Stop Breaking the Camel’s Back

img1 Julian S Das
17 May 2021

There is so much negativity in the air, aspersions on the inaction of the government at the Center, growing sense of loss, both physical and psychological, and the lion’s share of the daily news, both in electronic and social media, presents a grim picture of the reality, natural and human-made. The frontline warriors behind the Personal-Protective-Equipment (PPE) find themselves dry and worn out at the end of the day or night, or continuous hours of call on duty. Perhaps no one knows about the actual battle between life and death the victims of the pandemic are forced to go through than these nurses, doctors and health workers.

Perhaps we had trumpeted prematurely about our collective victory over the pandemic, least expecting it to revisit us with more vigour and strength, and soon it had turned all our calculations topsy-turvy, demolishing not only our statistics but also our ego-ridden complacency. And the price that we had been forced to pay is too huge to imagine.

We would have thought that those who govern us would be better informed, having unhindered access to some of the best scientific and technical brains in the world, but soon realized that they were not only uninformed, but were also ill-informed. Recall to mind the buffoonery that we were subjected to, in the name of warding off the virus from the soil, and felt as true citizens of the nation, we had no other option than to comply with the directives coming from the great scientific and medical brains; we did not want to be branded as ‘anti-national’ for not doing what the Prime Minister had invited the nation to do. And so did our Bishops and religious superiors, who encouraged all to “do whatever he tells”. We know at the end who had the last laugh! The virus!

It does not require great minds to call a spade a spade, that the subcontinent had not prepared itself to face such an emergency situation. We acknowledge that we had underestimated the power of the virus that has crippled not only our economy but also unleashed a series of maladies which would take decades to redress. It is surprising that still we have not declared the current situation a national emergency, and we are hoping things would change overnight like a charm, as we expected the evil powers of the virus would vanish at the clanging of plates and bells, or at the lighting of diya on our doorposts. We have come to realize that we have to get used to the present situation and if possible befriend the virus so that it does not put its chill hands on our dear ones. That calls for action from every citizen of the country, whether big or small, male or female, literate or illiterate, rich or poor. All of us have a share in shaping the future of our nation.

Leaders, lead from the front

Now that the Assembly elections in four states and one Union Territory are over, we may not be able to see our leaders who might go into eternal isolation. They may be the last ones we may come across in our locality. When it comes to changing things which are outdated and usher in new ways of looking at things and reality around us, we wish to see our leaders. 

Unfortunately we do not have a system of making our leaders accountable for their responsibility as custodians of law, justice and peace in society. If they were made to pay for every historic blunder they make, then there would be no political leader left in the country. We need leaders who lead us from the front, not hiding, or running away when the people most need them.

Corporates, call it free

There is no corporate house which may run at a loss; whether the people of the nation live or die, the corporate houses thrive on ever new avatars, changing their strategies and modus operandi, in order to make hay while the sun shines. At least at the time of national emergency, all corporate houses should be made to pay half of their earning freely to the government for distribution among those who cannot make both ends meet. 

The Prime Minister should not hesitate to do what Joe Biden, the US President, did. Biden declared that the wealthiest Americans and business houses would have to pay 39.6% of their income as income tax to the government, and it is hoped that the new bold change in law would affect one per cent of the population, and would not affect those whose earnings were less than $ 400,000. If the Central Government were to force the corporate and business houses, including the Ambanis and the Adanis, to pay more income tax, then the nation would not have to manage the crisis with a shoe-string budget.

Let go, the Central Vista

We have heard about the Roman emperor Nero, who seemed to have played the fiddle when Rome was ablaze, and today the whole nation is affected by this national emergency, and our resources seem to be quite limited to meet the growing needs of the people not only to protect them from the ravages of the pandemic, but also to sustain them with the necessary food and sustenance. The Central Vista project, with an estimated budget of Rs. 20,000 crores, with only the Parliament building to cost Rs. 971 crores, is a needless structure at a time the citizens needed more important things like oxygen, medical supply, vaccines and government subsidy for survival.

Though the Urban Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Puri claimed recently that Central Vista project was just one of the projects of the government, and the government had already spent more than double the amount of the Central Vista project on vaccination project, and about Rs. 3 lakh crores on healthcare budget, one wonders if this is the project which is going to benefit the citizens in any way, especially in such emergency situation as we face now. 

Pharmaceuticals, pay due to the nation

Suddenly the pharmaceutical industry has got a new shot and has revived. Even many of the dying firms have woken up, thanks to the huge medicine and medical supply which are in need, in order to meet the situation. No doubt, much of the medicines produced in the country are cheaply available, and even those imported from abroad come with a huge commission to the dealers. It would have been a humane approach if the pharmaceutical companies and the dealers in medical supply increase the discount to the buyers, and if required reduce the commission given to the medical shops and pharmacies to help the poor.

If there are five members in a poor family, one person contracting the virus would mean all would be infected with the same. Imagine the amount of money that would be required for the family to be free from the killer-virus! Unfortunately neither the Central government nor most of the state governments have made the medicines and tests free for the poor.

Schools and colleges, open the gates

Isolating those affected with the virus is a serious problem with the urban and rural poor and those who do not have means to provide separate rooms; this is the reason why the pandemic has become a community infection. In poor families, all members share one room, and in such a situation, it is hard to think of a separate place for those with the virus. But who can provide self-isolation centres for the thousands of people who do not have the means?

The country has schools and colleges in all villages and towns, even in the most remote corners of the nation, and even with the minimum resources available in such schools and colleges, they can be a boon for those who have no place to self-isolate themselves. Surely it is not an easy task to open the gates of schools and colleges which would imply pumping in more money to make them suitable for the purpose. 
Replace PM Cares Fund

PM Cares Fund has been made into a private fund in the name of a public figure, an oxymoron of the highest degree, in order to evade accountability and transparency. Public sector units have poured in huge amounts of money to this fund, and the Central government employees were forced to pay one day's wage for this fund last year. But ultimately what has come of this fund, and no one knows how much money has been accumulated in this fund and how it was used (or misused or abused).

It is high time that we abolish it so that the existing Prime Minister's National Relief Fund may be used, so that both proper accountability and transparency would be in place. Every citizen could be invited to contribute whatever he or she is able to, in order to reach out to those who are in dire need of help and assistance from the government. 

Modi, march to Vanvaas

India has been managing with an invisible or shadow Prime Minister who is conspicuous by his absence than his presence; and his decision never to appear before the Press for questions and answers is enough evidence for his efforts to keep his image ‘untainted’. He may be good at mimicry, remember his cat-calling Didi-o-Didi during Bengal election campaigns. He may also be good at impromptu speeches, with a splash of local language, which neither he nor the listeners can understand. 

We need a Prime Minister who is present with the people in their struggles, finding ways and means of mitigating the malignant menaces which haunt our nation, devising methods of easing the pain and agony of thousands of people who die with no oxygen, no medical care, no jabs, no jobs and no food. We need a Prime Minister who would walk the talk, and would show he cares in action than in words.

We need a Prime Minister who would know the basics of science and mathematics, and not only rhetoric "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" to borrow a phrase from Macbeth. We need a Prime Minister for whom the nation would matter much more than his party, the interests of the people than his personal projects, the economy of the country than personal ego. 

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