Will Covid Crisis Create A Better World?

It is sad that when India is poised to fight back Covid-19 pandemic with the help of a vaccine it has produced in collaboration with the British, it will not be hosting Prime Minister Boris Johnson for this year’s Republic Day celebrations.

The visit was not intended by either nation as a ceremonial, goodwill-good talk event. The media in both countries had painted a bright collaborative picture despite the pandemic and the economic woes that it has accelerated and despite criticism of their respective leaderships in their respective homes and elsewhere.

To the British media, Sean O’Grady of The Independent for one, India was (and remains) an ideal British destination as an economic powerhouse that could help Britain post-Brexit to reach out globally. This has also been the trend in much of the Indian thinking, although Brexit itself is considered a disastrous move.

Much cooperation was in store, on several fronts, and this should continue, visit or no visit.

Going beyond bilateral issues, and the limited impact they would have in both South Asia and in Europe, it is worth stressing on the oodles of hope that the New Year has brought, but without enough effort to apply the correctives that made last year disastrous worldwide.

The New Year has ushered in or reinforced some supreme ironies that are not likely to go away. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, is that of the United States, the most powerful nation with the best of doctors, medicines, hospitals with the support of science and technology –and money to buy anything from anywhere – having the highest number of Corona-casualties.

And Johnson, who could have acknowledged the role of the British-found vaccine in India, had to cancel his visit because of the grim turn Corona has taken at home. The Doctor has failed to heal himself.

Many leaders across the world feel that Donald Trump might have won the US presidential polls but for the Covid-19 devastation. But is the man who threatens to “fight like hell” till his last day in office at all sorry or repentant for his deliberate and conscious neglect, and repeated misdirections in fighting the pandemic? Are other leaders across the world, too, who find scapegoats to justify their omissions and commissions on the Corona front ready to mend their ways?

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Trump will go, but Trump-ism survives. The storming of the Capitol by his supporters on his exhortations was an unprecedented, almost unthinkable, challenge to American democracy. It exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the US during Trumps four years in office. This is how democracy dies.

The incident rang alarm bells worldwide for other leaders. It is gratifying that Johnson and India’s Narendra Modi joined other serving and retired heads of government in condemning the storming of the Capitol, pleading that democratic processes be allowed violence-free.

Having talked of the leaders of the ‘greatest’ and the ‘oldest’ democracies with regard to the pandemic, some observations on the performance of the ‘largest’ are essential because India is also the world’s third-highest for Corona deaths. The shock lockdown ordered on March 24 last year gave barely three hours to prepare to 1.3 billion people. Over 40 million migrant labour were displaced and walked hundreds of miles to seek work or deprived of it, to their impoverished homes.

A bulk of them were from Bihar. After a subsequent election victory in the state, Modi cited them as “endorsement of our policy” to fight Corona. Other chief ministers have also hastened to take credit, while glossing over the failures and miseries they have caused. 

A year hence, the government is to begin a study to examine the impact of this world’s largest mass movement caused by job-loss. If not avoidable, it could have at least been managed better.

India was in an economic mess long before Corona exacerbated it. But the blame continues to be placed at the door of the past government that went out of office over six years ago.

The story is similar to Brazil’s Jared Bolsonaro, the Indian Republic Day’s Chief Guest last year, and quite a few others who have used their electoral mandates to ride the rough shod on political critics and non-government bodies among others, and suppressing popular protests. Sadly, sections of bureaucracy, judiciary and media have played the ball with the politicians in power.

It may sound anti-democratic, but give them large majorities in legislatures, and they run berserk. Does the problem lie with leaders and their parties winning popular mandates with massive majority in legislatures? What tempts them to impose personal/ political agenda with potential to divide people?

The largest functioning democracy, India currently has examples of a chief minister building a 900 million palace (Telangana), another razing an entire city and battling courts that question his decisions (Andhra Pradesh) and at least three chief ministers issuing ordinances that penalize marriages among consenting adults, if they are by a Muslim man and a Hindu woman.

They take their cue from New Delhi that has enacted three federal laws on farming, virtually snatching away a subject that is with the states as per the Constitution. How can there be a single federal law in a country of India’s size with its differing weather conditions, water resources, crop patterns and marketing systems?

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With millions affected, over a hundred thousand farmers have blocked entries to the national capital for the past several weeks. Three scores have died in freezing cold. Talks are dragging on. Notably, the farmer is the only one to produce record quantities of food when India’s industrial output, the service sector and the commercial activity suffered thanks to Covid-19.

In saying all these things, one cannot be ignoring the strong support base such leaders and their governments enjoy. One is the middle class and the other, the corporate sector – both suckers for a ‘strong’ leadership and the political stability that supposedly comes with a popular mandate. All other things do not seem to matter. Modi, at least, continues to enjoy this support, and his party continues to win elections in one state after the other.

India’s middle class embraced the lockdown dutifully and enthusiastically, lighting lamps and clanging food plates. The fleeing migrant worker was a good riddance till his absence was felt. But to its credit, the middle class also organised relief. The lead was taken, not so much by governments overwhelmed by the crisis, but by the NGOs and charities.

Vaccines, both British-found and Indian, may – and must – raise hopes, although Corona is still not going to go away soon. The larger question is: Will this create a semblance of churning, among the leaders and those who place their faith in them by voting them to power, to work for a better world and may be, leave a few good examples for the future generations to emulate?

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Can America Be United Again?

Donald Trump has lost, but he is not going anywhere and so soon, something that large sections of the mainstream media and half of American voters would want so desperately. He has got massive electoral support, almost 70 million plus votes, half of the American vote bank. He might be openly a racist, an overt and tacit patron of Rightwing fringe groups of white supremacism, a misogynist, sexist and an anti-immigrant, apart from being rather crass in his public conduct.

He might have decisively botched up the Covid emergency in his total denial in public and acceptance in private, as disclosed by a top journalist with whom he shared his views; and by denying masks and the universal danger of this pandemic, he might be singularly responsible for the spread of the epidemic. Almost 250,000 Americans have fallen to the pandemic.

And, yet, Trump is refusing to give way to the new president-elect, Joe Biden and his team, even in carving out an emergency response to the pandemic. On the contrary, he continues to call the poll results a fraud, something even some of his aides in the White House and many Republican leaders are not ready to accept.

Biden, in his victory speech, has emphasised that he stands for not a red or blue America but a United America, which is quite in contrast to the sectarian ‘ultra nationalist’ Trump slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’, which unconsciously reminds of the colonial era of White supremacy, the bloody and genocidal subjugation of the indigenous inhabitants and natives of this vast land by colonisers and missionaries, and the slave trade of Blacks and later their continued brutalisation even in the post-War scenario by the rabid Ku Klux Klan virus of white supremacy.

Biden especially said that he stands for all of America, including those who did not vote for him, acknowledging the tragic and bitter realism of a socially divided and psychology wounded country, which might take years to overcome the fissures and hostilities entrenched after the short Trump era of four years.

Indeed, as the The New Yorker reported, Biden asked for an end to “this grim era of demonization…” “He stressed that, in choosing him, a majority of Americans opted to “marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope”— the forces of everything good, reliable, and familiar that can help us shake the feeling of living in an unstable and unrelentingly dark reality. Biden promised to “restore the soul of America”.

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Surely, America is in a crisis. Despite the upset victory of the Democrats in certain red states like Arizona and Georgia, and the close margin of the final vote count, the vast white countryside, especially the uneducated white working class, both men and women, seemed to have gone along with Trump. So has, surprisingly, a sizeable number of Hispanics, especially Cubans who hate communists and who got sold yet again on the Trump slogan that socialists and the Left are out to take over America. Trump has repeatedly drummed it in the social media that the Left has taken over the Democrats and America is going Left. So much so, some Democrats too have done a kind of campaign that it is because of the progressives led by Bernie Sanders, and others like Rep Alexandria Ocasi0-Cortez and ‘the squad’ of four radical, progressive and emerging women leaders, among others, that the Biden campaign suffered in some states.

Reports from the ground affirm that nothing can be further from the truth, and that it was basically the Sanders, and progressives’ campaign, relentless and dogged, and which went on from the day Trump won the elections in the first instance defeating Hillary Clinton (though she got more votes), and the Black Lives Matter movement, massive and widespread across class, colour and race, apart from the larger rainbow coalition which swung it for Biden and Kamala Harris.

This coalition belongs to educated people, youngsters and students, the millennials, the LGBT collectives, the liberal White, enlightened and feminist women, immigrants and Asians, and almost the entire Black population, who consolidated the huge and unprecedented mass of vote which overwhelmed the support base of Trump, who just did not anticipate the huge ground level work, the door to door outreach, the voters’ enrolment and postal ballot campaign, and the idea of a new, egalitarian and secular America without the racial and sectarian divide. Native Indians campaigned and voted overwhelmingly against Trump. This was against the crass language and conduct displayed in the Trump era, where unbridled capitalism of monopolists, despite the pandemic, mass unemployment, collective uncertainty, depression and anxiety, stalked the American landscape.

The progressives’ agenda will mark the new America in more ways than one. People are desperate for a health sector which is not so shamelessly loaded in favour of the rich, which reaches out to the most ordinary Americans; they want higher education for the vast majority of the working class, across colour, they want social security and financial relief, jobs and homes for the homeless, and a society where the police and law enforcement agencies are not so brazenly biased and partisan. They also want accountability for the rich and super rich, a level-playing field, a new economic order, and an end to the rise and rise of the capitalists who seem to have flourished in an unprecedented manner amidst the despair and distress of the deadly pandemic.

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Surely, amidst the millennials, this is a trend which has been trending since Socialist Bernie Sanders first entered the fray, while being blocked again and again by the big money lobbies, including Barack Obama himself. The Barack-Biden twosome has a bad record on several counts: mass deportations of immigrants, the total insensitivity towards the working class, health and education, and of course, the unbridled killings by the drones in conflict zones across the middle-east and the borders of Afghanistan, and the death and destruction in Syria and Yemen, which continues. At least, in the Trump era, no new wars waged by America in the rest of the world, though his record on Palestine and Iran has been grossly unimaginative and crude.

Stacey Abrams, for instance, a prominent black leader of Georgia, who had earlier run for the post of Governor, has been credited for leading a whole-hearted and successful grassroots campaign for Biden, overcoming the formidable Trump support base in Georgia. Writes The Daily Beast: “The Biden campaign placed Georgia as one of just three reach states that they sought to turn blue, hoping to expand the party’s old electoral map to defeat President Donald Trump. The fact that Georgia is narrowly trending in that direction at the top of the ticket is, in part, thanks to the work Abrams put in place during her first governor run in 2018, where voter suppression contributed to her close loss to unseat (Republican) Kemp. She has since escalated her organizing and mobilizing efforts with Fair Fight, the group she founded in the aftermath of that election, and offered a strong closing pitch to voters to “make a plan to vote early” leading up to November 3.”

So will America heal itself and become united in these edgy days to come… The answer, as the Bob Dylan song says, is once again blowin’ in the wind.

People Of Indian Origin Offer A Diplomatic Edge

“mitti ki sugandh” sentiment, it helps to have someone who ‘understands’ India and is not hostile, even if and when the situation requires tough talking, like Haley did. The rising number of Indian-origin diplomats being stationed in diplomatic missions in New Delhi testifies to this ‘understanding’. There is no other country that enjoys this position. (The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com )]]>