Poor Government – Poor Rich, with or without Corona 2019/2020

Bhaskar Majumder

Somewhere I was perusing that the poor would stop trusting the Government for the latter did not come forward to rescue them in time – a friend in need is a friend indeed. I also perused several times in standard literature who the poor were – as they were defined by the noon-poor. The poor, if they were identified, so far did not define the non-poor. Here comes the fallacy – the negation of anything is difficult to define. Let me come back to the first proposition that rests presumably on mutual trust.

Let me start with my personal experience over past six decades and that is independent of the migrant workers marathon walking on public road owned by the state – public road was a little different from Paakdandi (peoples’ road) for one need to pay tax for its use. Innocent people grabbed it by foot-bicycle-cycle cart and whatever mode they had for Ghar Wapsi post-40+ days of post-Corona, 2019/2020. The consequence was not known – even the processes (not mode of transport) were not known. For on road some of them were beaten by the competent law-locked persons, some were disallowed to move forward, some were disallowed to sit somewhere to take rest-water and all that.

Somewhere I perused that the Ghar Wapsi migrant walkers workers already lost their roti-roji at the destination, evicted from labour colonies, wages mostly unpaid, meagre savings exhausted by 40+ days of lockdown and lost the last hope of the competent authority coming forward to their rescue when the thekedar/employer abandoned them. No doubt about all these. But I differ humbly on one point – that these were the reasons why the poor will stop trusting the non-poor. My point is, the poor did not and do not trust the non-poor; however, the poor are silent in their non-comparative non-competitive living. In the Heartland, I asked them many times; they remained silent and one caretaker told me on their behalf, “Kaa kari, Gariv Aadmi’’! Gariv Aadmi is inter-generational – it is the beginning, it is the end.

Government was not much there in the life of the Gariv Aadmi for centuries – Government became very active post-1974 with Gariv Aadmi for the political return was very high on it – that started with Garivi Hatao of early 1970s. The history or political economy of it is known first hand to the senior citizens and through literature to the young citizens. It was deception – where was the trust? If one cites the hygienic distance between the Aam Aadmi and the elite post-Corona, then it is only the second derivative of the basic function – the first derivative was already there in early 1970s. The basic function was rooted in labour history – prison labour, child labour, unpaid labour, bonded labour, tied labour and all that. Corona has shaken the elite and the privileged – not the Gariv Aadmi. And Corona was not imported by Gariv Aadmi – it had an international flight, so goes the wisdom of the Government even.

The invention post-marathon walk of the working Bharat that the poor do not trust the non-poor, though re-iterates the binary bracketing of India’s civilization as Bharat and India, the cultural distancing was always there notwithstanding the Garivi Hatao slogan and all that. Gariv understands it, but what they can do for they are landless-illiterate. Most of them in the Heartland are even geographically distanced. Gariv is a vote-bank and is not a vote-determinant. Gariv cannot raise his head for he crawls into his living room at night that has a four ft height that may also wither away in storm-wind. Gariv cannot move horizontally much for he sleeps on road divider. The village Gariv is better off relative to the urban Gariv – this observation may be questioned by conventional wisdom that I am not responding now.

A Gariv family makes family size large for each one to join workforce early and each earns a little that adds up to family total earning to survive plus some dependence on CPR that includes not only garbage-jungles-leaves but also some tips at the gate/table of the restaurant, some gift in kind by the Maalkin at the latter’s house and all that. The children of Gariv family smile God’s smile when they get a piece of cake, and many of them found it first time in their life that is what I observed on NH 2 while driving my car coming back from Kolkata to Allahabad with my family some years back.

Post-Corona all the Advisory that include covering mouth-nose, washing hands with soap repetitively, remaining home-locked 50+ days held good mostly for the middle section with the elite mostly invisible and the poor walking on road. By any imagination, on road it would have been difficult for the walking Bharat to wash their hands with soap – it was 1,000 km. walk – not a child’s play. The children, of course, were there – walking, on mother’s lap, on father’s shoulder, on trolley and all that. They started walking – trusting or mistrusting the Government? – Neither one. They started walking for they had to reach their own home at the root villages in Bihar.

As soon as it became group walking or Bharat walking, the Advisory of social distancing of keeping a distance of six ft. became irrelevant – it had also nothing to do with trust or mistrust. The man had to carry his child or drag his challenged dependent on bicycle or pregnant wife on Gugaar (some temporary manual labour drawn vehicle). The village poor, however, understood “doe gaj ki doori’’.

The advisory was to remain home-locked. In Amphan super-cyclone on May 20, 2020 many homes just flew away in West Bengal – poor were on road and no social distancing again. The urban middle section came out in groups in sub-urban areas of West Bengal protesting failure of electricity for two consecutive days – again violation of social distancing. It was nature’s fury – independent of authorization from the Government.

No doubt, the Government will try to minimize the damage post-Corona. But that is delinked from trust-mistrust of the poor vis-a-vis the Government for the immediate priorities are different. For the Government it is Acts-Policies-Ordinances to save the nation while for the poor it is to repair the damaged room called home, to collect food from charity, to find out child lost somewhere.

Post-Garivi Hatao till date the poor are dancing to the tune of the Government for he has to get MNREGA Card, BPL card, Jan Dhan Yojana account, Indira Awaas and all that. Land, whatever the poor had, are gone for land acquisition for non-agricultural purposes or “public purposes’’ and home lost for natural disaster. So the poor are dependent. Pauperization-led or misery-led trust is less than human trust in my understanding.

Poor was rich that was understood well from Ravindra Nath Tagore, “Tumi Maharaj saadhu hole aaj, Aami aaj chor batey’’, that needs to be realized by the non-poor for understanding history better. The non-poor meanwhile continue to harp on the same string – that the poor will not come back to the same destination, that the poor has understood the non-poor and all that. The non-poor needs to practice Garivi in disguise for at least a week – no food, walking 100 km. (not 1000) on public road in May barefoot, one child on shoulder, fear for police, to understand the trust-deficit or trust-distancing.

A sense of soft nationalism works when I talk about the necessity to do “something’’ for the poor, probably in public-private partnership. The salaried section is home-locked TV-locked and some wine-locked. How do I accept this section to be with the walking poor – with Corona or without Corona? The elite are far distanced from the cattle class. Had the non-poor remained distanced from who they dispossessed, the history would have been different. Let there be no shedding of crocodile tears – the income-poor will survive independent of the non-poor. Is the opposite true?      

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

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May 28, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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