Covid Calls for a Course Correction

img1 Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
24 May 2021

Government Advice: Avoid Rumours

When little Nepal describes what is happening in India as “horrifying”, we sit back and yawn. We should know better. Modiji has told us not to go by ‘rumours’, Yogiji has advised us not to be misled by ‘misinformation’. Harsh Vardhan, Health Minister, is proud of our low mortality rate and repeated growth-plateauing and stabilising! In spite of all this, on the one hand, we hear that death-count is rising. On the other, J.P.Nadda, the BJP Chief, assures us that the Prime Minister has saved the country.  Shivraj Chouhan promptly agrees. 

When a major tragedy stuns us, it takes time for us to weigh up the situation. We need to look at the misfortune from every angle: various dimensions, causes, consequences. We need to listen to voices from far and near: opinions, evaluations, assessments. It is not rumour-mongering, but search for truth. Though reports from neighbours have some advantage, those from far are more likely to be objective. World opinion counts. Amartya Sen used to insist that it be respected. 

Reality Report: Once in a Century Crisis

So, it comes as a shock to us when someone describes the present Covid blow to India as a “once in a century crisis”. We get a further jolt when we read in an Australian paper,  “Modi leads India into a viral Apocalypse”. Are we then in unsafe hands?  There are other papers that say that Modi has put India on her knees through his “monumental follies”. Le Monde blames him for his “arrogance and demagogy” and “nationalist harangues”, and accuses him for having encouraged the Kumbha Mela, turning Ganga into a “hotbed of contagion”. As I write these lines, there is a report of 1618 children below 9 having tested positive in Uttarakhand these days, near 500 districts affected. No wonder, Kamala Harris describes the Indian situation as “heartbreaking”. As the world sees it, India itself is turned into a Shoddy Hospital and a Chaotic Crematorium.   

Financial Times speaks about the “fury pervasive in urban India”, and pictures the PM as a “diminished” person, humbled by the recent elections and the second wave of Coronavirus. The Guardian attributes his fumblings to his “exceptionalist” (bizarre) views and feels certain that history will judge him harshly. They notice that he is consistently having a bad press abroad, though his admirers try to boost his image, making him a hero working 18 hours a day. A Harvard University study puts the present state of affairs to his “colossal missteps”, “criminal negligence” and “political hubris”, holding huge rallies during Covid periods. It pities the Indian press that has the unenviable job of writing “this wretched chapter in the nation’s history” by exposing the “truth”. 

Administration Passive, Indifferent, Insensitive

Modi-supporters, whose mental horizon is limited by communal interests, consider all such allegations and descriptions as a “foreign conspiracy” to defame India. Dattatreya Hosable, RSS general secretary, called them anti-Bharat activities to create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust among people. But when we hear from reliable friends that the situation in Delhi is “horrific” we grow alarmed. And when we read about the “spine-chilling cry for oxygen” from increasing number of patients, spiralling deaths and shortage of vaccine, we break down. India had increased the Oxygen export by 734% in 2021 and had sold 193 million doses of vaccine. We had been complacent when people were battling for their lives in neglected hospitals, in vehicles, on the streets, under trees. We wonder who is anti-Bharat, those who tell the truth or those who silence it. Even the BJP chief in UP, became eloquent accusing the State Government of mishandling the situation and undercounting death. Mohan Bhagwat spoke of complacency.   

Is there not some anti-Bharat-ness in leaders who remain passive and insensitive when their fellow-citizens are dying like flies? How could a person like Umesh Katti, Minister for food and civil supplies, Karnataka, howl at a group of farmers, “It is better that you die”? He apologized later, fortunately. Lal Khattar, Haryana CM, presents a picture of passive immobility. He asks who could have predicted a second wave, as though it is not the duty of leaders to have a certain amount of foresight, as though it was not their duty to listen to medical experts who had cautioned about the possibility of a second wave.  He questions the purpose of counting deaths since they cannot be revived anyway! It is precisely to prevent deaths that we are enquiring about their number and other details.  It is for this reason that 400 scientists wrote to Modiji asking for fuller information about how the problem of the pandemic is being addressed.   

“Self-inflicted Catastrophe”, Lancet

Sonia attributes the violent resurgence of the pandemic to the indifference and incompetence of decision-makers and their “abdication of responsibility”.  She criticizes the political leadership for manifesting “no empathy” with the suffering. What she notices are hubris and complacency.  Rahul accuses Modi of vanishing from the scene when the Covid growth was at the highest. A Students’ Union files a case against Amit Shah for being found “missing” from duty when his presence was most needed. Rahul continues in his usual style, calling the pandemic “Movid” and a Modi-made disaster! What India needs today, he says, is not a new mansion for the Prime Minister or a Vanity Vista, but remedies for Coronavirus. 

Most feel that Modi has put India on her knees with his monumental follies…moving even China and Pakistan to help her. Behold, little Bhutan rushes in with oxygen. All artificially created pride is demolished, atmanirbhar humbled, the country’s independence decimated, and dependence on world community increased a hundredfold. A beggar’s bowl is not a great possession! The poorest farmers in India are making a collection, even beedi rollers! All put the present medical catastrophe to the Prime Minister’s “monumental follies”. 

Criticism continues. The Congress Working Committee demands that the PM atones for his mistakes. Sitaram Yechury of the CPM says that the Modi government has lost “moral authority” that he should quit. He puts the present problem to the evident fact that “The government has abandoned scientific thinking for obscurantism”. Here, of course, you have the real reason for the present World-stunning Mess: a systematic Promotion of Obscurantism in order to keep India’s masses subject and subdued.  Just see. In Modiji’s Ahmedabad, people have been noticed covering their bodies with cow dung to gain Covid-immunity. See how far India’s pseudoscience has advanced!  Medical experts say such reckless self-treatment can lead to mucormycosis, a fungal infection that can be deadly. What happened in Wuhan was precisely an animal-human transfer of Coronavirus. 

Calculated Promotion of Obscurantism

The present Cultivated Blindness in society has prevented intelligent thinking at various levels and weakened our planning for economic growth and medical planning. China, for all her other deviations, has educated her citizens and given them a scientific outlook.  Chetan Bhagat firmly believes, “The unscientific Hindu has been the bane of our land for the past millennium”; it has been the reason for our subjugation, present Coronavirus. Modiji lamented in the Parliament that India was kept subject for twelve centuries by aliens. Here then is the reason for the humiliation of the nation and the origin of the “inferiority complex typical of its non-performing dominant classes”…Obscurantism.

Listen, Usha Thakur, Cultural Minister of Madhya Pradesh, recommends a ‘fire ritual’ for purifying environment against Coronavirus. Pragya Singh Thakur had crazier suggestions until she herself fell ill. You remember how Trump recommended the drinking of disinfectants or sanitizers. This is what happens to a nation that has handed itself over to a set of unschooled law-makers and policy-shapers. An RSS certificate does not confer competence.  Teaching of science in schools makes no meaning if rational thinking is not encouraged in society. It is not bullet trains and Wasteful Vistas that make us modern, but enlightened thinking and an open-minded outlook. 

The UP Government spent 40 crores for cow-care when humans were dying in hospital courtyards, moving vehicles, slums, forgotten homes; when crematoriums could not keep count, and bodies were thrown into the river. This animal fad is not a UP monopoly, Odisha government has allotted 60 lakhs for straying animals during these Covid days! For all this political fanfare in defence of animals, there are more aging and neglected cows wandering the streets in India than anywhere else in the world. No one yet has probed how far ailing, aging, straying cattle can be carriers of one type of virus or the other. 

The Cruellest Images have Become India’s NORMAL, and RSS Calls for “Positivity Unlimited”

No one could keep count of the number of bodies found floating on the Ganga near Buxar, Ballia, Ghazipur, Unnao, Kanpur—75-100-2000…Jamuna! More than 175 bodies were found dumped two feet underground by families that could not afford the cremation expenses. Photos appeared in social media of human bodies being dragged by dogs. When horrors multiply, sensitivity comes down. No shock, no major protests, no lamentations.  It has become the new NORMAL in Hindutvaland.  But where are the bodies from? Many pointed to Varanasi, the PM’s constituency. We know there was shortage of oxygen in places like Ayodhya from where people were moving their sick to Kolkata. Meanwhile BJP is busy with image-building. A supportive team of the RSS has been organizing lectures on “Positivity Unlimited”. Be Positive in crisis, they say, why lament? Yes, millions have “tested Positive” with Covid-19! 

It was Kumbh Mela that took the pandemic to rural areas. Then it spread. In UP, Priyanka accuses the state government of under-reporting deaths. Ashoka University considers the calculation of mortality “completely wrong”.  However, critics are warned, and hospitals are told clearly: “hide the truth”.  Modi-defenders are crest-fallen.  Where is evidence to his hard work beyond Kashmir-humiliation and Ayodhya Bhumi Pujan? Even actor Anupam Kher, a BJP-supporter, concedes, “Somewhere they have slipped. It is time for them to understand that there is much more to life than just image-building”.  Going further, they are trying to block relief work by Congress volunteers; whose accounts are being searched. For Modi-Shah, ‘compassion is crime’.  Mother Teresa’ work is humiliating India. Stan Swamy is a threat. NGOs are a nuisance, need new FCRA rules. Modi-minions seem to have the motto, “We will not help, nor allow others to help”.  And yet, Yudhishthira says, “Compassion is the highest Dharma” (Mahabahrata III.313.75-76).

Coronavirus Tragedies Demand Due Apologies from the Powers that Be  

But stubbornness has not paid dividends. Makarand Paranjape of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, says, “Modi’s image has certainly taken a beating. It is, therefore, time to introspect and, if necessary, course correct”. The PM needs more of  “humanity and humility”, he says; he should not remain “aloof, isolated, extraordinary, exceptional, impervious to advice or criticism”. 

In this context, Modiji’s recent expression of pain, feeling one with those who have lost their dear ones, is heartening. We must give credit to him, even though he has not expressed any regret or ‘remorse’ over the lack of foresight or preparedness. 

And yet “Remorse” for a mistake is much in our cultural tradition. Ashoka’s Kalinga War had caused the death of 100,000 people and the deportation of more, when all of a sudden, he felt a sense of ‘remorse’. Our civilization is founded on this Royal Remorse and his deliberate choice of Dharma.  His Rock Edict 13 says, “On conquering Kalinga, the Beloved of the God felt remorse”. 

There is a section of our society who undervalues Buddha and Ashoka because they did not belong to the Aryan stock, but to the Mongoloid.  But following is an instance from the Aryan tradition: Gurucharan Das in his “The Difficulty of Being Good” (Allen Lane, New Delhi, 2009 pg. 234) presents the “Remorse” of Yudhishthira, who belonged to a dominant family among the Aryan rulers, who tells Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, after the massacre of the Kurukshetra war, “I, Yudhishthira, am the killer of your sons, great lady. Curse me” (Mahabharata XI.15.3-4). Remorse, then, for being responsible for a tragedy is very much in our civilizational heritage. Bending to Truth is the core of our Creed. We need more of it, says Gurucharan Das, not less (Das 253). 

Interestingly, Das refers to a letter that Rahul Gandhi wrote to him in 2007, long before today’s ideological polarisation had climbed to its present height, “Remorse comes when you are able to feel the suffering of fellow human beings to an extent where the suffering becomes your own. To feel deeply human suffering you have to internally accept that all human beings are equal and see them as humans and not as a particular group…. (India’s) leaders in the freedom struggle were able to look beyond divisions and see the human being (including the British). Because of this they were able to feel the pain of people” (Das 254). 

Course Correction to a Rejection of the Ideology of Exclusion

Here then is the hitch: an ideology of division, exclusion, polarisation has stood on the way to “Remorse”, regret, change, course correction. Yes, the sufferings and death of those whose language, caste, culture, beliefs, food habits are different from mine are my sufferings… whether they be migrant workers, landless peasants, tribals defending their land, undernourished women, marginalized Dalits, misjudged Muslims, people who cannot afford cremation expenses, or assertive social critics. They ought to be looked after when in trouble, cared for when sick, listened to when in need. While this paper presents an ‘overload of criticism’, its argument is directed against none, except the IDEOLOGY of exclusion, and those who promote that Ideological Virus. A course correction is open to all. 

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