Spare a thought for the poor

Uploaded on June 20, 2020

Spare a thought for the poor

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

The spiral of Covid-19 across the country has exposed our unpreparedness for this scale of national health emergency. Sadly, instead of concentrating on the fight against the deadly pandemic some media outlets are still trying to blame (without justification, of course) Muslims for the spread of the disease. In short, they are not interested in fighting the disease, but in a communal campaign against Muslims. 

There are other political distractions that are hindering a full frontal combat with Covid-19. As the disease rages across the land and the jobless poor are desperately looking for some livelihood there have been attempts to topple non-BJP governments in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In Gujarat BJP had already purchased 6 Congress MLAs before the Rajya Sabha poll. One wonders at what kind of a priority it is. 

Struck by the double whammy of a failing economy and a pandemic in full blow, the country wants governments at Centre and states to come to rescue, not pass the buck to persons or groups which are not tasked with running the national affairs. That is why when earlier this fortnight a senior cabinet minister declared that his government “may have” done certain things that could have been done better, but what did the opposition do? “Aap ne kya kiya”, he asked in his usual caustic style. 

Somebody has rightly pointed out that the opposition is no more powerful than an NGO. It does not control state machinery and finances and has no executive authority whatsoever. On the other hand, the Centre has a huge infrastructure of personnel, materials and full executive authority. As against the opposition’s helplessness, the Central government has an annual budget of nearly Rs 30 lakh crore. Hence, it is for the government to account for what it does with all that power and money, not the people, nor the opposition. 

It is these mixed priorities that have led to attempted undermining of Maharashtra and Rajasthan governments which have thrown their entire energies into fighting the pandemic and reviving the economy. This is the most inopportune time to play such games. 

The economic crisis, aggravated by Covid-19, has hit the working class the hardest. The declaration of lockdown on March 24 at an incredibly short notice of four hours sent migrant workers into a flurry of desperate activity. Hundreds of thousands found themselves walking home from distant cities to their home villages, carrying their meagre possessions on their heads, small children in their arms, without food and water, blisters on foot, policemen beating them at every few kilometers for breaching social distancing norms. The state machinery was there only to penalise them, not to help.

Most of the assurances by Central, state and railway authorities turned out to be false. The Union government’s claim that full arrangements were made for the suddenly jobless and homeless workers to be given food and shelter in the cities turned out to be false. The unfortunate workers realised to their great sorrow that like the Rs 15 lakh in every Indian’s bank account promised before the 2014 parliamentary elections, this too was a lie. Later BJP had clarified that the Rs 15 lakh promise was a mere jumla. So, this too was a jumla announced at the cost of workers. 

The Centre’s claim that full arrangements had been made to transport the migrant workers to their homes also turned out to be a costly ruse. The unenviable condition of migrant labourers reminds me of a criminally heartless report by the Rand Corporation that advised the developed world to allow the poor in the rest of the world to die from hunger and disease because they were of no economic value. (See: Will we let the poor die?  uploaded on May 11, 2016)



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