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Nietzsche had once said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

This statement is quite central to his philosophy on building a ‘race’ and a nation.

When I had visited the Auschwitz museum I stood at the gate to the labour camp that so proudly said “Arbiet macht free”, meaning “work sets you free”. What demented minds would want to glorify death in such a manner? They did not lose the war due to any weak military strategies…they lost due to cold, heartless, remorseless people with no sense of guilt running the entire system.

By the time you read this, we would be well into our second month of the Covid 19 Lockdown. Of reading e-papers, participating in webinars, feeding on web-series, debating on which single malt to savour and connecting on Zoom parties to share nuggets from our distraught lives. Life is…complicated. Not as simple and linear as the contract worker in Manesar who just has to walk to his village near Gorakhpur with his wife and seven-month old son. His life is sorted…just has to fend for food. Not like us…choose between webinars, puzzles, web-series and e-parties. 

Our Prime Minister said, “Jaan hai toh jahaan hai.” He spoke of a developed country for sure where the per capita is higher, the bottom of the pyramid has some savings, the able have assured jobs for at least 180 days in a year, there is social security and a healthcare system that reaches all the aged and infirm. He did not speak of his India and our India. Here, “Rozgaar hai toh jaan hai.” Livelihood is fundamental to staying alive.

Did we have a choice away from the lockdown? We clearly did. This is not the solution that a country like ours deserves. Rajiv Bajaj so clearly put across his logic a few days back on the same. We are obviously not Italy, a Singapore or a France. In fact, we are not even a US, which is much poorer than it seems. We cannot allow such massive and planned disruptions to life, especially of the 400 million migrant worker force engaged in all types of activities right from sowing paddy to cleaning the toilets in malls. The lockdown will obviously be lauded by the WHO as it suits their cause very well, with the World Bank and IMF rubbing their hands in anticipated glee. To use a term coined by Abhijit Banerjee, this is very poor economics. 

Rajiv Bajaj was trolled by many for his views. Happens in the due course of history. Galileo was lampooned by the church and establishment. Ram Mohan Roy was lampooned by society’s leaders and religious authorities. 

This is a deliberate dystopia.

To bring a nation so poor and uneducated to a complete standstill, without any notice, scenario-building and resource planning. This is ‘Demonetisation X 100’. There are 5 clear reasons why I state this.

Carpet bombing

Remember the picture of Phan Thi Kim, the “Napalm Girl”? Of how the US indiscriminately used napalm in Vietnam? This happens in war. You resort to carpet bombing to take out the enemy forces, irrespective of the collateral damage. That was yesterday’s war. Today, an Osama was smoked out from his house without the rest of Abbottabad being disturbed. Using today’s infrastructure and technology, you pinpoint and operate, creating the least possible disbalance. More so in a peace and relief mission. Closing down all activity and movement was the easiest thing to do. Spinning tales about the gallantry in staying at home is no sweat. Its like shuttering an entire shop because a rat has entered it. The government got its first red flag in mid-January giving the machinery two full months to plan before March 23rd. it is actually the lack of preparedness, planning, infrastructure, equipment and expertise that led to this carpet bombing. This was nothing but a cover-up for gross inefficiency. 

No gain without pain

I remember by childhood days in Kolkata with the entire city dug up for the Calcutta Metro. Signs were put up all over the place saying “No gain without pain”! Our politicians, policymakers and planners still live by this adage. Make people at large and the poor in specific undergo total chaos and disruption. Drive anxiety, confusion, panic and fear into them to keep the country in control. It is as if the pain the poor, migrants, farmers, daily wagers and truck drivers go through now will make them “better” and “purer” men of steel, ready for future battles. Throw in healthcare workers and law enforcement officers for equal measure. Occasionally glorify all these people promising them that their sacrifices shall not go in vain and the picture is complete. 

Flatten and forget 

The curve has to be flattened we are told, for that is the most mature way to handle a pandemic. This is the most obvious way to buy time to prepare yourself. One always prolongs a battle deliberately to buy time. The Russians did at Stalingrad. And you buy time when you are short of the right methods to fight and repel. Hoping that the enemy tires out and collapses. But then again, the losses are huge in the long run. Around 1500 positive cases a day is 1/10th of the US or Italy but this will repeat over the next 180 days in place of 15. And as the days go by, the urban population would have got bored with the statistics and moved on, leaving the semi-urban and rural population to bear the brunt. As a nation we anyway do not value human life, and if it a few more migrants, farmers and scavengers, it is just their bad luck. Also, as the epicentre would move away from the cities, so will the focus of the media, either by habit or by diktat.

Faith to the fore

Quite a few generations of Indians would have experienced a once in a lifetime phenomenon since Partition – the communalisation of an epidemic! As if creating sound and light was not enough to keep a nation diverted and uselessly occupied, creating content and television stories to create further polarization has also been resorted to. This is a clear demonstration of total apathy towards the main issue to be tackled and a deliberate attempt to convert the narrative into hunting down the human bombs tasked with spreading the virus. Lapses and lumpen can be hidden behind the veils of faith and factionalism. 

Have the cake, and the pudding…

So, who really is benefitting in the middle of all this orchestrated chaos? Apart from the fact that the medical world, law enforcement agencies, a handful of states and a few corporates are giving their all to keep things in order and save lives. The rich are actually getting richer here doing deals in parallel. An unaudited trust called PM-CARES has been cared to build another route for chip-in-and-be-rewarded. Funds meant for local area development have got diverted to this trust. Instead of re-deploying budgets meant for other infructuous expenses to this trust, the over-burdened citizen is being asked to contribute to the cause. For a nation with 200 million under the poverty line, 500 million engaged in agriculture and 400 million as migrant workers, an allocation of Rs.2.5 lakh crores [cumulative till now] is a pittance. Actually quite disrespectful of the nation and its citizens.

What comes out of this dystopia will be less than what entered. The damage has been done, beyond just deaths from the virus. As a nation, we lost a lot through the Partition. That was imposed upon us, by a few vested interests and power-hungry people. This one too has been forced upon us. We came out of the partition, mentally and physically torn and bruised. The scars remain. We shall come of this one too. With some more scars! 

Swami Vivekananda was inspired by the Katha Upanishad into asking us to “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached”.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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