State Unfolding its power with or without Corona 2019/2020

Bhaskar Majumder

Once people of the early 17th century agreed upon to have a negotiator or navigator to show the path to the society or to the groups of people in strife in West Europe, the fate of the society and people was sealed by that agreement. If in the early phase it was not properly understood how omnipotent that state could be over time, the unfolding of the state proved it over the next centuries, more on the European soil. I shall talk on India’s post-1947 state keeping in mind the fact that its origin was in British India.

State unfolds on the pedestal of nationalism-patriotism even if the latter is hardly understood. The best way to understand in India’s scenario is glorification of the martyrdom of soldiers in Wars like 1965 or 1971 and other border conflicts, surgical strikes and all that. In spite of hardly remembered slogan, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan’, the second one is hardly uttered not because of absence of the death of the Kishan but because their death is not in large scale and not by any enemy – it is staggered by hunger or suicide etc. Also people glorify that where National Flag is involved – there is no National Flag on any crop field in India.

I have not heard any common wage-worker in agriculture got any state reward/award like Padmasree etc. However, the persons involved in research on agriculture must have. The categories are also well designed. The question is not about being awarded or rewarded. The questions are bigger than that. Take for example, the workers in the unorganized segment of the economy, or precisely the migrant workers. Most of these workers work as agricultural wage labourers at native place, and then migrate rural to rural or rural to urban. The state is aware of it but abstains from intervening for capital has to be protected.

Here comes the next question. The state is very much concerned for growth for the tertiary sector has to be maintained that does not produce any material goods – mainly the public administration and institutions of finance-judiciary-accountancy-education-health. The monotonically declined and declining share of primary sector, precisely agriculture, in national output or GDP, precisely proves the point – the control over GDP. GDP has to grow but not the share of the farmers.

Some of the leftists nourish the idea of a rigid class bias of the state that I differ from. When the society is multiple with people living in different centuries with the states in federal structure are distanced so much culturally, it is impossible for the state to reflect the desire of a particular class. One may still insist that the state is in collusion with the industrial capitalists that is also yes and no, or partially yes. But these home capitalists basically remaining dependent on both foreign collaborators for technology and dependent on home landlords to supply cheap casual labour, that rigid collusion is also subject to doubt.

The state needs to maintain the rural society in tact – either through landlordism notwithstanding Zamindery abolition – through tradition-custom-belief or sanskaar-parampara so that science is delayed. It is art of living distanced from science, after all. The people standing on queue in the institutions of religious faith may prove this. The rate of success of Kumbh at Allahabad/Prayagraj may prove this that contrasts the rate of failure of formal education.

Labour and the State
One of my Kolkata-based friends who also had been Union leader in the Banking sector wrote to me on 20.5.2020 that he never heard of such coercive steps in the history of trade unions – what he meant was repealing most of the labour laws when many of the workers were on road unpaid and many of the tiny firms were facing crises post-Corona 2019/2020. I had to console him for his myopic views for the real fact that I did not tell him lest he felt hurt was unions in India mostly defended the workers in-employment and not workers outside the factory gate and surely not the migrant walking workers. In economic terms, their collective bargaining was for fixation of wage rate including bonus and overtime rate and excluding NPA, siphoned off capital, state-corporate collusion, Quit India-Bank collusion, technology and all that. Might be the trade unions were not competent for these that the state was/is.

State and Statue
I listened to one professor emeritus in BHU long back criticizing construction of statues of persons and elephant in UP by one mass leader who also worked as CM. Nobody present opposed his ideas for one simple reason that UP is more or less mouth-closed and hand-open. But when one shifts from UP backward to Gujarat forward, one finds no less expenses of public money on statues that may be a cause of envy for any statue-maker anywhere in the world. Again silence – this time for fear and not in the UP tradition of silence. State is omnipotent.

State and Stadium
Many of the people came out of leisurely British tradition of 5-day cricket of no consequence like academic world to 20:20 and IPL with definite thrilling consequence. Post-Corona 2019/2020 that leisure-converted thrill is lost for lockdown. The state knows it and is getting ready to construct stadiums to console the cricket-unemployed people. The workers who are also human beings as recently opined by MP CM saying about the migrant workers walking on road and dying, “migrants are humans too. They are our brethren. We do not have any objection in migrants coming back to the state and we will embrace them (unhe gale lagayenge)," reveals the maximum of the power at the level of the state on circumference. These workers will be employed for construction of stadium – economy works even if priority is lost.

State and Cattle Class
Let there be no imagination that the cattle class is the people that keep livestock or those Aanpar (illiterate). Post-Corona the class is self-evident – it is Bharat walking on road. If the frontier is expanded a little, then the cattle class is the people delinked from English-education and delinked from dining table with spoon-fork in hands – one also has to know spoon in left or right hand and so is for fork. The state has no problem with this class – they are ready to die for the land.

The state is omnipotent for the cattle class cannot think beyond “roti-roji’’, the middle section is happily home-locked 50+ days, the academicians behave like ostrich, the Apex Court dislikes to step into the domain of the Government of India post-Corona and post-one Ex-CJIs elevation to occupy a chair in the esteemed Parliament to serve the country/nation/state better. Lest I be misunderstood, this harmonious or coordinated belief was reflected on the space of executive actions that conveniently bypassed for long the life-saving needs of the migrant workers and their families. It was reported on 31st March that no migrant worker was walking on the road – how could they for they were waiting for the employer/thekedar or Government to come forward to their rescue for food failure-job failure. In their crises, the power that matter failed to come forward till first 40+ days of lockdown since March 25, 2020 – and this was a long period for the cashless-foodless-shelterless migrant workers. Moreover, the Apex Court did not entertain the plea to pay the workers at MNREGA rates for 100 mandatory days as stipulated in the 2005 Act arguing that these workers were “beneficiaries’’ and not employees and hence the Government was not liable to pay – how come if there was, and there was, provision of unemployment allowance in the Act? Is it insensitivity or ignorance? The truth is no such worker asked for unemployment allowance as I reported in a major research project for the Government of India recently. My understanding is most of these workers will migrate again in the not-too-distant future but may be not in the same destination.

State and Power
In spite of the unquestioned existence of the state, the state is not happy – bechayini hota hai – to use the language of the Heartland. It tries to find out enemy to show its power – be it a neighbouring country, a state on the circumference, a religious group, an ethnic community, a labour category and many such open spaces. If the space does not exist and nobody resists, the state will have to find out something – some enemy has to be invented for power exists only when power is exercised and that is acknowledged.

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

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May 23, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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