What the coronavirus has exposed is the painful reality of our lives. But this isn’t the time to beat breast after our hands have had a little rest clapping and banging thalis in unison. The pandemic will pass mowing down millions and the survivors will have to pick up pieces of cruelly shattered dreams. By now it’s clear that it’s not the old and the infirm who are vulnerable to the invisible enemy, the virus doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor, sexes, castes and creeds.
If the casualty figures so far haven’t included the rich and the famous, young in prime of life in India, it’s only because the fat cats and top dogs have always been better nourished to ward off infections and even if they catch the bug they have ready access to best life-saving medical assistance. In the US, UK and Italy, the virus hasn’t spared celebrities and royalty. But let’s not digress. We must remain focused. The PM in his speeches asked people with folded hands to observe Janata Curfew and practice self-discipline with iron will. Alas, many questions remained unanswered and hundreds of millions of helpless hearts kept trembling.
Would essential commodities remain available for three weeks? What would happen to daily wage earners, those keeping out their living in unorganised sector and the homeless? Middle-class families could somehow retreat into their cocoons but where would those dwelling in slums, shanties and makeshift shelters find refuge? At the stroke of midnight came not freedom but a thunderclap of petrifying uncertainty. However charismatic the supreme leader is, a vibrant democracy requires constant two-way communication. Chaos was created when entry and exit points were closed and public transport stopped plying. Exodus of panic-struck people on the road and crowds at railway platforms made it clear that the governments’ preparations for disaster management were almost non-existent.
It must be admitted that some state governments, young civil servants, doctors and paramedical workers showed exemplary grit and determination. Many exposed themselves to life-threatening risks to provide succour to others. This was in glaring contrast to the self-centred irresponsible behaviour of some who occupy powerful positions in politics. Enough has been said on partying by the Raje clan and cheerleaders for the not-so-young Scindia.
But peccadilloes of the UP chief minister seem to be immune to any censor. Not for him the need to conform to rules of social distancing. It’s been decades that privy purses and privileges of princes were abolished in India but their sense of entitlement continues. What is worse this virus has mutated dangerously and infected the clan of New Maharajas—elected representatives of the people, bureaucrats in high echelons and their progeny!
The super rich live in a world of their own. Except a handful of top-ranking industrialists who have come out with generous contributions to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the Prime Minister Cares Trust, philanthropy on much larger scale will be required. The leading lights of corporate world will also have to give serious thought to econmic recovery after the battle against the coronavirus is won. They will also have to gear existing lines of production for providing ventilators and other life-saving equipment on a war footing. Our hearts have dried up of compassion because the government has lost credibility. Those who claim to lead us in their own lives practice blatant double standards.
The Members of Parliament who briefly strutted the stage claiming equal status with the soldiers deployed in frontline of battle were soon scampering away from the sessions in the House pleading for adjournments to observe social distancing. The judiciary managed to keep a brave front longer. The police in the Capital was in its elements swinging lathis at innocent delivery boys carrying essential supplies. Lauded by the home minister, the out-of-shape men in khaki sure know how to demonstrate their brutish prowess. They appear to have collaborators in mufti to help in jabardast bandobast—Uber patriotic vigilantes supplied by socio-cultural organisations augmented by ruffians in the locality. One knows well that soon all these allegations will be dismissed out of hand as fake news, fabricated and circulated by enemies of our great nation’s sundry seditious elements.
Superstition is much more dangerous a virus than any swiftly mutating coronavirus. The PM did well to warn people not to put their faith on superstitious practices seeking effective prevention or cure. At long last there glimmers a small fragile hope that the loud chorus propagating cow dung and cow urine as panacea will now cease.
As we gird ourselves for a long haul, let us resolve not to turn imperceptibly into paranoid sadists, predators, parasites in an effort to perfect our survival strategy. When each man fights for himself the devil doesn’t always take the hindmost.