How does it matter who support Lockdown 1, 2, 3, 4,......, any series?

Bhaskar Majumder

Take as an initial condition or as a process or as a consequence, how did the question arise who supported lockdown or who opposed it? And suddenly why that outcome or probable discourse on it disappeared? The reason in my mind was that the discourse was not tenable and not fine-tuned. The reason of disappearance of that probable discourse or the number for and against lockdown was because it could not lead to any solution from the dead bodies of the migrant workers.

I once heard one former Defence Minister who told any argument could be countered by any other argument. He was obviously right. However, the recent human disaster was unseen till that time. There were Wars fought with hostile neighbours but not with invisible virus.

Now that the migrant workers are coming back to their native villages in the outmigration states like UP, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the retention capacity of these states will be tested. The areas of economic retention are agriculture and allied activities in the main. Let there be no imagination that abruptly the money gone to the MSMEs will invite the rural returnee workers to come to join these industrial units in the cities. The use of migrant workers ad hoc in real estate sector or construction sector on terms favourable to capital is one aspect while engaging these workers at the root state with stable job is a totally different aspect.

The alternative or supplement could be the works in MNREGA. Whether or not the unlocking is announced, either the returnee workers are to be engaged in agriculture and/or in MNREGA. The first choice was/is limited for the nature of landholding and mono-cropping by design. My own idea is that most of these returnee migrant workers will go back to either previous destination or will be duped afresh by a new thekedar to reach a new destination to survive – actually to die premature. Having no land and no education kept them dependent on migration wherever it is – outmigration zones did not and will not retain them.

I failed to understand why the forced coming back of the migrant workers is termed reverse migration just as I failed to understand why physical distancing was termed social distancing. Where are these people staying at the moment? They are in culverts, in incomplete buildings, in abandoned buildings with a roof in the state of Odisha after they came back but afraid of snake-biting for emerging monsoon. The neighbours were hesitant to accept them and the Quarantine centres had no social distancing mechanism, as some of these returnee workers reported. There were marginal differences between a rude welcome and unwelcome. These people were afraid more of hunger-snakes and water logging and less of Corona virus. In parts of West Bengal it was a different story – for some houses were lost for Amphan and for some it was willingness to go back again to the destinations for jobs were absent at the root . In UP returnees are coming back to their native villages but the non-migrants are in fear for Corona virus without understanding what it really is. It was not clear how these returnees had been assured of food security and actual/expected wage-works. 

Meanwhile the state remained active and some states on the circumference focused on the health outcome tangentially – they are more focused on investments to promote growth. Political speeches and collusion-competition are yet to surface for human face of the state is the need of the hour. And the state will do and undo – not the non-state actor most of who are sleeping also home-locked and non-sleeping is in baton-fear for police is around. The state has declared robust package to revive the destroyed economy through huge lending to MSMEs for investment. It is not clear, however, where will the output go in absence of market formed for those products – supply may not automatically create its own demand contrary to what classical economist J. B. Say said long back.

Discourse diverts in the way the state likes it. The Corona deaths still matter but not the death of returnee migrants or the latter has become a number to be avoided for the causes of these deaths are accidents on road and railway tracks, heart failure, wrong food taken and all that. Often legislative-bureaucracy decides how deaths are to be counted and post-mortem done rather than the autonomous medical practitioners. After all, the medical practitioners are also paid by the state.

With Lockdown or Unlocking of lockdown, people are innocent and cool. They have unlimited patience even after they go hungry or their home demolished. Migrant workers in particular or bottom line people in India are the consequences of state actions and not the cause of it. Lockdown, for example, was imposed – people were asked to go for Tali-Thali. People did it minus the destination-locked migrant workers. A country of 1300 million population with an overdeveloped state cannot afford to rely on all the population for any decisions. Hence, the state decides. The delivered Advisories post-Corona lockdown – people understood it half, one-fourth and did not understand anything of these Advisories. But people followed without understanding.

The state also assured people that growth will be put on the past trajectory again. People hardly understand growth – they understand roti-roji. They understand personal charisma. They followed and they will follow. Internal legitimacy of all the actions is infeasible and unwarranted too. There may come unwelcome tiny dissent or dissident voice but that can be suppressed very easily for the Disaster Act is there. People fear police – law-locked and often brain-locked.     

Still then the state is the authority to declare if the Covid curve flattened or the comparability of death by number across countries and all that. There may come plethora of Advisories from both the state and the non-state actors how not to spit, or to wash bazaar coins in circulation or to press the calling bell and all that to protect people of course. Who likes to die premature that too because of a virus? So people are in fear – nobody knows if tomorrow exists for her/him. The state will judge the success and failure of the state of economic affairs, of course through setting up of expert committees – paid experts in most of the cases. Who works unpaid – only the bottom line workers. The state will judge the socio-cultural affairs. People are home-locked and some stigmatized. Distancing works – it is natural.

While the society is stabilized at an innocent (not stupid) level, the state is stable at the level of collective wisdom. Let there be no doubt that collective wisdom is inferior to individual wisdom – individual that stands above the line showing weighted average or weighted arithmetic mean. Still then the state as the abstraction of collective wisdom has to be accepted, respected and complied with.

Summing up that seems a Herculean task. Though the state is omnipotent, it may become difficult to justify many of the state-sponsored activities or abstaining from warranted activities for India living in many centuries and in many differentiated regions. Hence my humble submission is for the state to abstain from such statements as may confuse the innocent people more. However, other than Ramayana, memory of innocent people is very poor. So, it does not matter much if lockdown, including its variants, was supported or not.

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jun 7, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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