COVID-19 is a virus, a physical being, howsoever miniscule, which can jump from one animal (bat) to another (pangolins and sheep), and finally into human bodies. At this stage, it can hide and multiply, decide to rest and cause massive destruction, even cause deaths. But it is more than a microbe; it’s a sign from nature or God. In this Anthropocene age, as Homo Sapiens have a dominant influence on physical climate and environment, nature too can devise devious ways to counter such trends. If global leaders rule with the view that markets are their Gods, and private investors are their respected priests, then COVID-19 is a grand counter to that vision.
For one, until now, the virus has attacked richer nations. It started its journey from China, the superpower-in-waiting, traversed through Taiwan and Korea, the mini-powers in an Asian Century, and virulently and mercilessly attacked the US, Italy, Spain, France, and the UK. Almost the entire developed world – where money equals power, greed overrides everything else, and governance is through and for the elite – is under siege due to the epidemic.
In India, the pandemic exposed governance failures. In its overpowering mindset to help the rich and elite, the government initially went slow to monitor and quarantine people who returned from abroad. Many used their political, social and economic clout to escape medical check-up. Even as Parliament remained in session in complete disregard to the viral manifestations, the wealthy continued their parties and socialite excesses. At the same time, like one commentator said, “the ill-planned lock-down led to enormous human suffering. Working-class Indians, already living on the edge, are now faced with utter destitution”. The farmers, and migrant and temporary workers faced the brunt of the lockdown.
The concept of a social welfare state, as enshrined in the Constitution was given short shrift by several past governments. COVID-19 reiterated this basic and nightmarish truth. Governments today have transformed into those that are definitely formed by the people, who are fooled by rhetoric, fear, empty promises, violence, and communalism. But in reality, the ruling regimes are only of the elite, and for the elite. No questions asked, no explanations required. For example, there is a philosophical and ideological shift among the leaders to consolidate power by whatever means possi-ble, rather than provide robust and efficient governance. In fact, the former is assiduously done in the garb of the latter – the ever-present vote-bank politics.
Governance, which was to be based on scientific principles and ideological rationalism, has been turned upside down into an art, where the overriding vision of the ‘Supreme Leader’, howsoever ephemeral, lopsided, and elusive it might be, is paramount. The buck starts its journey from the policies that are dictated from the top, disseminated by loyalists, and it stops when the decisions are blindly implemented by the civil servants. The role of other elected representatives, even ministers and senior politicians within the political parties, has disappeared – poof into the ether, or swoosh, back into the bottle. This is the manner in which Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Tayyip Erdogan rule over their empires in the US, Russia, and Turkey.
The exercise of power without responsibility, and the use of power for private gains, rather than social welfare, is evident. Years ago, Kishore Bi-yani, the father of modern retail in India divided the consumers into three sets – India-1, India-2, and India-3. The first was the consumption class, the rich and middle class. The second was the service class, the workers, farmers, and those who provide professional and semi-professional ser-vices like maids, drivers, teachers, nurses, cleaners, sweepers, etc. India-3 was the poor class with hand-to-mouth existence. Biyani was clear that India-1 would not allow India-2 to catch up with it. This is reflected in governance today. Now, we pose another question – if India-1 fails India-2, and gives a damn about India-3, can the rich and elite survive on their own? Think about it.