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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 26, New Delhi, June 13, 2020

India’s ’war against Covid 19’ - Statement by New Socialist Initiative 29 May 2020)

Saturday 13 June 2020

DOCUMENT

New Socialist Initiative (NSI) on India’s ’war against Covid 19’

Crisis for the People,
Opportunity for the Corporate-Government Nexus

Today, India has emerged as a new epicentre for the novel coronavirus in the Asia Pacific region.With 1,58,333 confirmed cases of Covid 19 and deaths of total of 4,531 people after contracting the virus, it has already crossed China’s COVID-19 numbers.

New Socialist Initiative (NSI) feels that the grim news of steadily rising infections and fatalities reveal before everyone a worrying pattern but the government either seems to be oblivious of the situation or has decided to shut its eyes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Union government has used incomplete national-level data to justify arbitrary policy decisions, defend its record and underplay the extent of Covid-19 crisis.

Absence of transparency vis-a-vis data collection of Covid infection levels could be said to be the tip of the iceberg of what has gone wrong with India’s ’war against Covid 19’.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of a 21-day countrywide lockdown came with a mere four-hour notice. It was done without engaging in any collective decision-making process with states to honour and enhance the spirit of “cooperative federalism” between the Centre and the States.
According to NSI this whole act did a tremendous harm to the principle of federalism which is a fundamental feature of our Constitution. Article 1 of the Indian Constitution defines “India, that is Bharat, is a Union of States”and control of infectious diseases is a concurrent subject in the Constitution.

Members of national task force constituted to advise the central government on its pandemic response have gone on record underlining that ’scientific inputs’ were never sought from them by the Indian government and lockdown failed to achieve its purpose because government failed to take crucial parallel measures, such as developing India’s testing capacity and medical infrastructure.

Opacity and violation of set constitutional procedures and consequent centralisation of the decision making processes has become a hallmark of the present government’s anti Covid strategy. It was geared towards making arrangements or institutionalising processes which could serve the ruling dispensation later as well.
The formation of a new ’PM Cares’ fund to combat the pandemic - which would be managed by a trust of four - which cannot be audited by CAG, has been a major example of utilising the pandemic to further partisan interests.It was constituted despite the statutory existence of the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) since independence which is transparent, accountable and audited by the CAG .

This brazenness has not been limited to pushing a private fund as work of public charity.
It is becoming increasingly evident that the custodians of power have tried to use the present situation of medical emergency - when political activities have largely come to a standstill when physical distancing norms have been put in place, and the citizenry are restricted to their homes - to serve as the pretext for the imposition of a de facto political emergency.
Independent critical voices in the media are being chased, retaliatory revengeful action against students/youth active in the historic anti CAA movement has been unleashed, leaders of peasants and workers have been arrested under draconian laws,

The historic Factories Act of 1948, a product of long years of struggles of the working people, which mandates that “No adult worker shall be required or allowed to work in a factory for more than forty-eight hours in any week” is being effectively annuled.
The organised and systematic infringement of hard earned rights of workers, under the talk of exceptional circumstances calling for exceptional solutions, is being executed to fulfill long term demands of the Corporates and the Moneybags

The defining image of the callousness and indifference of the present regime towards sufferings of the people is the migrant labour on the move back home on foot or on own cycle/rickshaw/auto or on Shramik Special trains which have become another death trap for many of them.
Many of them are still walking back home brutalised by the police at various places on the way, sprayed with disinfectant supposedly to sanitise them, facing tremendous travails and tribulations. Till the last report came in so far, over 130 migrants killed in accidents en route to their home states.
The consistent denial of direct transfer of money to every such needy person’s account, to alleviate the pain arising out of sudden lockdown, despite advice by the The likes of Abhishek Banerjee, India born Nobel Prize Winner in Economics ( 2019), is just a reflection of the tremendous disdain for the exploited, oppressed and the marginalised in their world view.

A similar fraud was played upon people when PM Modi announced a ’20 lakh crore package’ to address the twin challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown-induced economic disruption and crisis. The so called package was basically a monetary venture - where monies were being handed over to Corporates, Industrialists , with focus on reviving the economy not a fiscal measure - which could have been given to poor / needy people and it comprised of packages already announced.
This has also been a period where government has facilitated handing over of many public sector enterprises to private sector.

The pandemic has badly exposed the limitations of India’s health system and its highly privatised nature.
It stands exposed not only because of reports about acute shortage of critical care equipments, or paucity of proper protective gears for doctors and health workers but also increasing shortage of hospital space also.
The highly restricted access to healthcare during lockdown - where focus remained on Covid 19 - has led to many avoidable deaths due to other causes.
It is increasingly clear how policies of austerity - cuts in public expenditure on health, education etc are thus having a very negative impact on people’s health.
NSI demands that the government revisits its policies of putting profit over people, increase allocations for it from a meagre less than 1 per cent to at least 5 per cent of GDP and move towards ensuring people’s right to health.

The most unsavoury aspect of India’s ’War Against Covid 19’ is the manner in which India has managed to turn even a global, devastating public health emergency into an opportunity to vilify Muslims. It amounted to weaponising prejudice against Muslims in an effort to build a majoritarian Hindu votebank that shuns older Indian ideas of secularism and tolerance.
This Islamophobia inspired by Covid 19 was met with silence at the top among the country’s executive.
As of now this direct targetting might have stopped but it cannot be said with confidence that this would end the continuous stigmatisation of its biggest religious minority?

New Socialist Initiative appeals to the broad masses of people to always remain vigilant about the designs of the Hindutva Supremacists.
It is high time that people come together on a common minimum programme and resist such blatant attempts at destroying of democratic institutions and processes, restrictions on fundamental rights and freedom and increasing criminalisation of any critique as sedition and anti-national.
We should always bear in mind that if a pandemic which affects the whole of humanity can be given a communal colour, then we cannot belittle the Right’s ability to turn any crisis into an opportunity to further its exclusivist, hate-filled and anti-human agenda.

29th May 2020, Delhi

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