It’s imperative for all Indians to seriously analyse Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the Coronavirus outbreak and question him on how “Janata Curfew” (people’s curfew), proposed by him on Sunday, March 22nd, 7am to 9pm, will serve the purpose of combating the menace. Following the lockdown mechanism adopted by different European countries, the Modi regime and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are also mooting the idea of imposing a lockdown, however, unlike Italy and other countries, such a lockdown has an obnoxious political agenda behind it and a disastrous economic fallout too.
The proposed “Janata Curfew” is merely a gimmick, a publicity stunt by the prime minister. A mere one-day-long lockdown of the country won’t end the epidemic blistering of Coronavirus unless a strong and preventive public healthcare system is created. However, it can earn Modi his required political mileage through PR campaigns as well as help him carry forward the Hindutva fascist agenda of the BJP and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) without opposition.
Apart from helping the RSS-BJP to score political brownies, the “Janata Curfew” will also hurt the interests of the poor working masses, the daily wage-earners, farmers, fishermen, unorganised workers, shopkeepers, etc. The economic cost of the “Janata Curfew” can be immense and will deeply hurt the already sick Indian economy.
The political objectives of “Janata Curfew”
There are a few obnoxious political objectives of Modi’s “Janata Curfew” and it will help his regime in a plethora of ways to counter its opponents as well as to gain tremendous leverage against all.
End of anti-NPR and anti-NRC movements?
The Modi regime is planning to use the “Janata Curfew” to unleash Hindutva vigilante violence on the Muslim women protesting against the new citizenship matrix and the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). From Shaheen Bagh of Delhi to Park Circus of Kolkata, from the iconic Husainabad Clock Tower of Lucknow to the Idgah of Aligarh, the Muslim women at the forefront of a battle to save the Indian constitution from the onslaught of the Modi regime has become scorn in the eyes of the RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp. With the help of the “Janata Curfew”, Modi plans to force them to retreat for a day and, thereby, occupy those places with the support of the police and not allow any further movements.
As the Modi regime is starting the NPR updating process, which is the first step towards a nationwide NRC, it’s imperative for it to neutralise all pockets of resistance and create an optics of zero opposition to its nefarious agenda to captivate the masses. If the women protesters of Shaheen Bagh and other areas give up to the intimidation of the Modi regime — laced with an anti-Coronavirus outbreak advisory — then it will provide the required momentum to the saffron camp to pulverize the Muslim women’s valiant resistance against its obnoxious agenda of stripping the marginalised people of their Indian identity.
The publicity stunt
While China was coping with the epidemic blistering of the Coronavirus outbreak since December 2019, the Modi regime remained nonchalant about preparing for the catastrophe. Even when Kerala detected the first three Coronavirus cases and treated them, Modi was busy managing his stage show with Donald Trump and orchestrating the anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi. His regime only woke up when the World Health Organization (WHO) began to ring a vexing alarm globally on COVID-19, before declaring it a global pandemic. By the time the WHO declared the COVID-19 as a global pandemic, by the time the stock markets all over the world tumbled over the Coronavirus shock, and by the time a large number of patients were detected with Coronavirus in India that the Modi regime started looking at the problem as a problem.
Rather than addressing the lacuna in public healthcare, suffering from lack of kits, lack of proper and adequate testing mechanism, lack of infrastructure to support a gush of patients, in case the transmission reaches the community stage, ie, spread between two people who neither went to the Coronavirus-affected foreign countries nor came in contact with anyone tested positive for the disease, the BJP has been busy preaching the greatness of cow urine, cow dung and ancient Vedic cure for the Coronavirus. Modi’s minister Ramdas Athawale organised a “go back Corona” demonstration as well to combat the menace.
Now as the menace is threatening to become an epidemic in India and cripple its life, the Modi regime is trying to pass the buck on the people to fight the virus and trying to earn PR scores by creating optics that will eventually provide rich dividends in electoral politics. This cunning approach of Modi and his government will save the BJP from the ignominy of being a complete failure at the times of crisis, as in the back of the mind, the core voter base of the party will remember how Modi made them stay at home one day under the “Janata Curfew” and made them clap and bang utensils at their balconies in the afternoon.
The economics of the “Janata Curfew”
The major part of an epidemic control exercise is to ensure that the public healthcare system is continuously developed and it’s prepared to meet any emergency. This can happen only when a good part of the GDP is spent on building sustainable, preventive and approachable public healthcare systems for the majority of the population, ie, the poor people. How has the Modi regime performed in this field?
After launching his promising Ayushman Bharat medical insurance scheme, Modi has pretended as if the question of public healthcare is addressed. But is public health care only about providing insurance cover to people? Can the government wash off its hands from healthcare by selling insurance schemes?
In the financial year (FY) 2020-21, the Union Budget has increased healthcare expenses to Rs 690 billion, which is 10% more than the present FY 2019-20. As inflation was at 7.5% in the quarter ending December 2019, it’s evident that much of this hike would go in offsetting inflation. Then what’s left for the public healthcare? Rhetorics?
As Modi and his coterie aim to give up the entire healthcare sector to large private players, reducing the state’s role to that of an insurance seller, providing premiums to the big insurance corporations, there is a systematic reduction in spending behind infrastructure development for public healthcare. This has resulted in a large gap between the resources and manpower required and what’s available.
Right now, Indian doctors, paramedics, technicians, pharmacists, etc, battling the Coronavirus menace need more testing kits, dresses, gloves, masks, medicines and proper infrastructure to handle patients. However, the lack of funds and resources have crippled the frontline staff from delivering optimum performance at the hour of crisis.
The economic repercussion of “Janata Curfew”
Modi’s intention to deliver a televised lecture on Coronavirus was to captivate his hardcore supporters and titillate them to act according to his whims to create optics for social media. There was neither concern for the people nor a concrete plan of action in the speech. While calling for “Janata Curfew”, Modi ignored the plight of millions of Indian poor, who are daily wage earners and survive on the food they manage to buy after selling their labour.
From unorganised workers, labouring and toiling poor, marginal farmers, agricultural labour, fishermen to street vendors, rickshaw pullers, shopkeepers, salesmen, etc, who form the majority of the country, both “Janata Curfew” and the concept of work from home are alien and unrealistic. For these people, who form the core of India’s majority of malnourished, it’s their basic carbohydrate-rich food that can be called their defence mechanism against any health hazard. By denying them an option to eat their daily meal on a day by forcefully pushing them into quarantine, without the adequate arrangement for their livelihood loss, is the sign of sheer apathy for the poor that the Hindutva fascist camp never fails to exhibit.
Each of Modi’s decisions, from demonetisation to the “Janata Curfew” are anti-poor and act to destabilise the poor people’s economy. At the height of a severe economic recession, which is snowballing into a depression caused by the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s important for the government to build up a corpus for supporting the vulnerable masses and provide them with the required support to sustain themselves and safeguard their health. But apart from Kerala, no government has taken any realistic measures to cope up with the challenge.
People vs government, roles and responsibilities in combating Coronavirus outbreak
Only the government can prevent and cure the Coronavirus outbreak by collaborating with the global community and through upgrading and mobilising all resources at disposal. Pushing the people to play the key role, while limiting the government’s role to only managing the press and issuing briefs won’t help at the high time of a crisis. This is a national crisis and the government must act.
The “Janata Curfew” is a half-hearted political stunt with no real prospect of containing the outbreak, which can be done only by upgrading public healthcare systems and mobilising resources to meet the demand of the hour. Right now, there are more than 200 patients with COVID-19 infection and it won’t take much time for the number to reach 2,000 and then 20,000. To ensure that it can be curbed, there is an ardent need for affirmative actions and not political drama and attempts to earn kudos from sycophants. Will the Modi regime act? Or will it remain stuck to the gimmicks and stunts?