South Asian Politics during Covid 19

Radhakanta Barik

In a discussion with the leading specialists from South Asian countries in India Today one realises the importance of public health system in SriLanka and Bangladesh who have handled the crisis in a meaningful manner. They went for Lockdown in a planned manner the moment deaths came. Then they went for partial lockdown in the cities rather than the rural country side. Nepal handled in a better manner as they stopped the flight from region from China where the case of corona virus has arisen. Nepali government knowing well that they are not having public health services for which they made a strategy by not allowing the tourists to enter from China which was able to stop the spread of Corona virus. They went for lockdown immediately. India and Pakistan could have handled better as the case of death came in January end but the PM waited for March and two months have passed. The government could have stopped the international flights from the countries affected by Corona. Moreover, these two countries spend more money on defense and not spending money in public health system. May be, both Pakistan and India very often spend their time in the same hotel for buying the arms and ammunitions. This brings the weakness of public health system in both the countries. India's states like UP is worse than any country in the world in terms of health services where the child specialist is kept in the prison. Niti aayog survey places UP the last in terms of health services and Kerala in first place, which is managing the Lockdown in a meaningful manner despite facing serious health hazards some time back. Modi’s five years rule has not seen a single public Hospital in Delhi and those were in the pipe line are not yet ready after six years of his rule. It is not his priority. While dealing with Corona India has bought arms from America in million dollars whereas medical equipment came from China late. It seems that many kits are in a defective which cannot provide the scientific result regarding the Corona. Furthermore, a very limited number are in reserves. It seems that such a lengthy Lockdown has not provided the central government to get ready to confront the health hazard in an effective manner. But administration has received the kits which were distributed to all states in the Lockdown-2.  Announcement of lockdown should have gone after proper planning by which testing should have started on the day one. Public policy demands the administration knows the various administrative mechanisms for acquiring the tools and personnel by which management of the policy is possible. The adhoc policy making needs to be analysed and the responsibility needs to be fixed who are accountable for these lapses. Why such a hurried announcement of Lockdown which has disrupted our economy and pushed the ten percentages of labouring class out of the boundary of cities. They are stuck up without food and water. Public administration believes in transparency and accountability but both are missing here. The PMO needs to be made accountable and heads need to be rolled down for fixing the responsibility otherwise the Prime Minister will not be trusted by its citizens.

After the Lockdown because of Coronavirus, the issue is being discussed whether the locus of power is going to be shift from West to China or East Asia. This is being debated all over world at least in the University circles that at the end of Covid 19 how much decline is going to happen in USA. This is going to decide what will happen to international politics and balance of power in global politics. After disintegration of Soviet Russia, USA was interested in capturing Russian resources through a dummy power which could not be realised because of Putin. This gave a blow to American power as they used their muscle power for making Russia into a small player in international politics which has not happened to their favour. China is smart enough to create an axis with Putin's Russia to take a stand on international issues. This brings the question of controlling the resources of the middle east by America either through dummy powers or pliable powers. Or going to war which has created devastation in many societies of Middle East like Syria and Libya etc.

This has created fear all over the world that American power mixed with human rights does not work anymore. American society is experiencing the unequal social relationship which is losing its legitimacy. Economic inequality has sharpened among rich and poor which does not provide the solidarity of poor as justice is not easily available to them. The health system in America is in the private hands like production of arms and ammunition which is affecting the health of people during the spread of Corona virus. Trump articulated his politics through racist language which does appeal the wider section of society. The way he has handled the issue of Coronavirus in an unscientific manner which has created problems for his legitimacy as American capitalism stands for science and technology. Trump's interest in cultivating America's relation with the unpopular powers like Brazil, India and Israel shows his foreign policy does not have legitimacy in America and among UNO members.

China with its stable political regime is trying to grow into a stable power in the last three decades. Despite the crisis created by Coronavirus its economy is not going to decline to the extent of American decline in its economy. China is not involved in external war politics which America is involved in central Asia. Trump wanted to use Modi's India against China but in Modi -2 regime has lost legitimacy so fast which he could not imagine. But handling of Corona itself has alienated most of the States of India and common people. This has resulted in Modi Trump axis against China may not work. It seems that China may be the power after the decline of USA comes in global politics.

It is interesting to note here that the Modi government has gone for opening some shops including the barber's shop which give a new dimension to politics today. While I conducted an election study in Delhi specifically RK Puram Constituency, where I found the barber's shop working as an adda for political gossips which gets managed by the dominant political party. As people throng into this place on Sunday and Saturday they keep a messenger there who will initiate a talk in a subtle manner which has a political message. Although politics has changed in Delhi but the dominant political scene of Delhi is the same as Hindutva is the main theme and supplementary theme is AAP. They all work in a tandem. Although the RK Puram being a middle class locality has always have a strong voice for the Hindutva politics.

William Jennings Bryan’s speech "Cross of Gold” is one of the most popular speech in the history of recorded speeches in the world. He was American Presidential candidate for Democratic party who spoke in the favour of rural society and its economy. -“Burn down your cities and leave our farms and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city." The substance of the speech is there in Gandhi's "India lives in villages” which explains the logic of human development that villages have grown by collective efforts of various communities and castes by recognizing the shared space for everybody. This is a structure of rural economy which sustains the half of Indian people although it contributes to GDP only 23 percentages. That is the strength of the rural economy which can sustain more people than the cities. That is the charm of rural India which attracted the millions of migrant labour who want to go back to the lap of their villages where there is a feeling of sense of security that is there which is a great asset. When I visit our village where we suffered worst by the hands of landlords cum money lenders as my father was looking after us and educating us. The era of landlordism in rural Odisha has disappeared where small peasant economy thrives which sustains around 12 hundred people with its limited resources and which sustains the labour of daily wage of Rs.300 and various communities such as service communities like potter, barbers etc. without discrimination today which they used to suffer in our childhood. But today Modi's anti agriculture policy such as no remunerative price of our products and low wage for the labour in NREGA and no food under PDS for all going to ruin the harmony of the rural society. Yes we are urbanized but our roots lie there and we spend some time in every year with sharing love and security with others. Are we going to ruin our society? In our childhood two thirds of people did not have proper food to eat and proper cloth to wear, many children could not go to school because of lack of food in their homes but today all go to school and have a mid-day meal of rice with egg and learn every day. And whenever I go to the village I test their knowledge which is profound because of their sense of observation capacity around their house and village and their participation in the rural economy by sharing the burden of their parents which teach them a sharing culture and after their schooling they want to go to the colleges and study which make them fit into the urban economy but they want to come back to the village because of love of nature and shared culture.

The lockdown is going to have a disastrous impact on all of us. Sense of security provided by the rural India is getting ruined by the policies pursued by the present government in the Lockdown-1 and Lock down -2. Massive influx of labour from cities to rural areas may affect the balance of the economy between urban and rural economy. Furthermore, according to the 2011 census survey there is 41.42 million of rural labour are working in the cities as migrant labour. Once they reach there it is going to create the imbalance between both economies. They are forced to go back to their villages as they cannot live without work, without income and without food. As a month of Lockdown has passed, the industrialists are now very vocal in pleading for the migrant labour.

Today industrialists have come out openly in opposition to complete Lockdown which destroyed livelihoods of millions of workers. As owner of Bajaj Industries, Rajiv Bajaj has told the media that Lockdown is disastrous for Indian economy. He argues that all his industries are outside the city area, they should have been allowed to function.

Furthermore, the other top industrialists openly saying in the television channels that workers need a social security package which can protect them. Industrialists are aware of the situation that it is because the workers they get their profit no other way around. They are showing their concern for welfare of workers. Will the rulers listen to these industrialists?

Former Vice Chairman to Niti aayog, Arvind Panagariya advised Modi government not to give anything to poor. His advice holds on Modi not the Nobel Laureates like Prof Sen and Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo advised the present government going for 5% of GDP to be invested in welfare of people as other capitalist countries like America spending almost ten percentages of its GDP. Modi is charmed by Arvind Panagariya, a student of well-known right wing economist Milton Freedman and his Ph D under a fellow Gujarati economist who used to say that JNU is a virus.  

The famous scientists from India were of opinion that India is in an advantageous position that many developed and developing countries as we have a huge young population who are between 16 to 25 around 34.33% share of youth in total population by 2020. These youths are educated and literate and skilled semi-skilled and some are unskilled who used to work in the informal sector of economy and adding value to total wealth. This pride has disappeared as they remain hungry during the COVID19 and without any work. They were forced to walk hundreds of miles to their villages. There are cracks in their legs and foots and which need to be cured but they do not visit the doctors as there is a fear of Coronavirus. They are being attacked by the police on the way and they were forced to kneel down. The Modi government made them from advantageous position to disadvantageous position in Indian economy. There is a fear in ruling class and they may come to the streets and protest the moment the Lockdown gets withdrawn. Modi is thinking of some form of control over them by declaring some form of disease act of 1897. This is not a valid law as the law needs to be passed by the parliament without that this act has no legal authority. This shows at the time of Corona crisis that the government is spending less than 1 percentage of GDP for the poor and this explains that the rich and powerful have a tremendous control over the state and government in India The present political situation is being handled in such a manner by Modi government needs to refer to Lenin’s famous book on State and Revolution.

 Lenin's text State and Revolution is a classic in the discipline of political science. State works as an instrument of class domination and keeping control over lower classes. In the case of India, state is working in favour of dominant class but for keeping control over the lower class the responsibility has gone to government. Modi government has worked out an ideology based on primitive identity that is caste and religion by which lower class can be controlled. It is an interesting extrapolation of Lenin's theory of State and Revolution and the government as an executive of the dominant classes is playing in creating an ideology of religious fundamentalism by which lower classes can be controlled. Under the present regime the sharing of wealth between lower classes and upper classes inequitably done. The way wealth is getting distributed between labour and capital shows that the capital has made a huge profit by sharing the major portion of wealth whereas the labour are having lowest share of wealth in form of wage. This brings the question of inequality between the rich and poor which has been sharpened under the Modi regime.

After the BJP government has formed under Shivraj Chawhan in MP, he released thousands of criminals from the prisons for creating space for the young who are getting arrested under the NSA without any reason. The way arrests are going on while the threat of Corona virus is hanging over our heads. There is no space in the jails for maintaining the social distance among them. These are young bright people who are being arrested many of them Muslims to prove the point that Modi Shah pursues their communal agenda while fighting against Corona going on. This is a deadly combination of communalism and corona and many so called urban Naxals from the universities and colleges are going to suffer in the jails without books.  This is worse than the British rule as the jail authority used to provide the list of books demanded by the prisoner specifically the political prisoners. One likes to cite  from the novel Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky who says of the 19th century Russia that only good people are in jails not the criminals this is correct in the case of India under Modi Shah.

Modi-2 is based on islamphobiac politics as they have done worse on the economic front and they have done badly in the assembly elections of many states. It is being conceptualized by Modi Shah who brought citizenship amendment law based on anti-Muslim stand. The way they are demolishing the Indian Constitution indicates that they inching towards implementing their concept of Hindurastra based on social hierarchy and Manu Shastra. During the Lockdown of Coronavirus they were looking for an anti-Islamic element in it. Their administration allowed the congregation of a religious group from various parts of the world specifically Malaysia which is badly affected by Corona. They knowingly did it at the time of spread of Corona virus. They allowed a congregation of their supporters in Ahmadabad in welcoming the President of American Trump. Both these congregations have helped in the spread of coronavirus. But intelligently they spoke the issue of Nizammuddin. Today Gujarat is experiencing the worst Corona as it is not within their control. Small group of ministers appointed by Modi has warned the states like Bengal and Rajasthan but not Gujarat as it is their model state.

They have some anti-Islamic politicians who spoke nonsense for some days now which has been taken up by the association of Islamic countries who give most of the jobs to our migrant labour. This has come to such a mess that Prime Minister has condemned the anti-Islamic statements. He does sometimes when the cow vigilantes played havoc with the law and order situation then the PM gave a statement. The same way he has given a statement when the issue is now a foreign policy issue. But at the same time these MPs who spoke such nonsense have not been reprimanded or punished by the party yet.

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Apr 28, 2020

Prof. Radhakanta Barik

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