The Inward Eye

The emperor’s new clothes

When a State cannot provide justice in its most fundamental form, it loses its right to rule. Where is justice when citizens have to pay thousands to carry their dead and buy slots for funerals?

The emperor’s new clothes

‘This Central Vista will stand as a monument to misplaced priorities of leadership during the time of unmatched tragedy. A reminder that our leaders should be held accountable.’

Gurbachan Jagat

When a State cannot provide justice in its most fundamental form, it loses its right to rule. Where is justice when citizens have to pay thousands to carry their dead and buy slots for funerals? When they are turned away from basic care? What happened to the ESI hospitals to which every business contributes? The dead do not seek reimbursement, but there should be justice. The truth can no longer be clothed in lies — it’s out on streets for all to see; the delusion of our leaders, illusion they seek to cloak us with is laid bare

The provocation to write comes from reading about our finance ministry pontifying that the second wave will have a muted effect on the economy (front page of The Economic Times, May 8, giving the ministry’s April review) — it probably holds true for the world they live in. For, it has to be a different world, devoid of corona and its devastation, because no rational human being could give such statements in the wake of all the death and destruction that surrounds us, and the havoc it is playing with our lives and our economy. Respectable international agencies are continuously downgrading our projected growth rates.

Our first response to the pandemic was in true Trump style — ignore it. However, it was subsequently followed by a national lockdown which broke the back of the labour and the economy. There came a slight pause in the march of the pandemic and our Central leadership proclaimed victory and claimed that we had shown the way to the world on how to beat the pandemic under dynamic crisis management. India had arrived as the ‘Vishwa Guru’. Having dealt with this minor problem, the top leadership moved to the state of West Bengal to wage a life and death struggle with an evil greater than the pandemic in the form of state elections. This was in spite of warnings of a second severe surge, to which no heed was paid. No control room was put in place from where the whole country could be mapped, no special crisis management team was set up, no orders were placed for hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators, oxygen, vaccines, ambulances, etc. The matter had been dealt with and the Covid file closed.

On the other hand, the lions roared in Bengal and promised the faithful 200 seats — never mind the danger of the rallies acting as super spreaders. Additionally, the Kumbh Mela was also being held where millions were propitiating the gods. This also took the form of another super spreader — never mind, Bengal will be ours. Meanwhile, nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’, was exacting vengeance. State after state reported a humungous number of infected and dead people. But they didn’t look back and kept baying for the blood of Mamata Didi — ‘Didi’, a revered word everywhere, became a figure of ridicule. However, reality began to catch up as the world sat up and began to notice. The international media called it a catastrophe and mismanagement of Herculean proportions. Hospitals began to cry out for oxygen, ICU beds, ventilators, vaccines — in short, everything that was needed to help people. But we had no reserves, we had placed no orders, we had not ramped up production, so we began to do what we thought we had put behind us. Back to PL 480 days — back to the begging for aid from all countries, aid of any kind. Slowly, the world began to respond but, it was a measured response because of our leadership’s recent claims of victory. Most of this aid landed at Delhi but there were negligible arrangements at the airport. There was no control room, no inventories for aid coming in, no details as to where it was to be sent and no transport mobilised. Questions regarding distribution of this aid from Delhi were raised at White House press conferences. The opaque nature of this mismanagement continues to haunt us with states and aid agencies not knowing what is coming or going.

The states began to compete in making huge demands but there was no one in Delhi to allocate aid to states as per some worked-out formula, or coordinate our resources as well as the international aid coming in. Again, it was politics — charges and counter-charges of favouritism. One has not heard of any initiative taken by the disaster management force to mobilise its own resources and those of other departments. Why could not the Army have been asked to set up field hospitals — after the earthquake at Bhuj in 2001, the Israeli army set up a field hospital in 24 hours which was capable of giving treatment right from minor injuries to heart problems. They did not borrow a single item from us, except the land on which the hospital was set up. We too can do it, we have the men, the experts, the institutions, but they are not allowed to function independently and grow. Every decision in this country, right from cricket to the pandemic, is political and our politics is corrupt. Corruption has consumed every cell in our body politic and with every passing year, it only gets worse.

As the disease wreaks havoc, the leadership, comprising the numerous pillars of government, hides in denial or issues orders reminiscent of Don Quixote charging the windmills. The ‘brahmastar’ they wield is that of shutting everything… congratulations to you all, well done, you are dousing the fire. However, you may want to consider the fact that you fanned this fire by allowing all the super spreader melas and rallies. You ignore that minor detail of unemployment, hunger, school fees, EMIs, rent, salaries… no worries on that count, ‘the impact on the economy is muted’. It is so easy to shut everything, the bureaucrat and the politician love the power of it. Leadership at any level is defined as the ability to give to society and not to extract from it. Such leadership has been personified by men such as Gandhi, Mandela, Lincoln. Their leadership gave peace, succor, justice — you have nothing to give but pain, and yet, you snatch liberty and freedom with such abandon that would shame a hardened autocrat.

  • What has the State offered to all the people who have lost jobs and incomes?
  • What has it offered to all small businesses which are being ruined and self-employed families being reduced to penury?
  • What has it offered to the self-employed professionals — lawyers, accountants, hairdressers, chefs, salesmen, teachers… it’s a long list?
  • What has the State offered to students trying to study through phones?

Nothing — ‘nada’, zero.

The list is a long one, yet the rulers continue to build their vistas, buy fancy airplanes, splurge on electioneering and advertisements showcasing schemes and plans to befool the common man. How do you befool the dead and dying, how do you befool the families who have lost members? I do hope that this Central Vista, if completed, will in time stand as a monument to the misplaced priorities of our leadership during the time of unmatched tragedy. A reminder to a nation that our leaders should be held accountable.

The basic duty of the State is to provide security of life and property. When a State cannot provide justice in its most fundamental form, it loses its right to rule. Where is justice when citizens have to pay thousands to carry their dead and buy slots for funerals? Where is justice when they are turned away from basic medical care? What happened to all ESI hospitals to which every business contributes? What happened to all health plans and insurances which hard-working citizens paid for? Most did not even get admission to hospitals, forget about reimbursements. Anyway, the dead seek no reimbursement but, justice, yes. There should be justice for all the lives lost and for the ones that remain behind. The truth can no longer be clothed in lies — it is out on the streets for all to see and the delusion of our leaders and the illusion they seek to cloak us with is laid bare.

Has the Ganga been cleaned as part of the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign? The answer lies in the hundreds of bloated corpses of what once were human beings — corpses floating in the Ganga, maybe they will find solace in her embrace, a solace they never found while living.

— The writer is ex-chairman of UPSC, former Manipur Governor and served as J&K DGP

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