected on the last two days disclose the Corona Virus outbreak has spread to more than half the total number of districts in the country but remains concentrated in some areas as was revealed by a national newspaper today, "While districts in the COVID-19 map have more than doubled in the last three weeks - from 211 districts on April 1 to 429 on April 22 - the heavy load (of Corona virus) remains confined to 12 administrative districts that recorded over 200 cases each".

However, the corporate-controlled media do not or sparsely highlight the numerous difficulties being encountered by those in the lower rungs of society, several of whom breathed their last while trekking back home from one end of the country to another. It is the plight of these hapless citizens that need to be brought into focus in the trying conditions in which our countrymen are enduring the crisis today.

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Serious and long term covid-19 threat

The WHO and top officials of the US Centre for Disease Control have now warned that the Covid-19 world wide pandemic is still in its early stages and that it will be around for a considerable time. A powerful wave. of infections is expected in the winter of 2021. Also, there appear to be major shortcomings and underestimations in data on the pandemic related deaths released by national bodies. Data on China and also on some countries of Europe is being questioned by analysts. According to Financial Times report of 22 April (https://www.ft.com/content/67e6a4ee-3d05-43bc-ba03-e239799fa6ab?segmentid=acee4131-99c2-09d3-a635-873e61754ec6) the figures for coronavirus deaths in the UK should be more than double official figure given so far.

According to the WHO India is the worst affected country so far in the South-East Asian Region - which includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Timor-Leste & DPRK besides India: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/56d2642cb379485ebf78371e744b8c6a

Chalta Hai and then Abrupt Lockdown Therapy

The first case of Corona virus in India was found in January 2020 but there was a lull in Governmental action and no planned counter measures visible to public till late March 2020. In Mid March 2020 the Health ministry issued an advisory saying that Covid-19 was not a serious health crisis.

While there was official silence the propaganda machines connected to the ruling BJP and the Hindu right-wing were circulating ridiculous messages on social media on the use of yoga, cow urine, dung, sunshine to deflate the corona virus. And then came the sudden announcement of a lockdown restricting movement of people and shutting down of economic activity –as a one size fits all reckless strategy—social distancing was main idea; the elites and middle classes could stay confined in their homes and afford not to work but for the vast majority of citizens, labouring people, migrants and precarious informal labour being locked out of work with no money to survive was a non-option. It is obvious that have-nots are low priority in state policy. The lockdown triggered a massive exodus of migrant workers …. showed the cluelessness of the bureaucracy – that the labour ministry officials failed to envisage a social crisis for the poor speaks for itself. It seems they now only ’recognise’ as workers those who have registered EPFO accounts and the millions of daily wage earners are not entitled of this recognition. The system is insensitive to the poor, as thousands of migrants walked on the highways, at places were baton charged as if they were criminals or got sprayed with chemical disinfectants. State officials gave written orders to convert stadiums into open prisons where migrating workers were to be held. The Prime Minister uttered a word or two of apology for the hardships faced by the migrating poor.

State response to this Covid 19 trigrered health and a humanitarian crisis has been two pronged. One is the Finance ministry relief measure package and the other is the controversial new PM Cares Fund, but India could take another route - Tax its rich to fund relief and renewal. India has nearly a 1000 families of billionaires, if a ‘COVID-19 response levy’ of 3% or 4 % tax on monthly incomes was imposed on these high net worth households, we will have sufficiently large funds for relief, public health and social development programmes.

Strange ways of PM CARES: There have been umpteen natural disasters, threat of epidemics in the country in the past and in all these events people were encouraged to donate money into the PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) (that has existed since the late 1940s) or to the province level Chief Minister relief fund …. But come corona virus a totally new funding vehicle was created by the Modi regime called PM CARES - Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations)… setting aside old PM National Relief Fund. What was the need for this new fund? Now many attempts seem underway at forcing peoples hands to donate into the PM Cares fund. A circular from the Department of Revenue, of the finance ministry, addressed to all staff to “contribute their one day’s salary every month till March 2021 to the PM CARES Fund to aid the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic” Donations for PM CARES fund are meant to be “voluntary”, reports show that direct deductions have been made from salaries. Those unwilling to donate were asked to submit their refusal in writing ... . The Delhi University Teachers’ Association has alleged that vice-chancellor has diverted a little over Rs 4 crore that had been collected from university staff for the PMNRF to PM-CARES fund without any consultation. In a bizzare situation the Jharkhand High court recently granted bail to accused in a case under Railways Act … but the bail condition imposed by the Jharkhand High Court was depositing money in (Rs. 35,000) the PM Cares Fund and show the proof of the same. Unlike such a deposit, the courts usually ask for bail bonds.

It is distressing to see the tax payer financed national broadcast networks Doordarshan and All India Radio do shoddy propaganda by repeatedly carrying clips of citizens seemingly ‘made to’ praise the depositing of Rs 500 by the govt to the Jan Dhan accounts of citizens during lockdown ….

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On April 22 this year, the world observed the 150th birth anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the architect of the first socialist revolution. As a token of our tribute to him, we convey the following written on Lenin by Jawaharlal Nehru and published in the Hindu, (April 5, 1928)

" ’I know a pair of eyes which have been for ever numbed by the burning sorrow of the Terror, ’ said Gorky of Lenin. This sorrow did not leave him to the end. It made him a fierce fanatic and gave him the strength of will to persevere and achieve. But sorrow for the misery of his fellowmen did not make him gloomy or reserved. He was ’ filled to the brim with the sap of life’, and even ’in the unhappiest moments of his existence he was serene and always prone to gay laughter ’. ....

..... " ’I have worked with men who set themselves to very high and difficult responsibilities, yet we suffered painfully from the feeling that we were but amateurs. The more ashamed I am to confess this, the more bitter I feel towards those sham socialists who failed to realise that we were not lower the revolutionary to the level of the amateur, ’ Lenin wrote. With how much greater truth does it apply to all of us in India who dabble in politics !... ".... We have talked and written for Swaraj for years, but when Swaraj comes it will probably take us by surprise. We have passed the Independence resolution at the Congress and yet how many of us realise its full implications? How many belie it by their words and actions?... They talk of Swaraj and independence in their conferences and their council’s but their minds are full of reservations and their acts are feeble and halting.

" In Russia also the revolutionaries of an older generation lived in a world of theory, and hardly believed in the realisation of their ideals. But Lenin came with his directness and realism and shook the fabric of old-time socialism and revolution. He taught people to think that the ideal they had dreamed of and worked for was not mere theory but something to be realised then and there. By an amazing power of will he hypnotized a nation and filled a disunited and demoralised people with energy and determination and the strength to endure and suffer for a cause." This was written 92 years ago and published in the Hindu on April 5, 1928 (five months, after Nehru’s first visit to the Soviet Union along with his father to attend the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution).

April 24, 2020 The Editor

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