Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

Ruled by decree

Corona and other clouds darken

  • Published 3.04.20, 1:36 AM
  • Updated 3.04.20, 1:36 AM
  • 4 mins read
Bareilly: A screen grab shows healthcare workers, in protective suits, spray a solution through hose pipe on migrants before allowing them to enter the town of Bareilly, Monday, March 30, 2020. PTI

Where we all are today has left us deeply shaken and worried, but this will pass. We do not yet know when or how, but the Corona shadow will pass. We will still have those clouds to contend with that the pandemic swept over and temporarily shunted from our attentions and apprehensions. Those clouds would probably have darkened; they will reveal themselves pressed closer, more ominously upon us. We are not getting out of our troubles when Corona has paled and drifted off; we may find ourselves shoved more ruthlessly into the mire of troubles and traumas that the more immediate perils of the pandemic have taken our eyes off.

It is already clear that India will emerge from this altered and struggling with deficits, many of them yet unfathomable; we will find ourselves in a shambles, unable to locate the pieces of our shattered lives, perhaps also too drained to swiftly restore them to a working coherence. Beyond the despair of illness and death, there have already begun to appear the contours of widespread ravage. The economy, already in unguided fall, is wheezing. Business and enterprise have suffered blows that will take time and effort to recover from; some may not be able to recover footing. It sounds almost cruel that we should sound another round of applause for the resilience of people and leave them to it. This is what tens of thousands of Indians have already been served out in booster doses on their non-existent plates — hunger, scarcity, joblessness, homelessness, dislocation, uncertainties over today, anxieties over tomorrow. And on the road from today to tomorrow, they have often come to be more closely acquainted with the rash disposition of their custodians and their agencies. They have been chased and lashed, rapped and slapped; they have been made to kneel and leapfrog; they have been ordered to squat and been sprayed with anti-corrosives, as you would termites. The thali-beating tableau was given three days’ notice to prepare and stage itself; the lockdown guillotine fell on a notice of three hours and a few minutes, and was sounded well into the evening. It gave no concession to any manner of preparation, it was a trigger to panic. People did, as people would. The punishments have been lavish for crimes they did not commit.

But this is merely an interregnum; mind you, a deeply disquieting one, but an interregnum all the same. When Corona swept over us — or was allowed to by a regime both averse to alarm and otherwise occupied — we were already a deeply injured nation. Corona’s departure, the waste it leaves in its wake notwithstanding, will resume the crises that it has sent into abeyance and rekindle the clamour of our agitations.

India needs assurance and caring, a poultice on its migraine and ointment for its open wounds. We need succour and rebuilding, not the renewal of divisive and destructive projects. But worse prospects loom. There is little to suspect that may be on the way. The contrary is likelier — the reopening of unresolved fears over citizenship, the continued disregard of unassuaged sores and scabs, the return of Indians celebrating the plight and persecution of other Indians. In the dim depths of this world wide web of tragedy, the ‘goli maaro’ sentiment remains phosphorescent. What else must we grasp from the bigoted exclusionism that has echoed in response to the dire outcomes of that misguided Tablighi congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin? What must we learn of ourselves from our chorus, from the truth that when we were called upon to extend a hand we took gleeful resort to pointing fingers and tarnished what needed a repair job? We should learn of ourselves, at the very least, that we are woefully prejudiced and divided and we bear no regret for that; more likely, we treat our unseemly retribution as reward. The Corona virus is democratic and indiscriminate with its wrath; we pick and choose. There is another virus within, it is a virus we wish to nurse, not negate.

It must be a matter of discomfort and concern in a pluralist democracy that it has come to be dictated by inclinations that spur bitter divides rather than suture them. These past years have been replete with instances when Indians have been inspired and encouraged to commit crimes against other Indians with no fear of consequence; often enough, hatred and its ugly enactments have been rewarded.

Nor must we blind ourselves to how roundly callous, uncaring and often brutal the Corona outbreak has revealed our rulers to be. One after the other, they have demanded sacrifices from people in return for little. Time after time, they have apportioned blame on the citizenry and absolved themselves of key responsibilities. People have required daily supplies and sustenance, they have been fed two daily doses of archival television footage.

In the meantime, the usurpation of powers has proceeded apace in the ‘interest of the people’. The power to withhold critical information. The power to rap dissemination of the truth. The power to remain opaque. The power to remain above question. The absolute power to do what one man wants done because that alone can protect the interests of the nation. Empower a protector and you have most likely enshrined a despot, crises such as the one we find ourselves besieged by are fertile grounds for authoritarians. Earlier this week, Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, momentarily riveted attention away from the pandemic when he got Parliament to arrogate to him the license to rule by decree. We probably haven’t taken due cognizance but we have been under a rule by decree for a while now, a democratic nation servile to the diktats pronounced in those evening telecasts whose announcements have become a thing of widespread apprehension rather than of assurance. What now? The devilry of demonetization was decreed upon us. The sledgehammer on Article 370 and the state of Jammu and Kashmir was delivered on the back of assurances nothing was in the works. The Janata Curfew was a summary decree, the thali-beating attached as duty of the faithful, show up or be shown up. The national lockdown, the most sweeping restriction on any populace worldwide, too, was a decree. Were preparations put in place? Were contingencies all examined and accounted for? But why? The nation was plunged headlong into demonetization and ‘corrections’ happened decree after decree over the following months. It remains a mystery who was taken into confidence at the time. It remains a mystery who was sounded out now. Were chief ministers of states consulted? Was the cabinet consulted? Was the Opposition called in for consultation on a decision so momentous nobody can recall a parallel? Where’s the need? That’s now the established ruling house-style; it’s decreed. Where we are is worrying; where we are headed should worry us even more.