Why isn’t the Lockdown working in India?

This post comes out as an outburst of anguish. The lock down in India has been in effect for four days now. Schools and colleges have been closed, all exams postponed or cancelled. Companies and establishments of commerce and trade have asked their employees to work from home. All construction work has been halted and people working in factory shops have been asked not to report to work. The poor and daily wagers being the immediate casualties.

Different state governments had already asked for social distancing practices and had started sealing their state borders days before the national announcement. States at their level were doing a good job of tracking and retracing steps of those who’ve arrived from different countries. Some states had announced relief for the poor and arrangements of free food and shelter. The body blow came when the Prime Minister got on TV and put the whole nation in a lock down at 4 hours notice.

I had uninstalled my WhatApp to avert the flooding of Corona related memes, jokes and fake news. I was hoping to experience the bliss of ignorance, too bad there’s real reality to contend with.

A TV News show on Friday evening made me feel miserable. The news was about thousands of daily wave workers and laborers leaving the big cities and heading towards their hometowns on foot. Taking to the feet is such a state of helplessness. Imagine someone so helpless and out of options to decide to take to a journey of over 1000 Km on foot! Without money or food or water, and with kids in tow! The news piece really made me sad, not just sad, sick of sadness.

Why did happen? I asked myself. The only answer I got was that the lock down was not the right decision taken to prevent the spread of Corona virus. Before we try to debate on whether the lock down was a bad option, lets look at a few things in light of the lock down.

The Poor

The census of 2011 says there are about 450 million people in India who migrate to find work. This is more than the population of USA. Out of these 450 Million, 90% if not more at unskilled or hold a blue collar job. Many of them earn their day’s meal on the same day. These people were left in the lurch which less than 4 hours notice.

The jobs they did would be closed for atleast 3 weeks, they have no means on earning, and the places they ate will no longer be open. There is no food, no money and No way of making either. Although the government in its few interactions with the nation said that landlords be kind to their tenants, employers not fire their workers and banks and other financial institutions to give borrowers a repayment leave, none of these seemed to have any effect on the lives of these poorest of the poor. So they had but one option, leave the hopeless city and head to their far off village.

In the last 2 days thousands of daily wage earners and laborers have been seen on highways walking to destinations as far as a thousand kilometers! Many have hitched rides on trucks where they’ve been bundled in as sheep – as many as 300 in the back of a single truck! No takers for social distancing or physical isolation.

The Police

The conduct of the police has been most abhorrent in this whole episode. When me and my family wanted to step out of the house for hospital visits or to get groceries, we are told beware of the cops! there are news reports that the cops are thrashing anyone who strays the streets. There have been multiple reports of police brutality. Stopping and harassing people moving about in the streets to thrashing vehicles, and beating up the public has been the general demeanor of the Police.

The Police personnel are not entirely to be blamed in this. It is perhaps the fault of the governments, both center and at the state for having sent the wrong message. The PM on his part used the word Curfew quite loose and liberally, and the state governments took it one step further by imposing the colonial section 144 through entire states. What’s wrong in imposing 144 you ask? The 144 is a criminal procedure code imposed to prevent the Law and Order situation getting out of hands. By using 144 and calling it a curfew, our leadership has tuned the minds of the civil servants and the police to treat the medical emergency as a law and order situation – which is why the beatings and brutality has surfaced.

The Policies

The poor and the police are just pawns, they don’t have an option to take their own decisions. They are just reacting to what comes from the top. Why is it that the police are issuing helpline numbers and monitoring overseas travelers in one state; and beating up curfew breakers and making the poor migrants crawl on their fours in another? Its simply because of the politicians and policies of different governments.

Different state governments have done tremendous work, our central government has also started work by announcing financial aid, food security and availability of cooking fuel to the poor. The RBI has also scripted a monetary policy to meet the government half way and ensure the economy doesn’t fall flat on its back. Experts and critics however say that the government needs to spend more. By estimates given in a working paper by the Institute for Human Development, a private think tank, the govt of India needs to spend atleast 3% of of GDP to get out of this pandemic, that’s about 6 lakh cores. We have made plans to spend 1.8 Lakh cores, that’s less than a 3rd of what’s required.

Coming to the point

Do we really need a lock out? Yes. Yes, we do. There is no cure for the CoViD 19 and the only way we can be safe is by not getting it. The lockdown is what China did, its what Italy and the rest of Europe is doing and that’s what we need to do. However there are a few questions.

How did people get food in China? Groceries? Milk, fruits and vegetables? How were the garbage cleared? There is more than 1 answer to this. Alibaba did not stop deliveries in China. Groceries and perishables were delivered to homes, China set up a hospital in 6 days, banned all PPE, medicines and Ventilators and raw materials within weeks, and hired millions to work as public servants to do the deliveries.

Even socialist countries of Europe also kept the ecommerce shopping sites like Amazon working. That’s where we had our first failing. Big Basket and Grofers, two of the largest grocery delivery Apps stopped deliveries from 20th March. Amazon and Flipkart also closed down their delivery services. All restaurants and kitchens were closed and hence no food delivery was possible.

The close down announced by the PM was intended to stop people from moving about, but the resulting shut down meant there was no food, no delivery and no commerce. If this was the plight of the urban middle class, then needless to say what the poor had to go through, now can we blame them for wanting to flee to their hometowns?

India is an aspiring Socialist nation, but we are not in a position yet to provide social security to all. This inability of the government to provide social security and sustenance is made up by the emotional and social structure of my family – and this is the reason behind the exodus of millions of migrants from the cities to the villages in the time of crisis. This is not the helplessness of the poor, but an indication of our system’s failure.

We don’t need a fail proof system, we need a system that keeps working even when it takes the hits. For now, the civilized, socialistic and democratically set up system has failed, but the belief in the system of family bonds and village camaraderie is what’s keep the hopes alive for the millions on the roads.


Magellan’s Calendar

In the September of 1519, a sailor called Ferdinand Magellan set sail to navigate around the globe. This was at a time when earth was believed to be flat and very few thought otherwise, even fewer were ready to prove this by planning an expedition to circumnavigate the earth. Magellan is widely credited to have successfully completed the expedition. Of course, the truth is Magellan died on the islands on the Philippine archipelago and only 18 of the 241-member crew made it back to Spain to prove that it is not possible to fall off the earth by sailing over the horizon.

The fleet of 5 ships and 241 sailors navigated the Atlantic via West Africa and the coast of Brazil. By the time the ships resupplied on the islands of the Strait of Magellan, one of the ships; Santiago was destroyed in a storm and the crew of another called San Antonio had mutinied and returned to Spain. The three remaining ships had entered the South Pacific Ocean in the November of 1520.

 The winds and waves vanished, and the sails dropped. The silent sea as the Pacific is called offered no help. Men succumbed to the tricks of the sea and fell overboard; the crew came into fire from pirates in the sea and native tribesmen on land.  Months passed, and there was no hospitable land to resupply. The commanders of the ships were getting edgy and the admiral foresaw more mutinies.

The admiral decided, the best way to keep the crew from losing their minds over the time passed was to hide the calendar. History records that the captains of the 3 remaining ships were given calendars made by the admiral and they along with the admiral decided what day it was. The Admiral maintained one calendar for himself and his first officers that showed the real date and another calendar for the crew that showed a false date – a date that changed slowly and kept the crew thinking days passed slower than weeks.

The crew eventually crossed the Pacific after 4 agonizing months of navigating through the Pacific and landed Guam in the Philippines sea. When Magellan and his officers revealed that they had spent 4 months navigating through the pacific, the crew was shocked beyond belief. Some felt betrayed, some said they had an inkling, but they didn’t care much now as they had finally made port.

The economic conditions in India are bad. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out now. Economic indicators like the GDP numbers, agricultural income growth, manufacturing growth, employment rate and the aggregate demand in the economy are all declining and have been declining for quite some time now.

Although the decline and the collective decline is concerning, the real concern is that the central government of India is not acknowledging it. What we hear from government and government representatives is that FDI numbers have been the highest, the problem is because of the time bombs left behind by the previous governments or that these are effects of the trade war and other global factors.

Economists, one after the other have said that the slowdown is India’s own doing. Demonetization and the hasty implementation of a half-baked GST is being blamed for the current slowdown in the economy. When the BJP came into power in 2014 we were at a cyclical boom period along with a global fall in crude prices. Our government didn’t see it fit to pass on the advantage to the consumers and saved millions, where are those millions now?

2014 and 2015 were drought years for the agriculture of India and it had just seen a little recovery in 2016 when the government announced demonetization to kill the rural and other unorganized sectors. The government followed one blow after another by the hasty half-baked GST thereby taking care of what was left of the unorganized sectors.

The effects of these hasty and impulsive policies are having an effect now. One may say the financial crisis in Banks and NBFCs was a gift of the previous government, but sadly the numbers say otherwise. While the NPAs was at 2.5 Lakh crore in 2014 it has now come to 8.5 Lakh crores in 2019. Inaction from the current government is the reason for the snowballing of the banking crisis.

There are a lot of problems in our economy and all of them can be fixed. We are the nation that escaped from the meltdown in 1991, we are the nation that averted being part of the global crisis in 2008; so we can definitely find our way around these self-inflicted wounds. If only we have the stomach to accept that there is a crisis.

The finance minister gets defensive and starts shutting down reporters, the home minister is busy plotting booby traps for the opposition leaders and the prime minister is busy planning for his next item number.

I quoted the story of Magellan and his fake calendars because I am a hopeful person inside. I secretly want to believe that no government of India can be so arrogant about its ignorance. I sincerely hope that our central government is holding a Magellan’s calendar in front of us to keep our hearts and is maintaining a genuine calendar for itself that shows the truth.

Politics of Karnataka

The July of 2019 saw the politics of Karnataka reach one of its lowest points. The Congress-JDS alliance government was about to fall – only that it wouldn’t.

With the resignations of the nearly 18 MLAs, the government had gone into a minority in the house and was legally ineligible to run the government of the state. The build up to this situation was also an embarrassment. Horse trading has become a word used too often in the political scenario of Karnataka. Politicians have a price at which they would switch sides and help form or falter governments. Its shameful – but not new.

The coalition had been sworn into governance just 14 months ago and was deemed an unhappy marriage. The ministers in the cabinet had descended to a bunch of squabbling pirates trying to seize power from one another. Greed was so obvious that ministers were changed within months and a visible policy paralysis in the state with barely any representation at the national level. The general election of 2019 made the point clearer when both JDS and Congress were reduced to a solitary seat out of the 27 contesting seats from the state.

All that being said, the BJP which by far had the best numbers – 105 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly was about to succeed finally to form the government. BJP had by hook and crook managed to get the MLAs to resign – ofcourse there is no actual proof that BJP did this, but that’s not the question. The point of concern is, even after the JDS-Congress alliance government went into minority they stalled the proceedings of the house and when the time came to seek the trust vote, the Chief Minister and the parties in government took up almost 3 days – 3 working days and almost 7 non work days to bring on the trust vote. It was just shameful. The whole country was covering the news. Karnataka politics had sunk to a new low, and there was nothing we could do, the public was just a dead rubber duck in a stale tub of dirty bath water.

Finally the government fell on the 23rd of July and made way for the new government to be sworn in. It is at this point that my brother in law sent me a link to a Times of India article which read “Only 3 CMs have successfully completed their term in the history of Karnataka”

I clicked it.

It said, Nijalingappa, Devaraj Urs and Siddaramaiah were the only chief ministers who completed a full term. Ofcourse, it’s just Times of India, so you can expect them to be a little hyperbole. Firstly there were 2 other CMs who completed full terms, Ramakrishna Hegde and SM Krishna. Inside the article it does specify that they are only talking of Congress CM’s but still SM krishna was a congress CM and they conveniently overlooked him.

Leaving the factual error aside, it’s still an eyebrow raising point that of the 15 state assemblies, the state has had 22 Chief ministers, and only 5 of them have stayed the CM for the full term. Why is this?

The people of Karnataka always pride themselves as being different from the rest of the country. Even though there is no lack of patriotism towards the nation, we’ve always been different. Rather we’ve been somewhere in the middle. Unlike Kerala or Tamil nadu or Bengal who have traditionally had their own way of thinking and their own rule, Karnataka politics has interwoven itself into the national politics at many places and also maintains long blank spaces of disconnect.

While there are places where we want conformity with the center, we’ve also struggled to find our own autonomy. The BJP of Karnataka doesn’t speak the language spoken by the BJP of the hindi belt of country, nor does the congress indulge in excessive sycophancy to the Gandhi family; and finally unlike Tamil Nadu, we don’t have a strong regional push for autonomy. Like all humans, the state of Karnataka has always been struggling to find a middle ground and the perfect blend of moderation. So what do the politicians of Karnataka hold dear? Values? where do they get their values from? Are they as confused as any regular citizen of the state?

Nijalingappa and Devaraj Urs are hailed as the greatest leaders that the state has seen. Some even term Ramakrishna Hegde, a prodigi of Nijalingappa, as a big name too, but he was a little too well connected with the underground and mired in scams, so lets not give him a pass for now.

Now speaking of Nijalingappa, he was obviously the most powerful and incorruptible leaders of the states, he came to the position because of his initiatives and movements towards the unification of Karnataka. It was his moves that made Tamil Nadu and Kerala move resolutions in their states for letting go of Kannada territories.

Urs had a lot of achievements to his name, he was the one who changed the name of the state from Mysore to Karnataka, and he was the one who approved the creation of the electronic city in Bangalore. It is also known that his next of kin were also involved in the underground of Bangalore, but that never smeared his image as an efficient administrator and visionary of Karnataka.

Even after the big three, Karnataka saw a spell of stable government when SM Krishna was sworn in as 16th CM of Karnataka in 1999. His vision for Bangalore is also hailed even today in urban legends of Bangalore. However, SM Krishna’s term ended in 2004 and hence started the turbulent times in the politics of Karnataka – a trend that has been going on since then.

Since 2004, in the 15 years there have been 4 assemblies constituted out of which one was dissolved; 10 swearings of the CM, and 2 stints of President’s rule in the state. How did it all go down so fast?

It all started in 2004 HD Kumaraswamy first engineered a defection in 2006 to leave the Congress-JDS coalition to join hands with the BJP with an added incentive of becoming the CM of the state. The Congress-JDS government in the first place had a rocky relationship because of multiple factors, prominent among them being the unassertiveness of CM Dharam Singh. Kumaraswamy’s actions didn’t stop with the first defection, after he held the CM’s post for nearly 20 months he was to transfer power to the BJP based on a power sharing agreement that they had while engineering the defections of 2006. But Kumarswamy didn’t come through, he refused to transfer power and hence the state was put under president’s rule. After 2 months, in the November of 2017, Kumaraswamy again extended support to the BJP and BS Yeddyurappa was sworn in as the CM of the state; but when it came to proving majority, Kumaraswamy again backed away due to disagreements in sharing ministerial positions.

The assembly was hence dissolved after 191 days of president’s rule and the fresh elections where announced. By now the people of the state had lost respect for the JDS and the BJP had gained public sympathy. The BJP came to power on its own by way of a historic victory for the BJP in the south of India. But does that mean this story has a happy ending? No.

The BJP was mired in corruption charges and Yeddyurappa was named in a mining scam chargesheet. The opposition and BJP central leadership demanded Yeddyurappa to step down from the CM’s post, but he wouldn’t. Amids massive public outrage doctored by the opposition, Yeddyurappa remained adamant and maintained that he was innocent and his conscious was clear. Eventually his prosecution in the mining scam reached a fever pitch and he was even pronounced to be held in police custody. BSY was now out of options and had to quit the CM’s post in the July for 2011, about 3 years after he had assumed office. He was so disappointed and disgusted by the lack of support from the central leadership that he even quit and party and joined a regional party called Karnataka Janata Party – he came in at the top as the party president. After this bitter turn of events, the BJP appointed 2 other CMs for the remaining 2 years of the assembly.

In the assembly elections of 2013, though the country was reeling under policy paralysis and sever corruption charges on the central government, the state voted in favour of the congress giving it a clear majority to form the government on its own. The main reasons for this being the split in the BJP and the general sentiment to stay away from corrupt politicians.

This government remained in power for the entire term of 5 years without many hiccups. Although not much was achieved in the term, there was nothing visibly wrong and the opposition just didn’t have enough opportunities to usurp. Point to note – Siddaramaiah, the CM who held the post for the full term is also a defector – in fact he has been in 5 different parties. The biggest episode being his exit from the JDS in 2005.

Then came the assembly elections of 2018. An eventless term of the congress was about to end. There was not much to show and tell for the congress. The BJP stuck to its idea of being one with the nation and trying to breathe a breath of fresh air in the politics of the state. All indications depicted that it was going to be a hung assembly and a story of 2004 to repeat all over again. That’s what we saw in the drama that unfolded in 2018-19.

Now that we know all the facts, the question to be asked is, why? why are these men after power and why do they openly and easily defect? and why is defection so acceptable? is there no place for loyalty and integrity? Most importantly, can we as public do nothing about it? because no matter whom we vote for, they all have their own agenda to push for and they wouldn’t mind switching sides without a second thought about their voters.

I guess this is a riddle for students of political theory?