When the union finance minister announced the economic relief package with the noble thought that not a single person should starve in this country due to corona virus, reports had started coming about young children in Varanasi eating grass hard pressed by hunger. Those children, who had set out for want of food on the day following the Prime Minister's Janata curfew declaration, ate bits of the leftover from a post-funeral function. The following day they plucked some potato from a neighbouring compound. The day following that, when they found nothing to ear, they helped themselves to the hay reserved for cows and ate it adding salt.
It is not just pictures of hardships caused by curfew and lockdown that we get from scores of such children and families . But the lockdown, and the curfew that came as its precursor, represented the withdrawal of governments at a most critical hour. As the Prime Minister pointed out, lockdown may be inevitable, and it may not be wise or necessary to follow the models of South Korea and Taiwan who beat Covid without lockdown. But there should have been enough measures to take care of the lower tier of the population.
Any lockdown without ensuring the basic needs of food, water, shelter and income is a crash of governance. It was 50 days after the first reports of incidence of covid virus that the Prime Minister made his first address with a call for curfew. That span of 50 days was more than enough to make ample preparations in anticipation of the curfew. At least as much attention that was given to the welcome for Trump, could have been granted to it. Even the declaration of lockdown was not accompanied by governmental competence. There was a hint that an economic package was in the ofing. But it took yet another three days before the finance minister announced it; and when it came eventually, it turned out to be a grossly inadequate one - with some elements which were already there. This delay was not limited to this. The way governments issued advisories to the people not to have panic, was itself one creating panic. Both US President, who dismissed the scourge as an exaggerated bogey, and Brazilian President who belittled it as just another flu, started responding to the crisis in consternation when the challenge got very close to them. In other words, what Covid beterayed was the hollowness of modern regimes who overlook the problems of the common man.
Nations that came out with lockdown and economic package, like Britain, US, India, France, Spain, Italy and Netherlands beside others, should be getting seized at least now, of the value of voluntary bodies and people's collectives. People's basic needs cannot be fully met by the numbers inserted in budgets and packages. In India, the public distribution system (PDS) which somehow held on even amidst the 'neo-liberal' chariot race, will probably be the lifeline of the common people in the days to come. For Kerala, what strengthened its capability to face the crisis, is the fact that public health continues to remain a top priority of governments here. That Spain nationalised its private hospitals should also be due to the realization about the inadequacies of the neoliberal world order. When the Karnataka government closed the low-cost Indira canteens in the name of making lockdown foolproof, what Kerala did for the same end of making lockdown effective was to set up community kitchens all over the state. This symbolises the difference between thinking from bottom upward and thinking from top downward. The difference between the very same government rescuing people stranded in other countries by sending chartered flights, and their consigning the migrant workers to slog it out in the streets within the country. The difference between Gandhiji who said that while taking any decision one need remember only the face of the poor man of the country and the rulers who insist on prefixing any aid scheme with names from that of the people's representative to the prime minister. Many had commented earlier that modern governments do not have a heart. Now the covid crisis convinces us that they do not have brain either. After all, the skill of governance consistts in knowing through the heart.
To a world that thought money is all, covid shows that wealth is nothing. The fight ahead can be made possible only by recapturing the concept of social welfare that was squandered away by liftinbg subsidies, curtailing ration, shrinking health budgets and wiping out jobs. We, who denied the poor man's right in the name of subsidy-phobia, fattened the corporates by citing economic theories. Governments became agents of large corporates who when they were touted to save the country, got afflicted with economic slump themselves, and then lakhs of crores of rupees were doled to them as rescue packages – a generous gift without even insisting on giving jobs to the natives. Now when the country has fallen into a crisis, neoliberal tycoons do not have the stamina to save it. In a country with 37 percent of the population living on daily wages, when covid is uniting the poor and the rich, will the government regain its lost heart and brain? Will the ruthless curbs of Kashmir be lifted? Far away in Gazza, will Israel withdraw its sinews from 'enemy' populations? Will Trump's unjust and inhuman embargo against Iran be lifted? With the dead economic doctrines, marked by selfishness and narrow-mindedness, crumbling in front of our eyes, will the world powers be prepared to uphold novel and illustrious models of universal humanity?