Migrants in Anand Vihar Photograph:( AFP )
India's poor do not trust the state
As a nation, India’s response to Coronavirus has remained a series of hotchpotch decisions. India, as a nation. failed to formally create a national consensus on tackling pandemic. The first response of the Narendra Modi government was unilateral, whereby a lockdown was put in place without formally taking state governments on board.
The lockdown created panic within the community of migrant workers which continues to simmer till date. By end of 40 days, state governments and opposition prevailed upon the government and now India has almost opened up as if the state has decided to live with new pandemic without a cure or vaccine in sight.
On the whole, India’s poor were badly impacted. First, it was affected by the loss of job and then by exposure to the virus because of migration back to their natal place.
Even political parties could not decide on a common response on the pandemic leading to intense politicisation of the narrative. One CM wanted them to stay so that construction work could kickstart and another wanted them back to the state.
On every issue, the principal opposition party has differed from the ruling dispensation. The lack of consensus created a stumbling effect, whereby states after states resumed normal work as if nothing has happened.
The lockdown 4.0 version coincided with rising curve and India crossing 1,00,000 mark with doubling rate reduced to 12 days. India, unlike China, does not even have a social grid in place whereby movement of people can be restricted without creating social unrest.
Today, India’s political leadership has decided to live with the virus. It is a decision which does not have poor on board. It is a decision akin to what the Centre took where without consultation it decided to impose a national lockdown without factoring issues related to migrant workers.
The Prime Minister, in the end, did give in to the state chief ministers but the decision looked more like a compulsion than choice. India politicians also did not show the coherence of thought. PM declared that it is almost like a wartime situation. World over, political parties come together when a nation goes to war. In India’s case, partisan politics reigned supreme almost mimicking the United States of America where the absence of common ground continues to create confusion in policy circles.
In India too, there has been no middle ground between mass testing and social distancing approach. It is for this reason the political leadership has only done a good job in bits and pieces. Only individual decisions worked well. A national approach remains absent. The example in case is liquor sale which was kickstarted under duress as state government were falling short of money. Even during the worst, liquor and smoke shops weren’t closed.
India’s political class instead of fighting the virus tried to politically appropriate it without understanding that virus understands no barriers and damage it can cause to social and economic infrastructure can be long term.
On the whole, India's response continues to remain tepid and piecemeal. Centre did announce a package but still does not have a coherent policy to deal with labour and has left it to the state govt to deal with under the guise of concurrent list.
Today political leaders should ask a question - why migrant workers did not trust the state (governments) cutting across political parties. Why didn’t they stay put, despite the assurance? Why did migrant workers choose to walk thousands of kilometres despite knowing that they could be better off where they are? The answer is simple.
India’s poor do not have faith in the state. It is the biggest truth to emerge from the pandemic. They chose to travel 100s of km back to their homes to die rather than suffer the ignominy of dying in a workplace which doesn’t care for anything except the work hours.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)