In many countries across the world, the events in the past months have pulled the plug on their usual daily tasks of governance. For a majority of them, a pandemic is good news in a perverse sense. It allows them to cry hoarse at a seemingly invisible enemy rather than focus on the usual nitty gritty of boring, yawn inducing rituals of governance. As a result, long ranging pent up concerns that were at hand; be it struggling economies, spikes in unemployment rates, intensified democratic dissent, welfare of the citizens at large especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged are now minor quibbles, a mirage swept under, in the face of the monstrous pandemic, a welcome diversion.
As being analysed and debated, present global institutions and much touted development frameworks have been caught on the wrong foot as the virus struts about globally with a devious mind of its own. Developing and low-income countries are currently on course for a deep dive with respect to all growth and development indicators at least for the next three quarters, if not for a whole year.
Is Lockdown Anything Beyond a Twitter ‘Trend’?
Sample these pictures from the dailies in India:
- a migrant worker scouring food waste in search of anything edible,
- humongous lines to get their hands on what is likely to be the only meal for a day in front of a community service kitchen,
- police raining blows over a humanity of migrants just wanting to go home,
- labourers with family in tow traversing vast distances on foot robbed of dignity.
These scenes are courtesy a blank, despairing failure of governance accompanied by a national lockdown with virtually no planning or appropriate systems in place to back the countrywide call. But then, what is a lockdown for a country that is already wrenching under the chains of communal passion, lack of humaneness, bigotry and soullessness, we may ask. Just another hashtag-trending word in vogue for the buccaneering armchair twitterati and for random brain dead celebrities to dish out inane antics from the comfort of their lavish living pods.
Modi Government’s COVID-19 Briefings Are Mechanical
Following the daily press briefings from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), the concern for the stability and accountability of our country’s administrative systems and public institutions is strikingly far greater than the scare of the pandemic itself.
As health ministers and premiers engage with citizens in other countries providing updates and throwing light on measures taken to fight COVID-19, we have to settle for junior officials of ministries and central medical research institutions to host press meets.
These press meets are usual standard lines, static answers to whatever questions may be asked. These are dished out with a cut, copy, paste alacrity of a pre-recorded answering machine.
Journalists who probe further are ignored and as the façade of government of the people, by the people and for the people continues the majority are content gazing at a chimera that they are indeed in safe hands.
In the meantime, the hounding and arrests of human rights activists and writers, vilification of Muslims, hatred and misinformation on social media, media houses mollycoddling at the bedside of the power and authority continues.
Death Not Merely a Number in Kerala
The only breath of fresh air has been Kerala, a state that has been on its toes since late January when the first coronavirus patient was identified. Steered by the steely assertiveness of a chief minister and his team spanning across key departments, the battle was waged early. It is clear now with the flattening of the curve there that the war will be won against COVID19, at least in this current stretch.
Each fatality resulting in a demise is not merely a statistic in Kerala, there is a pause.
The moment lends itself to remember the family left behind, an admission from the state government that this should not have been, and that a life could have been saved. Each life is valued, whether it be the two-year-old Anvitha who had to be transported to Hyderabad from her home in Alleppey for emergency cancer treatment to Thomas, 93, and his wife Mary, 88, who marched out victorious of Kottayam Medical College albeit in a wheelchair.
A state many wish that could have been their country in times such as these. A federal constituent that resides in an imperfect whole of a nation’s edifice, crafting bespoke solutions to address disasters the magnitude of which towers over neighboring Western Ghats, a hundred times over.
‘Kerala Model’ Is Nothing But Giving Voice to People
The core state leadership held daily press briefs with meticulous updates on the spread of the virus in the state and measures being taken to prevent its spread. The government has successfully managed to uphold the asset of democratic ‘trust’ that the people bestowed on its political leaders.
Political thinker Pierre Rosanvallon in Good Government – Democracy beyond Elections writes, “…for to govern is also to speak – in order to explain oneself, to look forward, to set a course, to account for ones’s actions…to govern is to speak.” Further he adds, “ a genuinely democratic politics gives voice to the lives people actually live, makes the purposes of public policy legible and the obstacles to successfully carrying it out understood, finds the words to express the nation’s feeling at moments both of trial and triumph.”
Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan is undoubtedly a leader to reckon with. As eminent journalist, author, professor Gary Younge said, “the farther you are away from power, the more you see.”
(The author is a Delhi based commentator. He tweets @trubleisafrend. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)