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A View From Ireland on the Corona Threat

Correspondence: ‘Test Test Test’ should mean Mass Testing!

Belfast Plebeian

28 March 2020

As all manner of right-wing Governments take on emergency powers to control the virus pandemic, powers that they may never relinquish, the alternative to police State lockdowns is being ignored, the orderly testing of the population beginning with health workers and proceeding to the most vulnerable at risk from developing serious illness. We know that testing for the presence of the virus is the best solution short of a vaccine because of the experience of the small town of Vó north of Venice. Helped by researchers from the University of Padua and volunteers of the Red Cross the town made up of 3,300 people were all tested without exception. When the social experiment began on 6th March some 90 people were known to be infected, as of now the increase has been stopped by isolating those with the virus. Mass testing worked!

The researchers discovered the real problem set by the corona virus was that no one could know how far and how fast the infection had spread to the population. After mass testing, it was discovered that at least six people, ‘super spreaders’, were infecting others because they were not sick, they were asymptomatic. We also know that some people are pre-symptomatic, not sick but likely to be in three or four days’ time. It fits with common sense to believe that this is how the virus is spread, after all if someone is showing signs of sickness you take steps to avoid them, if they seem fine then you carry on as normal when in contact with them especially if they are family or friend.

Yet in most countries including Ireland and Britain testing has been small enough to be called non-existent. To date in the North of Ireland only 2,989 people have been tested and in the South about 10,000. The front line health workers are crying out to be tested and still it is not happening. The evidence is clear that health workers are being infected more often than any other group, and they have reason to be worried because of greater exposure, a larger viral load often results in worse outcomes, 24 Italian doctors have already died working with corona patients.

Speaking in the Assembly on Monday last the health minister Robin Swann said there is not enough capacity to carry out mass testing here at this time. He professed the incapacity of the health department in a context where at least two local companies Randox Laboratories and Biopanda Reagents have developed testing kits that are being sold to private businesses and some States around the world, the recent scandal in England over some private doctors asking for £300 per test were said to be using the kits purchased in the North of Ireland by Randox Laboratories.

When the company sales manager was asked on the Nolan radio show about the testing capacity of Randox he was told that they have two large facilities in Antrim and Donegal that could do much more testing than they were currently doing. The sales manager said they had not been approached by the NI Executive or the NHS about acquiring their help with testing. What became clear though was that cost was a prohibitive factor, Randox was charging £112 per test. Also Biopanda sales manager is quoted in the Daily Telegraph “there has been a huge demand for the tests, however there have been no orders from the NHS.”

If the reason why we can’t mass test is that some private companies are charging too much for the NHS to reasonably pay then we have the solution, take control of the private companies and increase the testing! To hell with their shareholders!


From the website of Socialist Democracy

The Current Covid-19 Crisis in India: Radical Socialist Statement

Criminal Negligence, Criminal Intent

            The current Modi Government has shown both criminal neglect and criminal intent in how it has dealt with this pandemic. Let the facts speak for themselves as we simply lay down the time sequence of what the Government did do as well as what it did not or refused to do.

The Medical Response

            Take first the fact that we have extremely inadequate stocks of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), ventilators, sanitizers, and testing kits. These are our first necessities to protect our doctors, nurses and other health workers and to treat patients.

Jan.30, 2020–first Covid-19 case in India

Jan.31 – Ban on export of all domestic-made PPE; raw materials for PPE manufacture can still be exported.

Feb.8 – Previous order amended to permit export of surgical masks and gloves.

Feb.25 – Eight more PPE items are added to the permissible export list.

Mar.19 – Export of PPE and raw materials for their manufacture are finally banned.

Mar.24 – Exports of ventilators and sanitizers banned.

Mar.28 – 35 lakh sterile surgical gloves cleared for export to Serbia (Source: Cochin Customs).

 

The General Response

            Now let us look at the more general course of events and Government behaviour.

Mar.10 – 50 known Covid-19 cases emerge from 11 states/Union Territories.

Mar.13 – Central Government officially declares that there is not a health emergency.

Mar.18 – Modi says the Parliament Budget Session will carry on till April 3.

Mar.19 – Modi makes his first national address declaring a one day “Janata Curfew” from 9am to 9pm on Sunday Mar.22. He makes a point to ask for participation in a social ritual – collective clapping or banging of pans to show appreciation for health workers. There is no call for ‘social distancing’. Nor have all the required export curbs on PPE and medical equipment, to enable health workers to carry out their job safely, been imposed. [Why did Modi not enforce a lockdown on Mar.20 or Mar.21? The most plausible explanation is because the MP state assembly had to meet so as to allow for the BJP to show its majority on the floor and replace the Congress as the ruling party.]

Mar.23 – Parliament closed because of the health crisis.[This act shows how unplanned and reactive the government is to the ongoing situation and contradicts his statement on Mar.18—See entry above.]

Mar.24 – Modi calls a full 21 days lockdown till April 14. He calls for all to stay at home and when going out for essential services to maintain social distancing. [Between Mar.13 and 24, Modi’s Government realises that indeed this is a health emergency calling for proper measures and he resorts to this massive lockdown and social distancing which only the upper/middle classes could hope to carry out. No concrete mitigating or preventive or welfare enhancing measures are announced. No consideration is given to the reality that hundreds of millions, especially in towns and cities, live in densely packed slums and highly congested locales where necessary municipal services (water, electricity, garbage collection, sewage, etc.) are either non-existent or over-stressed. In short, the This shows his the Government’s contempt and unconcern for the poor and the overwhelming majority (93%) labouring in the informal sector.]

Mar.26 – Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman finally announces a Government relief package of 1.7 lakh crore. [The scale is inadequate and the details are missing. Nothing is spelt out about how material benefits will be delivered in timely fashion to the targeted population. In fact, most of it is a repackaging of existing schemes. Worst of all it offers very little to those most in need, namely migrant workers, daily wagers, marginal farmers.

Mar.28 – The Yogi Adityanath state government announces that 1200 buses will be provided to help transport migrants to their homes in UP. [From the previous three days a massive internal migration has been underway – the largest mass migration in India since Partition. There is massive overcrowding at bus depots where tens of thousands of the poor are put at risk and forced to ignore physical-distancing guidelines. Most migrants, however, cannot even board buses and start walking to their homes, women and children in tow, even hundreds of kilometres away.]

Mar.29 – The UP announcement is reversed and all state borders are sealed to prevent inter-state migration. [Migrants are now rounded up, and in the name of being quarantined, are incarcerated in stadiums, empty building and other make-shift structures in ways that make a mockery of any possibility of maintaining ‘safe’ social distancing.]

April 3 – Modi makes another national address telling the listening public that on Sunday April 5 to shut for 9 minutes their electricity at 9pm and instead light a candle.

This pattern of action in the last few weeks is disastrous enough without taking into consideration the longer term reality that India under different Governments has followed a neoliberal economic path that by its very nature rejects the building of a public health system that provides free and quality health care for all. Instead over 80% of health needs are met by the private sector and the miserable overall situation is that Government health expenditure is around 1.25% and availability of hospital beds is 0.7 per 1000 people. This is a long standing structural problem that has severely weakened Indian capacity to deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic.

What to Make of This Dismal Record

            The Modi Government’s criminal negligence is obvious. What about its criminal intent? This comes across in the following ways:

1.      How it responded to the predictable mass migration. After a completely hands-off approach, an iron fist is being used. Priority now is not being given to help migrants reach their homes or to address their food, shelter and health needs, but to ruthlessly and rapidly contain them. In one case a large group of migrants suffered direct chemical sprays to ‘sanitize’ them. The aim seems to be to prevent area-wise spread even if chances of infection among migrant workers is increased as a result of such containment. Clearly the already poor are expendable!

2.      Economic Policy bias towards capitalists. At a time when all sources of funding should be tapped and directed to bailing out the poor and indigent, that is, prioritising fiscal policy measures like raising taxes on the rich, penalising big business payroll cuts, cutting the military budget---on Mar.19 this Government shamelessly signed a deal with Israel to buy Rs. 880 crores worth of Light Machine Guns---and diverting funds thereby released to health and welfare, this Government has done the reverse. It has pursued monetary policies to infuse greater liquidity into the share market and reassure big businesses by cutting interest rates throughout the economy through lowering the repo rate or the rate of interest paid by commercial banks for their borrowings from the RBI. The financial health of the rich is more important than the material well-being of the poor.

3.      Using the current health crisis to somehow advance the Hindutva political agenda.

(a)    Communalising the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz affair: 4000 Muslims from all parts of India, and from countries abroad, had gathered at the Markaz premises in New Delhi for a residential religious programme from Mar.13 to 15.As a result a large number of persons were infected and some died. Moreover, as many then dispersed to their home states the infection spread. This programme should have been called off well beforehand.

           Recall that on March 13, the BJP Central Government did say there was no health emergency. But the Markaz certainly violated the AAP Government of Delhi’s ruling on that very date when it announced that there should be no on gatherings of more than 200 people. Apart from this, given the scale of the pandemic worldwide even before the beginning of March, going ahead with the programme was wrong and condemnable.

           It does not excuse the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz to point out that other religious bodies also engaged in wrong and condemnable actions: e.g., some 40,000 visitors thronged to the Tirupati Temple in South India on Mar.17 and 18 before the Temple was closed on Mar.19.These were also reprehensible lapses. The Modi Government has deliberately sought to dramatise and highlight the Tablighi Jamaat affair as if it was, or is, the single most important reason for the spread of the Corona virus in the country. The Sangh Parivar is here actively pushing the message that Muslims are once again the main threat, thereby diverting attention away from the Government’s own criminal failures. This is criminal intent.

(b)   J&K Domicile: At a time when everybody’s attention is focused on this health crisis, the Central Government has quietly introduced new laws on domicility in J&K. The principal effect of this new law is to help change the general demographic pattern, whereby Muslim overall are in a majority in the region. Some sections of the public (primarily non-Muslims) residing in J&K will now, because of these changes in law, be able over time to become permanent domiciles.

(c)    Promoting the cult of Modi as the country’s “Supreme Saviour”: Just his record on the COVID-19 crisis reveals a PM utterly bereft of the capacity to think deeply and seriously about practical policies. Prominently on display, however, is his authoritarian mind-set that works only along the narrowest political lines. His concern is to project the Modi image everywhere, have one-sided media monologues with the Indian public, engage in theatrics and promote spectacles of mass involvement through direct appeals i.e. establishing a direct, if one way relationship between himself as India’s ‘Chief Executive’ and the public. He believes---not without merit--- that this does enhance support for him irrespective of the ups and downs of his own party. Furthermore, these direct appeals also serve as cover ups for his policy absences, failures and iniquities. It is an obscenity that ‘Modi’ promotion is happening even in the midst of this emergency. The call for public money contributions for the current crisis will go to the newly established Government Fund called---you won’t be surprised to know---“PMCares” which was set up to push public money into private hands and it seems to facilitate hawala transactions. Indian ambassadors following Modi dictates have urged donors to contribute to this fund and not to the longstanding PM’s National Relief Fund because that body continues to have the President of the Congress Party on its managing committee.  Also, food packets distributed by the BJP have on their side labels (printed no less!) marked “Modi Tiffin”. Spectacles of empty social solidarity – banging pots and pans or lighting candles – are being offered instead of plans to get PPE to health workers, medical equipment for the sick, transport for migrants trying to get home, and food for the poor across the country.

Some Necessary Steps

Among the things that this Government has not done but needs to do immediately are the following:

·         Provide cereals, pulses, edible oils, soap, hand wash, spices for all through the PDS.

·         Ensure availability of drinking water for all.

·         All private hospitals to provide tests and treatment for Covid patients free of charge.

·         Free all under trials, those on low term sentences or soon-to-be-completed sentences, as well as all political prisoners.

·         Army to use its massive network of motor vehicles of all kinds to help transport migrants to their homes safely.

 

When this crisis finally recedes, you can be sure that the forces of Hindutva will shamelessly, dishonestly and yes, criminally seek to take credit for a successfully negotiated emergency. They must never be allowed to get away with this. Now and later they must be exposed for what they are. Hence this statement by our organisation, Radical Socialist, to let the facts speak for themselves!

April 4, 2020

Class Struggle, Environment and the Corona Virus Pandemic


Kunal Chattopadhyay

The Corona Virus Pandemic and Past Pandemics

The Corona virus threat has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. How not to respond to it from the left is easily seen, by apparently leftist posts circulating in social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter), which suddenly wake up to how many people die because of hunger, how many die due to dengue, or due to various other ailments. These are not serious responses, and usually by individuals who on other days seldom care about the collapse of public healthcare, or the causes of world hunger.

We need to dispose of this fakery in the first paragraph above, because of the propaganda by keyboard warriors of the right, that leftists are making this their main argument. This is the kind of ‘whataboutery’ that the right does. But we also need to recognise that “not to do politics over everything” are calls that try to silence critical questions when many more active leftists, or health care practitioners, are coming under attack for raising just these necessary questions.

The gravity of the Corona virus pandemic should not be understated, even while we should not panic or exaggerate. There have been other, significant pandemics in the late twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries. There was the Ebola virus pandemic, the SARS in 2003, the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009. The 2009 case is important for one particular reason. It started in North America. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization raised its pandemic level to the highest level, Phase 6, indicating widespread community transmission on at least two continents. The 2009 H1N1 virus contains a unique combination of gene segments from human, swine and avian influenza A viruses.[1] But it was never called ‘the North American swine flu’. This bears stressing given the aggressive racist attacks on China in connection with the Corona virus.

But the gravity of the current case comes from other factors. The number of confirmed cases worldwide has exceeded 800,000 (by 1 April) and is increasing hourly now— and many epidemiologists believe the real total of infections may be well over a  million because testing and reporting are so incomplete. Covid-19 is transmitted much more readily between humans than its closest relation, SARS. The virus has caused severe respiratory disease in about 20 per cent of patients and killed more than 3 per cent of confirmed cases.  While the death rate is lower than for SARS (up to 10 per cent), the spread contrary to official estimates appears much greater.  Medical practitioners and specialists are warning of much more severe consequences. Ramanan  Lakshminarayan (Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, New Delhi), in several interviews, has suggested a top end of as many as 300 million to 500 million being affected in India. If even one per cent of them die, that would be a figure of 3 to 5 million. If the top end includes a huge number who are very lightly affected and never even tested, and if the official figure of those affected is shown as 100 million, even then we may end up with a million dead of Covid-19 in 2020.

To understand the gravity, you have to look back at the Spanish Flu of 1918-20. The plague, which had been a bacteria-induced pandemic, resulted in the death of 12 million people in the period 1896-1939. The Spanish Flu caused about the same number of deaths in India in three months in 1918 and an estimated 100 million deaths worldwide. So many people were dying that at one stage disposal of the bodies was proving impossible. The poet Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ wrote about bodies lying along the Ganga riverside for lack of wood with which to burn them. Then too, the government had attempted ‘social distancing’, some stress on alternative medicine, and so forth. In other words, then, as now, certain dimensions were under stated. A key one was the social and economic dimensions of a pandemic. Fatality has to be measured not just in gross terms but also in terms of distinct social layers---the class spread, the gender spread, and in India, the caste spread.

But fatality rates are hard to estimate in the early stages of an epidemic and depend on the medical care given to patients. For example, ventilators save lives by enabling people with pneumonia to breathe. Most experts believe the current fatality rate is exaggerated by serious under-diagnosis of mild cases; the best current estimate is that Covid-19 will kill around 1 per cent of those infected in a population with good healthcare.  Hypothetically, if Covid-19 affected half the world’s current population over the course of a year with a 1 per cent fatality rate, the death toll would be 35 million or three and a half crores —-substantially increasing the number of deaths worldwide, which is around 60 million for all causes in a typical year.

This is where a key human intervention comes in. For the last three decades the world has been reeling under a deep righting economic offensive, which used to go under the name of Neoliberalism, but which under Trump, Modi, Johnson, Bolsonaro and others, may fairly be said to have gone beyond that.

Public Health and the Neo Liberal Offensive

India’s public health expenditure has been rising somewhat over the decade 2009-2018, in order to cater to its growing population. But this rise has been from a low base. In fiscal year 2018, the value of public health expenditure by states and union territories together amounted to around 1.58 trillion Indian rupees. This was estimated to be around 1.28 per cent of the GDP. If we simply take the average it means in 2018, India spent Rs. 1600 per head on healthcare. Apart from the generally low amount, there was wide disparity from state to state. In a study, Sanika Dewanji points out that the low public expenditure has also meant a sharp rise in private sector healthcare for profits. This is an author quite sympathetic to the Union government, so we read that “Various programs like the Ayushman Bharat and the National Health Mission have already showed some success by providing the common man with an alternative to exorbitant healthcare costs and treatments”.[2]

What is Ayushman Bharat? Even by Modi’s level of ‘fakespeak’, this takes the cake. Ayushman Bharat has two components. One is the creation of 150,000 “health and wellness centres”. The budget allocation for that in 2018-19 was Rs. 1,200 crores (12 billion), which means about Rs. 80,000 per centre. All that would do is repaint existing health centres, and decorate them with Modi’s picture. The other component was the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY). Budget allocation for this was Rs. 2000 crore (or 20 billion). As Jean Dreze pointed out in an angry note, the PMJAY incorporated the previous Medical Insurance scheme, so the actual hike was just Rs. 1000 crore (or 10 billion) . Here is what Dreze argued:“The government claimed that PMJAY would provide a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh to 10 crore families (this is 100 million families and assuming five per family about 500 million persons). If the beneficiaries spend just one per cent of their Rs 5 lakh (or 500,000) quota in a year, on average, then the annual expenditure would amount to Rs 50,000 crore (or 500 billion). Where is the commitment to spending this kind of money? Dreze added that according to the media reports, NITI Aayog (this is the premier policy think tank of the government called the National Institute for Transforming India) experts anticipated the annual PMJAY budget to rise to Rs 10,000 crore (100 billion) or so in the next few years, or something in that range. “But Rs 10,000 crore is still chicken feed for the purpose of providing health insurance to 10 crore families. It comes to Rs 1,000 per family, or Rs 200 per person. For the whole year”.[3]

This is not the picture of India alone, but of the global South (the exploited, ex-colonial world). Several studies have examined how neoliberal policy instruments, such as privatisation, marketisation, commercialisation and deregulation, have led to the expansion of markets in the economic and social sectors. In the case of the health sector, this has meant the restructuring of the public sector by introducing market principles and reducing the barriers for movements of capital to invest in for-profit services. Several studies have identified the critical role played by global multilateral organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in furthering neoliberalism through their Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). In the case of India, however, a significant aspect was government negotiation, not simply World Bank coercion. This means that in the case of India, one cannot pass the buck on to ‘imperialist exploiters’.  

The intelligentsia played an essential role in shaping policy by legitimising liberalisation and privatisation. Several influential academics, policy and media analysts actively promoted these ideas, just as now a lot of them are whitewashing the Modi regime and the RSS. Advocates of all out privatization held many key positions in finance, industry, education and health. Some of them had already held senior positions in the World Bank, IMF and WHO prior to occupying influential positions in government. Thus, there was a whole community of Indian experts including diaspora Indians, who were pushing neoliberalism even before 1991, and certainly during that period of formal changeover.

Changes in the health sector began with the introduction of user fees, public-private partnerships, and greater commercialisation. In the last three decades, health care, historically seen as a not-for-profit sector, has begun displaying a mindset and a form of activity meant for profit-making enterprises. This has meant a massive widening of inequalities in access between richer and poorer.

Health and health service inequities became global concerns a decade after the initial euphoria of neoliberalism. Several countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia that had taken loans under SAPs had implemented health sector reforms and were faced with the challenge of rising inequities in access. Even economists like Joseph Stiglitz, who was an advocate of neoliberalism, wrote on the discontents of globalisation and highlighted the fault lines of liberalisation and globalisation across and within the developing and developed countries.

The policies of the World Bank and IMF reconfigured the role of NGOs in the health sector. Greater importance was given to the role of NGOs as facilitators and interlocutors  which supposedly represented the voice of the people. This shifted the role and responsibilities away from the state to the people whose interest it is above all else meant to represent. For example, public–private partnerships became an important element in national disease control programmes like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and leprosy. Kapilashrami and McPake[4], in their study of the role of the Global Fund to fight HIV, in India, observed that the funding made available through these global initiatives created many distortions and fissures within the NGO community. It led to unhealthy competition in getting access to resources. Two scholars, Rama V. Baru and Malu Mohan pointed out, that seemingly radical language employed by NGOs actually helped to delegitimise the role of the state, proving highly beneficial for the for-profit sector.

With the growing disengagement of the US from UN and WHO funding, a financial crisis developed in the more recent period. The void was partly filled up by a combination of big pharmaceutical corporations and philanthro-capitalist groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Global public–private partnerships were forged for several disease control programmes and for the production of vaccines. The autonomy and normative role of  WHO was compromised by the entry of big capital.[5] The BMGF, for example, spends more on global health than any government other than the US. WHO receive funding from the BMGF and as a result has had to modify its policies. Further, the BMGF played an important role in the formation of the H8, which is similar to the G8. The H8 consists of WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), UNAIDS (United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS), the World Bank, the BMGF, the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The H8 holds closed door meetings which decide global health policies.[6]

The rise of neoliberalism has also fuelled the rise of the religious right---in some cases fascist-like, in other cases fundamentalist, but all sharing some similar traits while also being distinct from country to country. Neoliberalism has extracted a greater amount of the surplus from the working people for the well off. At the same time it has created aspirations, which turn to anxieties when they are not fulfilled. Moreover, the individualistic ideology of neoliberalism attempts to undercut all social solidarities. Consumerism increasingly displaces the ideas of democracy and social justice. This leads to the exclusion of socially weaker or marginalised groups---women, oppressed castes, religious minorities, sexual minorities, from both public and personal spheres.

Just one recent example will show how this plays out in today’s world. A key area where religious fundamentalisms operate through state policies to contribute to gender-based health inequities is in the area of women’s sexual and reproductive health. As the Corona virus threat forces us to prioritise various things, several US states have made abortions ‘non-essential’, i.e., abortions should be pushed back. In many cases they cannot be done at all.

A Public Health Crisis

Accordingly, I am arguing that the Corona virus pandemic is first of all a public health crisis which has been created by capitalism. As the crisis unfolds, we are being told, ‘now is not the time to do politics’. On the contrary, now is above all the time to do politics, since doing politics means fighting for alternative strategies. Anyone in India watching television, reading newspapers, getting messages on WhatsApp or Facebook, is aware that great stress is laid in pointing out that the aged (above 65), the very young (below 5) and the people in the medical profession are the most threatened, with special mention of certain categories like asthma patients and diabetics. Not a single commentator in the mainstream television or mainstream print media has talked about the class dimensions. But it is not just confined to India. The trends I mentioned about India can be seen in other Asian countries, in Africa, in Latin America. The IMF, the World Bank, regional agencies such as the African Development Bank, have all imposed cuts in health care spending over the decades. So there are fewer personnel in the public hospitals. If you are rich and have medical insurance for 10 lakh (one million) rupees a year or more, you can get medical assistance of a kind very different from that given if you are poor, 69 years old, and lack even a bare minimum pension. Remember that in India, the bulk of the working class is unorganised and does not have retirement benefits.

At the moment there is no vaccine or medical cure for the Corona virus. The majority who get infected will have fever, cough, and recover after some days. A minority will get it worse. They will develop serious respiratory trouble. Between 1 and 2 per cent will be even more acutely affected. Deaths will occur because their bodies will try to produce antibodies to the virus in such a manner that the body cannot cope. Also, the virus will push many affected to pneumonia.

Developing a vaccine takes time. Programmes to develop vaccines quickly to prevent Covid-19 infection are under way in dozens of academic and private labs around the world, some under the auspices of the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The first results are expected in the summer. But longer tests have to be carried out before they can be safely released for the general public. Otherwise a faulty vaccine can kill more than it cures. So no serious candidate is on the horizon till early 2021.

Meanwhile, therefore, treatment means supportive treatment, medical care, ICUs and ventilators when necessary, proper food. A doctor as reputed as Devi Shetty (Cardiologist and Chairman of the Narayana Health chain of 21 medical centres) went on record in late March to say that in Bengaluru alone, he was staring at 80,000 affected, of whom some 15,000 might need hospitalisation, some 2500 ICU care, and some 1000 ventilators.

How Governments and the Medical Profession are Responding

In the first place I will look at the ‘medical’/ epidemiological dimension. At a later point, I hope to show that revolutionary Marxists cannot halt at providing critiques of the shortcomings of those approaches. However, we do need to begin with that. The Government of India responded in a terribly shabby way for the first two and a half months. The Corona virus was reported in January. As we know, much later, the Government called for all persons who had returned from abroad on or after 1 January to get their fitness checked. But in the meanwhile, there was no seriousness in tackling the problem.

On 3 March, Rahul Gandhi, Congress leader, had stated that he felt the Government was underestimating the Corona virus dangers. There was the immediate response, typical of the BJP, of trolling him on Twitter and Facebook. Even earlier, by 27 February, the WHO had issued guidelines. It stated, among other things:

“The current global stockpile of PPE is insufficient, particularly for medical masks and respirators; the supply of gowns and goggles is soon expected to be insufficient also. Surging global demand---driven not only by the number of COVID-19 cases but also by misinformation, panic buying and stockpiling---will result in further shortages of PPE globally.” PPE, or personal protective equipment, means gloves, medical masks, gowns or coveralls, and respirators, such as the N95 masks. Yet, the Indian government waited till 19 March to issue a notification prohibiting the export of domestically manufactured PPEs and the raw materials for the same.

In fact, putting profits before people was the government’s systematic approach, whereby political will overrode bureaucratic functioning. On 31 January 2020, soon after India’s first COVID case was reported, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade issued an order prohibiting the export of all PPE. But on 8 February, the government amended that order, permitting the export of surgical masks and gloves. On 25 February, by which time there had been 11 reported deaths in Italy, further relaxation was ordered, eight more items being permitted for export. WHO had forecast the need for PPE kits. Clearly the Government of India was doing nothing to prepare them.  Prime Minister Modi was saying in early March that small measures would be enough to tackle the virus. For the next one month, the government was busy with the Union Budget, and ignoring what was happening globally, except to welcome Trump, and to keep silent while BJP leaders organised the targeted pogrom in Delhi. After the price of masks and hand sanitizers spiked up as much as twenty times on online shopping platforms in 8 days, the Government finally notified these essential commodities to check further price rise till 30 June. As late as 29 March  India had exported to Serbia a planeload of vital equipment (not a donation, but a sale).

In the period between late January and late March, the government’s Health Ministry, Textile Ministry and the government owned HLL Lifecare Limited colluded in giving HLL a monopoly over the procurement of PPE. HLL then sold the PPEs at a very high rate. Since HLL does not at present manufacture PPE, giving it a monopoly over procurement was just a trading monopoly aimed at making profits out of an emerging crisis. Vidya Krishnan, a health and related issues writer, writes in Caravan magazine that real manufacturers tell her they could produce the PPE at Rs. 400-500, while HLL was selling them at Rs.1000.[7]
She also writes that there is a gross mismatch between the government’s orders and the potential requirements. While the All India Drug Action Network estimated that real requirements of coveralls could be 500,000 per day by May, government orders are for a total of 750,000. Smriti  Irani, the Textile Minister, spent the morning of 22 March on Twitter urging people to bang pots and pans, instead of looking at the contradiction between her ministry’s recognition of the shortage of PPE in a meeting of 18 March, and its insistence on centralised procurement through HLL.

The reason for the projected shortage is, even when India stopped exporting masks etc., India did not call a halt to the export of the raw materials. In other words, India has been allowing a handful of exporters to make profits by selling abroad material that is running short in India. The price of components making three-ply masks went up from Rs. 250 per kg to Rs 3000 per kg. According to latest reports, India will be in a position to supply large numbers of PPEs only by late April.

Till 24th March, when the national lockdown was put in place, the government was allowing only USFDA (US Food and Drug Administration) or European CE (European Conformity) certified kits to be used by the labs. This stupefied doctors, since none of the Indian test kits currently being validated by the National Virology Institute (NIV) in Pune, can be used. Export of kits have been globally shut down, so India could expect no help from either the EU or even the US, where Trump is all for reducing lockdowns and going back to business as usual. Was this madness? Was this short sighted behaviour? It was none of those. Currently, there seems to be only one Indian manufacturer with USFDA approval, Cosara diagnostics, an Ahmedabad-based company, which has a tie up with a US firm. CoSara Diagnostics (a joint venture of Synbiotics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ambalal Sarabhai Enterprises  and a US firm CoDiagnostics) is a Gujarat-based molecular diagnostic company. Once more, it was a case of Modi favouring a Gujarati capitalist concern, even while testing was a major concern. The CEO of the company is Mohal Kartikeya Sarabhai, who was in the forefront with PM Modi while welcoming US President Donald Trump’s visit to Sabarmati Ashram on February 25 this year.

The medical profession has reacted to this. As a result of the state imposed terrorism over the past few years, not all have been too vocal, but many have made the point that they feel let down by the government during the crisis. When Prime Minister Modi appealed to people to gather on their balconies on 22 March at 5 PM and bang metal plates, pots and pans, to show appreciation of the doctors, Dr. Manisha Bangar, wrote sharply in a Facebook post shared over 3200 times:  “Dear Indians! pay no heed to ‘ghantologygyan’ of Modi-BJP. Please don’t clap for me!!” She also wrote: “I have been attending to patients with severe contaminating infections for two decades and will continue to do so in times of Corona but I don’t want anyone to clap for me on 22nd March.

“Instead, as responsible citizens who possess fundamental rights I want you to demand and pressurise the Modi-led BJP government to do the needful:

Spell out the allocation of disaster relief funds and medical aid strategy for all.

Get him to combat this by pushing at least double the amount of funds that was required for the statue of Sardar Patel.

Get him to tell corporates and his industrialists whom he let escape or bailed out with your money, that now it’s their turn to bail out the country from the crisis of their own making.

Declare the tons of gold/silver/money looted hoarded and now accumulated in temples of Tirupati Padmanabhan, Shirdi Siddhivinayak, Puri and many more, as being state treasure to be used in times of such crisis.”

Bangar added: “We need... massive efforts to deploy testing kits... conversion of schools and stadiums into hospitals with adequate ventilators, financial help for those who are losing jobs.... States like Maharashtra and Kerala are doing a much better job than the Centre and it seems the BJP government wants to wash its hands of this massive expense.... The PM could have at least come out and said that unscientific claims like gaumutra (cow urine) curing the Corona virus infection or the banging of plates chasing away the virus are false.... On the contrary, social media handles supportive of the BJP have put out antiquated, religion-coloured ignorant thinking.”

According to The Telegraph, she received three death call threats after the post.[8]

Government response also needs to be seen at another level. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has claimed till 24 March at least, that there is no community transmission. Meanwhile, ministers and BJP leaders flouted all norms. Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of UP and one of the most aggressive faces of Hindutva in recent times, had been insisting even after the spread of Corona virus was known, on holding a large gathering at Ayodhya celebrating Ramnavami. In West Bengal, Dilip Ghosh, state BJP President, alleged that the West Bengal Chief Minister was unnecessarily exaggerating the problems, while the Governor, an appointee of the Central Government, demanded that the Chief Minister should not take an independent initiative but follow the Prime Minister. This was at a time when the Union government was sitting silent. We can multiply these examples manifold. Just one story should stand in for many. While the Shaheen Bagh protestors were being condemned, even though they had changed their mode of operation with just a small number of people in the sit-in and keeping safe distance from each other, in Madhya Pradesh, after the action which can only be called horse trading (if horses are to be insulted), the Congress government was toppled. Thereupon, the BJP organised a victory celebration. Huge numbers of supporters gathered outside their party office in Bhopal. The party's top leaders including former chief minister Shivraj  Singh Chouhan, state chief VD Sharma, state in-charge Vinay  Sahastrabuddhe, Leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargava, and national general secretary, Kailash Vijayavargiya among others gathered at the party office and were photographed offering sweets to each other and celebrating the event.

A few state governments were much ahead of the BJP and the Central Government. They included the governments of Maharashtra (Mumbai is one of India’s major international points of contact, so Maharashtra got a higher than average incidence), Kerala and West Bengal. Maharashtra is ruled by a non-BJP coalition. West Bengal is ruled by the rightwing populist Trinamul Congress. Kerala is ruled by a coalition, the Left-Democratic Front, headed by the major parliamentary left party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M). The Kerala government with a limited budget nevertheless took some positive initiatives.

In February, when three of the first cases were being treated in Kerala, the government took prompt action. Daily hospitalisation of suspected cases led to a reduction in the rapidity of the spread.  When the second wave hit, the government took further actions. A massive tracking exercise was undertaken.  Route maps of the infected persons were sought to be plotted to identify others who might have been infected. A longer quarantine was imposed on the affected people, but they were kept in comfort. The state opened up several call centres to keep check on the mental health of people kept in quarantine. The Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a public sector undertaking, went into mass production of sanitisers. Mid-day meals provided at anganwadi centres were promised when all classes were shut down from March 10. Awareness campaigns were launched, including among migrant workers who have language problems.

The Union government initially rejected offering any financial package in Parliament when the opposition demanded it. This was for two reasons. First, Modi loves to dramatize and keep the spotlight on himself. A parliamentary debate where the opposition had raised the demand would not allow that. So he made his announcement, not in Parliament but in one of his television speeches. Second, this enabled him to set the terms alone of what would be spent and how. The Union government, belatedly on March 24, finally prohibited the export of ventilators, sanitisers, and other ICU equipment with immediate effect.

As for funding, on 24 March, the Prime Minister in his televised speech announced a Rs. 15,000 crore (150 billion) fund to buy more testing kits, increasing the number of ventilators, and stocking hospitals with more equipment and beds. In the same speech, Modi announced a 21 day lockdown. Nobody can explain why 21 days, when earlier 14 days was the period mentioned. The most likely explanation is, that  since before March 24 some 75 municipalities and four states including opposition-run governments in West Bengal and Kerala were already in some form of lockdown, to trump them Modi had to announce a greater number of days.

The financial measures announced by the Finance Minister on the same day had in mind capitalists and the upper percentiles of salary earners. The FM extended the deadline for filing of ITR and GST returns, and also modified regulations related to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, company probations, insolvency and bankruptcy, fisheries, financial services, and commerce.


This needs to be contrasted with Kerala’s Rs. 20,000 crore (200 billion) package, which included Rs 2,000 crore loans through Kudumbashree Mission to the families on soft interest. Under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, another Rs 2,000 crore would be dispersed in April-May. All social security pensioners in the state would get a two-month pension in March with an advance amount for April, and the state government has earmarked Rs 1,320 crore (13.2 billion). Another Rs 500 crore (5 billion) has been provided to Health Department to fight Covid-19.

The Union government finally announced some measures, as usual pumping up the figures. The government announced that each month 80 crore (800 million) people will get subsidized food at 7 kilogrammes per person. First, it should be noted that  5 kg per person was already being provided by schemes having no connection to the COVID scare or to policies of the Modi government. Second, news reports suggest that the Food Corporation of India’s godowns are overstocked, and there is a need to get rid of some foodgrains before the monsoon, as quite a bit is being kept in the open.[9] Only later would the Finance Minister Sitharaman announce a bigger package of measures which will be discussed later.

This behaviour of the Union government needs to be contrasted not only with the Kerala state government, but also with West Bengal, where the government after announcing a lockdown also announced measures to convert a hospital in Kolkata into a Corona virus treatment hospital, moved in some measure to assist wage labourers, and took a series of other steps. One also needs to take note of another Union government action of March 19,when India signed and publicly announced the purchase of 16,479 light machine guns (LMGs) from an Israeli firm, at a cost of Rs 880 crores (8.8 billion). The budget for Non Performing Assets for Public Sector Banks which have lent money to big capital and is not getting it back is 2.5 lakh crore (2.5 trillion) rupees.

Interestingly there are some media articles that accept that the Chinese have been able to tackle the pandemic but say that it is only because China is authoritarian, and this model is not acceptable to ‘democracies’. What was the tyrannical Chinese model?  Extensive testing (something also done by South Korea), centralized quarantine even for mild cases which do not need hospitalization, full protective garb and accommodation for doctors and health care workers so that they stay safe and do not risk infecting their families. All this is about spending for people rather than for big banks and big capitalists. This is of course totally ‘tyrannical’. China is no paragon, and is certainly not a communist country as it is labelled. But this model includes elements worth following along with elements, such as secrecy, which Modi is emulating, when it should be rejected.

Before ending this section, we need to take a closer look at some of the state governments and parties we have mentioned.

In the last week or more, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has earned much applause for what she has done. There is absolutely no way to say that all her actions have been wrong. Far from it. A step by step lockdown gave people time to prepare. First there was the closure of schools, colleges and universities. Then came closure of cinema halls. There was an appeal to shopping malls, followed by a closure of everything apart from the places like Spencer’s and Big Bazar in the Malls. There was an initial declaration of four days lockdown while assuring that basic services would be kept open and a demand that migrant workers should be looked after wherever they have gone to work. This was in contradiction to the Modi model, where people were given a four day warning to go out on the balconies and bang pots, but a four hour warning that there would be a 21 day lockdown with no assurance about maintaining supplies or any commitment to providing State aid. In fact Modi’s latest call for voluntary aid by middle class people to the poor, laden with Hindu rhetoric (‘Lakshman rekha’, nine families to celebrate Ram Navami, etc), ignores the responsibilities of both the State and the rich.

However, whatever the West Bengal, or even the Kerala government are doing, are expected of them. Fifty years back, when the welfare state model was much more widely accepted, nobody would have applauded them so much for this. The CM of Kerala has said he will not let anyone remain unfed in his province. Community kitchens alongside rationing will ensure that food will reach everyone. The West Bengal CM is providing free rations to the poor and providing Rs 1000 to workers in the unorganised sector (provided they have bank accounts, which due to MNREGA etc. a large part does have). Neither of them are doing it as an act of charity; they are using public funds. But the reason they are being praised to the skies is because the coming of neoliberalism has lowered expectations and the economic performance of the Modi government since 2014 has lowered expectations even more. Modi has shown how utterly inhuman he is, and how he can manipulate a pliant media to pass off his juggling of schemes to disguise government negligible spending as high spending for the people, while actually siphoning off money to cronies. But at this point, we need to go beyond such comparisons and look at wider dimensions of the class struggle.

The Pandemic and the Crisis and Opportunities of Capitalism

The Corona virus is a natural disaster caused by environmentally unsound practices of production and consumption under capitalism. How it is tackled is a matter of capitalism, and its priorities.

This essay, written over a number of days, saw changes in how the Government of India moved. We need to discuss its ‘policy’ moves since 19 March. On that day, PM Modi appeared on television, as discussed above, to appeal to people to bang pots and pans. Given the near total support for the current regime by the print media and television, and also the regime’s use of all its powers to ensure that its views are the ones that are communicated, this meant that for every handful of people questioning the action, there would be far more hailing him for the “support” he was showing to the doctors.

There has been no explanation why the 21 days was chosen. “Twenty one days of lockdown is a long time but it is important to save you and your family, this is the only way we have," Modi said warning: “This is as good as a curfew."

There were exemptions, certainly. Orders explained that essential services were exempted. They included power, banks, ATMs, groceries, medical stores, and of course hospitals. But public transport was halted. This meant a slowing down of supplies. In the case of many shops, lack of staff (unless a purely family run store) led to shops not being able to open. It also meant a major blow to ordinary working people. As a result of globalisation, internal migration has grown by leaps and bounds in India. With work halted and utter confusion, often compounded by landlords and owners throwing out the migrant workers, there was a panic. Migrant workers attempted to walk back from where they worked to their homes, or to desperately rush to take trains, buses, trucks.

So when the government touted its success, or said that there was no alternative to save the people, it was becoming clear that some people did not count as people.

Caste and Class

Over March, the dominant narrative in India has been either about the state enforcing lockdown (and after Modi did it at the all India level it is constantly argued that this was the ONLY way to halt the progress of Corona virus), or about ‘social distancing’ meaning---do not go out, do not mix closely with others, keep a six feet distance, work from home, etc.

However, social distancing is not a value free term. In India it has a firm casteist implication. Brahmins in India have practised social distancing for thousands of years, in a culture where even now a Dalit taking water from a well used by upper castes can lead to lynching.

Writing from Jhargram area, Mrinal Kotal, nephew of the late Chuni Kotal (the first woman graduate from the Adivasi (“tribal”) community of Lodha Shabars who was forced into suicide by her unpunished University teachers) appealed for help because Adivasis were not even getting one full meal a day. How does one tell people of such an area that their priority should be hand sanitizers and washing with soap for twenty seconds?

It has taken over a century of struggles by Dalit leaders and activists to generate a degree of awareness about how oppressed the Dalits are and why there is a need to make that a sustained battle. But at each opportunity it gets, the upper castes, which are also dominant within the ruling class, ensure that Dalit rights are pushed back. The whole strategy adopted by India ignores the class-caste dynamics of its population.

How can it be addressed? To start with, there was a need to recognise that so-called social distancing cannot function for the vast mass of people. We are not counterposing Corona virus to existing diseases; we are not saying that since so many people die of numerous other diseases why focus on Corona virus. But we are saying that existing diseases cannot be written off when planning how to tackle the emergency.

Health systems capacity, including diagnostics, must be augmented to make it accessible for the last mile. The reality in India is likely to be very different from the data put out, because testing has been so limited. As the Government admitted very late, some 15 lakh (1.5 million) people entered India from outside since 1 January. No one was tested, let alone hosed down with diluted bleaching powder as was done to migrant labourers in UP. So the real spread is in all likelihood far above the figures being circulated. As a result, there will be health issues for the poor. Corona virus will kill some, perhaps many but will make even more, ill. Along with that there will be other health issues. So temporary “Corona treatment units”, modelled along the lines of the Ebola treatment units in West Africa, must be built at block levels. Accredited social health activists; practitioners of alternative medicine (whom many of the poor will go to, having no other  option) as well as nurses, should be trained in triaging or deciding the order of treatment for Covid-19; in wearing and removing personal protective equipment, and for emergency management of the disease.

Considering the ecology of urban India, there must be decentralisation with authority and funding moving downwards. Municipalities, block level institutions, District and middle level Panchayat bodies, must be empowered to design locally suitable strategies for the heavily crowded poor and lower middle class neighbourhoods; for homeless shelters; and for prisons. What did we have instead in India? Kerala with its Social Democratic leadership has shown what can be done even within a bourgeois set-up. In terms of being relatively inclusive it invited diverse religious leaders, local bodies, civil society activists, and NGOs. It also ensured, as discussed earlier, that the preferred languages of the people were used for communication. Notices were also put up in Hindi and Bangla. Prisoners were engaged in the production of masks.

This has to be contrasted with the full range of activities of the Central government. The lockdown was announced with the masses of people not prepared. This came after a sustained neglect of advance preparation. The lockdown led immediately to the well-to-do and the middle class rushing to stock up as far as possible. Many local stores ran out of oil, salt, and liquid hand wash of all kinds within a few days. There was a run on the supermarkets as well. Obviously, neither the unorganised sector workers (the overwhelming majority of India’s workers) nor the lower middle class were in any position to gather such stockpiles.

On 26th March came an announcement by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, offering what was touted as a huge package for the poor. Since this has been now constantly tom-tomed by the BJP IT cell and its followers, we need a clearer analysis.

The Sitharaman 1.7 Lakh Crore Package

The Finance Minister claimed she was rolling out a Rs. 1.7 lakh crore (1.7 trillion) package. In dollar terms it means about 22.5 billion. But what are its components and how does it measure up on closer scrutiny?

If we start by looking at the different items, the first is an insurance cover for health workers, for up to Rs. 50 lakh for each worker, incorporating 22 lakh (2.2 million) such people. The government announced its intention of spending up to Rs. 1100 crores (11 billion) under this scheme. This is a positive announcement. But the actual spending depends on how many fall ill. The principal beneficiary will be the insurance companies to whom the premia will be paid. The determined withdrawal from decent public healthcare, the avid running after the US model, which is among the most retrograde, now means that there is no countrywide health care network under state regulation and control.

The biggest hoax is the announcement about the MNREGA wage hike. The MNREGA scheme hires one person for each poor family for 100 days, notionally. In practice the figure is less---not all the poor are covered, and not all get a full 100 days work and wages. Sitharaman announced a hike in MNREGA rates from Rs. 182 to Rs. 202 per day. Every year, the MNREGA rates are in any case supposed to be revised. The wages were scheduled to be linked to the consumer price index-rural (CPI-R) from consumer price index for agricultural labour (CPI-AL) this year.  Hence the increase in wages was already budgeted in the allocation for the scheme. So she simply co-opted that hike within her ‘package’. This is therefore not an extra helping hand from the government. Moreover, with a lockdown, large numbers of workers are actually thrown out of jobs. What work will various state governments give to MNREGA job recipients right now? This is therefore a fraudulent promissory note for the future.

Moreover, MNREGA wages are below the minimum wages, making this increase a bitter hoax. And on top of that, on average the Centre delays payment by about 50 days. So all this is a lot of hot air.

Similarly, the Rs 2,000 pay-out to 8.7 crore (80.7 million) farmers amounting to Rs 17,400 crore (174 billion) under the PM Kisan scheme is part of the annual Rs 6,000 paid to the farmers and has only been front loaded to be disbursed in April. While it will put a bit of cash in their hands, it is not any additional help. Rs. 750 billion were already earmarked for the total annual payment.

The announcement of additional provision of free cereals and pulses under the ‘Garib Kalyan Yojana’ merely monetizes the value of a part of the huge food stock buffer already lying with the Food Corporation of India. It is widely reported that some of it is not even in godowns but is in the open due to lack of space, since the production was good last year. On 1 February the stockpile was supposed to be 75.3 million tonnes. In 2020-2021 the FCI will have to procure grain again as part of the support given to farmers. So the FCI needs to offload a good bit of its stockpile.

A few proposals will commit the government to some spending. But some of that is uncertain, as I explain below. There is a proposal to provide free gas cylinders to about 8 crore poor families, the benefit going for three months, and for this a provision of Rs. 13,000 crores (130 billion) has been made. It is however uncertain how effective this will be, since in a lockdown situation, it is questionable how productive the LPG producers can be.

Another offer made is that for businesses with less than 100 workers, where 90 per cent get less than 15,000 rupees a month, the Provident Fund contribution of both employer and employee will be paid by the government, with each worker getting 24 per cent of monthly wage paid into the PF for three months. A provision of Rs. 5000 crores (50 billion) has been made. It is not clear how companies will be identified and whether the government has the data.

A bigger outlay where some money may be paid is the cash transfer to women holding Jan Dhan accounts. Ex-gratia of Rs. 500 is to be paid for three months. Given the lockdown and the problems regarding transportation, despite the Finance Minister’s subsequent stress that all banks must keep open and ATMs kept supplied, some problems may arise, especially for women in distant non-urban branches. Nonetheless, this is one component that will need some additional funding.

There are two issues that need to be noted. First of all, all this has been done without any Parliamentary sanction. When the opposition parties demanded a Covid-19 related package in Parliament the government refused. In other words, every social, economic crisis is seen by the present government as an opportunity to whittle away at the powers of Parliament. The second, partly related to the first is that for Modi, every event is seen primarily as an opportunity to build up his own cult. Thus, no discussion in Parliament. The periodic speeches by the Prime Minister through television---never a public and open press conference (the joint one with Trump was a farce)---serve only to focus attention on him personally, not on Parliament. This is connected to how the BJP-RSS has been stepping up the hollowing out of Parliament as an institution. Repeatedly, Bills have been passed just by vote, without referring them to Select Committees, without taking into account inputs from numerous social organisations as well as from opposition parties.

One of the grossest ways in which the attempt to gain mileage was done came out recently. The BJP has been distributing food packets. Nothing wrong with that, people might say. It is good that parties are doing this. Except that the packets have Modi Tiffin printed on them. If this was printed, how was that done? Such printing is not outside the lockdown. So the other, likely alternative is, these were printed beforehand, that is, before the lockdown was announced.

Add to this certain other factors and you start getting a far more horrifying picture. On 24th, as we noted, Modi announced the lockdown, with four hours of notice. This was at a time when Delhi CM Kejriwal had already announced a local lockdown. In effect, this meant that people were stuck. There was a panic, especially when from the next day migrant workers found landlords driving them out or felt they would not be able to sustain themselves. As huge masses thronged to the Anand Vihar Bus Terminus, and as others in different parts of the country in sheer desperation tried to walk back home, what was the response? On the 28th morning, the Prime Minister again went on the air, to express his sorrow that some people faced difficulties, but he claimed there was no option. On the evening of that same day, it was evident that orders had been sent to block people trying to get back home.

The class approach has to be fully understood. In India, the coming of the Corona virus was primarily through the rich, travelling back from jaunts abroad, or people from other countries flying in for tourism in India. But the government bent over backwards to make the well-to-do comfortable. Flights were cancelled much after trains and long distance buses. There were special flights, exceptions made to allow flights to land despite announced closures, and even special dispensation visas issued. These were people bringing more of the contagion into India. But they were Indian citizens, or families of Indian citizens, and they had a right to be home with their own.

The working people, the people who clean cities, who work in the unorganised sectors, who travel hundreds of miles to work in some big city or other, they were not in the vision of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, or any of their minions.

In his second speech (24th) Modi effectively said to people to stay where they were. For thousands this meant staying at bus stations for buses that would not be plying their routes or in empty railway stations, or on highways. Shrugging off government responsibility, the Prime Minister said that civil society organisations were taking care of the poor. Clearly, he sees these people as not being part of the citizenry, since they cannot afford an airplane ticket.

Migrant workers in India always head home when they have no prospect of work, for at home they can hope for kin support, or survive better. This has been a pattern during any disruption, natural or man-made. In Narendra Modi’s tenure, migrant workers have left their place of work in droves more than once, most memorably when he announced the demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes. Establishments closed, construction activities ground to a halt, vendors and stall holders found that their customers did not have the cash to keep them in business. So, they headed back to their towns and villages, in the poorer states of the north and east.

This time, there was the added threat, that staying put might cost them their lives. But they were to be halted. An order went out to states to look after them. Once again, the Centre was not going to use its far greater resources to feed and shelter these people. Then came the order of the 29th of March. The Director General of Police, Haryana, in an order to all high ranking Police officers (Commissioners, District SPs, DCP,  ADGP/CID Haryana, etc, informed that through a video conference the Union Cabinet Secretary and the Union Home Secretary had told the Chief Secretaries and DGPs of Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi that under the Disaster Management Act, there must be no movement of people along the roads. Among other measures large indoor stadiums and other such buildings should be turned into temporary jails.

The Class struggle on the Political Plane

This brings me to the final part of this rather long essay. The Corona virus is an ecological disaster created under conditions of aggressive global capitalism. This global capitalism seeks opportunities everywhere---the opportunity to make money but also the opportunity to carry out its political projects. Right now, it is the case that in numerous countries, an ultra-right, chauvinist, nationalist force is on the rise. They are pursuing all aspects of their agenda at the same time, and to treat the Corona virus crisis as a purely public health issue is to miss out on this dimension.

Right from the start, the Corona virus crisis has been linked to specific political projects in different countries. One dimension in India has been the increasing use of police and the legitimisation of police violence in the name of disaster management. The West Bengal Chief Minister has earned much applause for her populist ways, ‘leading from the front’, going out on the streets to draw the chalk lines to show where people should stand if they have to go shopping, etc. In that same West Bengal, police treated the lockdown, not as a medical issue but as a kind of curfew. One young man was beaten to death when he went out to buy milk for his young child. There was violence in a prison. Due to the Corona scare, courts had been closed till 31 March (with the lockdown the dates are likely to be extended). As a result, bail petitions of under trials were not being heard. From 20th March they were not being allowed to meet their relatives either. As a result, in the Dum Dum Central Prison violence broke out on Saturday, 21 March. Angry prisoners apparently set parts of the prison on fire. According to human rights activists like Ranjit Sur, police fired on them, and different figures about the number of dead are being mentioned. The police, as usual in such cases, have denied that there was any firing, and that only tear gas was used. Since the attempt by Human Rights activists in court to get some court action failed, the government is sitting pretty.

Human Rights activists also moved for the parole of prisoners in several overcrowded jails. In independent India most of the time political prisoners are not treated as ‘political’. But as Ranjit Sur has written, there are quite a few people who are in fact political prisoners, charged with antiquated charges like sedition, or simply accused of being members of the banned CPI(Maoist). While the government has decided to release on parole some 3018 prisoners, not one political prisoner is included. According to the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (the oldest functioning civil rights organisation in West Bengal) there are currently 71 persons in West Bengal prisons, either accused or sentenced. Trials are moving very slowly. People arrested since 2010 are still under trial. Sudip Chongdar, a former State Secretary of the CPI(Maoist) died in prison. Patitpaban Halder died a few days after being released. Others too have died while in prison. Currently there are at least seven such political prisoners who are above sixty. There are others who are quite critically ill. Spondylitis, Uric Acid, Diabetes, Glaucoma, Depression and various skin diseases are common. The state government’s opposition meant that attempts to get any of these prisoners released even under current conditions failed.

This is worth mentioning, because here there is no difference with the Central Government. The Elgar Parishad Case, a major case of cooked up charges on activists by accusing them of being CPI(Maoist) and of planning to kill PM Modi, has been dragging on for a couple of years. In January 2020, the Central Government, fearful that the Maharashtra government might reconsider continuing the case, abruptly transferred the inquiry from the Pune police to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a Central agency. The move has been sharply criticised by human rights activists. It has also raised serious questions about the course of the investigations. Bail applications have been repeatedly rejected. Despite the ill health and advanced age of some of them like Varavara Rao, no bail, no release on parole, is accepted by the government.

For the BJP-RSS, an added dimension is the communal dimension. Making Muslims the target has not stopped. As the news of the conditions of migrant workers percolated, public opinion began to swing. One evidence was that for a day and a half, the aggressive BJP IT Cell was relatively muted on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. On the 30th the BJP struck back. By 31st morning every TV channel was making it the major story. Apparently the number of affected had gone up in leaps and bounds on one day due to Muslims gathering illegally. The Kejriwal government of Delhi, which has repeatedly been accused in recent times of being a different kind of Hindutva brand, even asked the Delhi police to file an FIR against the concerned Muslim cleric.

Now the actual chronology was this. On 13 March a Ministry of Health circular asserted that Corona virus was not a health emergency. From 13 to 15 March there was a Jamaat (religious congregation) of about 4000 people at Nizamuddin Markaz. On the 26th the Hindu Mahasabha organised a gaumutra party (drinking cow urine) to end the Covid. On 16 March the Delhi government ordered a closure of religious institutions.  On 17 and 18 March there were still 40,000 visitors at the famous Tirupati shrine in South India. Tirupati was closed only on 19 March. On 22 March, 5pm to 6 pm, people gathered in many places in mini-celebratory mode to ring bells, bang pots and pans. On 24 March midnight the all India lockdown began. On 30 March, seven of the participants in the Jamaat of 13 March died. So far they had not been separately identified. Now, upon their death, it all became a story of how Muslim irresponsibility was the cause. Forgetting Italy, the USA, there were also claims that not just in India but everywhere it was due to Muslims that there was the spread. But more important was the India focus. All news of migrant workers disappeared, while electronic media had reported, by the evening of 30 March that 29 of them had died, making deaths due to the state imposed violence on the working class more significant at that point than Covid deaths in India. So communalism was called in once more to silence the faint murmurs about class that had begun even among the relatively better off.

Not a Local but a global trend

This is not an India specific thing. Globally, the environmental crisis is linked to capital. The rapid industrial growth in India and China have both contributed to increasing pollution, for capitalism sees the ecology as external, and something that has to ‘adjust’ with the needs of growth. Studies done by the World Health Organization in 2016 found that approximately 98 per cent of cities in middle to low-income countries---have air quality that doesn’t meet the recognized WHO standards. In Delhi levels of dangerous particles in the air are far higher than recommended and about seven times higher than in Beijing.[10]

Across the world, some members of the ruling classes are concerned with how to exploit the Covid crisis for their goals. For Donald Trump, it was to go on a drive of anti-China propaganda. At the same time, Trump attempted to minimise the Covid threat, since keeping business running was a major part of his goal.

Having made slow initial responses, the capitalist class is everywhere being compelled to take some measures. But these are measures taken by capitalist states. They start by putting pressure on the working classes. Trump has suspended union elections, and has continued ICE (Immigration and Customs enforcement) raids under the banner of fighting the pandemic. Israel and Singapore have refined their already well developed internal espionage systems. Taking into account the specific ideological-political contexts, each country is tending to move to cut down civil liberties and democratic rights of working people, and to extend so called ‘anti-terrorist’ measures. While this orientation to authoritarianism does nothing to slow down the virus, it gives an impression of a government hard at work. It also responds to a standard middle class reaction demanding ‘firm action’. At the same time, the capitalist state is concerned with the profits of the capitalist class. In Italy, the working class struck after seeing that despite the massive spread of the virus, industrial production was being continued. In the USA, Amazon workers have struck work demanding better health protection.

For a Working Class Fight Back

Of course, it will be argued that we are all in the same boat. But that is not how the ruling class sees it; and that cannot be the working class response. Given the political blows struck at the working class in many countries, including in India, to talk of a fight back is easier said than done.

But this is essential. Unless militant actions are undertaken, workers will find more and more of their rights trampled in the name of fighting the Corona virus. Parties, trade unions, and social movement organisations and networks of the working class and poor peasants have to try to understand and demarcate between what is really, scientifically necessary to fight the threat, and what is an attack by capital to extract more surplus value. We must not give up struggles for better wages, living conditions, better public health care, in the name of national unity.

We have to fight for international collaboration for better research to develop treatments. At the same time we have to fight for immediate state regulation of hospitals so that far greater numbers can be treated at low cost.

In place of the actions of regimes that look at profits first, we must demand:

·         Immediate imposition of tax on the rich. In India, an Oxfam report of January 2020 said that the top 1 per cent own four times more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent. So the crisis calls for a tax on the top 1 per cent. Arundhati Bhattacharya, former State Bank of India chief and now Salesforce’s India operations chief, has only one recommendation---to print more money to tackle the crisis. The key action however is one she will not recommend.

The income share of India's top 1 per cent  rose from approximately 6 per cent in 1982–1983 to above 10 per cent a decade after, 15 per cent by 2000 and to around 23 per cent by 2014, according to the World Inequality Report 2018. It makes sense therefore to call for a flat tax on this 1 per cent---not a voluntary donation, not getting out of even that by the fraudulent PMCares fund which shows ‘corporate responsibility’ while gathering donations from ordinary Indians.

·         The government must move for production of large numbers of ventilators and even larger numbers of PPEs. It is the historic experience of World War II that shows how quickly necessity can compel companies to change their lines of production. If the Government claims to be serious it must put the pressure on the capitalists, not the workers. This has to be the line of argument to be taken to the ordinary masses of people, including those who still support the Modi government.

Since a whole range of things have to be produced (medicine, basic food) and a range of services must be provided, the government must ensure better rationing for all and work out how workers in all those production and service sectors are to be protected. This breaks down into a set of demands.

·         Restore a functioning Public Distribution System for all. Provide cereals, pulses, edible oils, soap, hand wash, basic spices, for all through the PDS.

·         Stop bottling of water for aerated drinks. Ensure drinking water for all. Let us not forget that there exist even now long queues for drinking water. If we are serious about maintaining distance the poor have to be protected from that.

·         Owners must be responsible for the health care of employed workers if production units are open. Owners and the State must ensure pay if units are temporarily closed.

·         Decrease hours without a decrease in pay for all who must work! All necessities provided for those who are not working!

·         Free housing for all the poor during the crisis, funded by cuts in the military budget and taxes on the rich. (We have seen that LMGs were bought recently from Israel. We submit that these are for more ruthless internal policing purposes which must stop).

·         Free all prisoners with low terms. Free all non-violent, immunity compromised and elderly prisoners. Free all who are long term under trials regardless of charges, for it is the State that has endlessly delayed the trials.

·         Women face multiple problems. The UN estimates that about 70 per cent of front line health care workers are women. Special attention must be paid to their health.

·         Lockdowns increase chances of domestic violence. Domestic violence must be tackled as seriously as the Covid itself.

These are all demands that have to be tied up with the struggle for restoring and widening democratic rights.

No curb on the right to strike.

Abolish the AFSPA

Abolish the UAPA.

Abolish the NIA.

 



1. Sami Al Hajjar and Kenneth McIntosh, ‘The First influenza pandemic of the 21st Century’, Annals of Saudi Medicine, 2010, Jan-Feb., 30(1): 1-10.

 

2. ‘Value of public health expenditure in India 2013-2018’ Published by Sanika Diwanji, Sep 23, 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/684924/india-public-health-expenditure/

 

 

4. A. Kapilashrami and B. McPake, ‘Transforming governance or reinforcing hierarchies and competition: examining the public and hidden transcripts of the Global Fund and HIV in India’, Health Policy and Planning, 2013 Sep;28(6):626-35. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czs102. Epub 2012 Nov 11

 

5. Baru, R.V., Mohan, M. Globalisation and neoliberalism as structural drivers of health inequities. Health Res Policy Sys 16, 91 (2018).https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-018-0365-2

 

 

6. Birn AE. Philanthrocapitalism, past and present: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the setting(s) of the international/global health agenda. Hypothesis. 2014;12(1):e8https://doi.org/10.5779/hypothesis.v12i1.229.

7. Vidya Krishnan, ‘India did not stockpile COVID protective equipment for health workers despite clear WHOguidelines’, The Caravan, 22 March 2020. https://caravanmagazine.in/health/india-did-not-stockpile-covid-protective-equipment-health-workers-despite-clear-who-guidelines?fbclid=IwAR1uViOoQz_KSOMwlMb5LXR2HpZ0X5RxB8-RyaQdrDekfO0N6sd2PjA0fxs

 

8. The Telegraph, Kolkata, 23/03/2020

 

 

9. Coronavirus Lockdown: Govt to provide wheat at Rs 2/kg, rice at Rs 3/kg to 80 crore people, https://english.jagran.com/india/coronavirus-lockdown-govt-to-provide-wheat-at-rs-2kg-rice-at-rs-3kg-to-80-crore-people-10010044

 

Radical Socialist (RS) Statement on the Delhi Pogrom

 

 

            The communal violence that erupted in the National Capital Region of Delhi on February 24th,and carried on for about a week, marks another orchestrated step in the Sangh’s strategy of deliberately polarising the Indian public along Hindu-Muslim lines. In the past such politically motivated communal assaults have been large-scale and episodic. After 2014, such targeting of Muslims by the cadres and supporters aligned to Hindutva has taken the form of attacks, sometimes fatal, on individuals or very small groups, especially in the BJP-ruled states where the perpetrators mostly get away with what they have done. This kind of ‘low-intensity violence’ makes such attacks a ‘routinised’, ‘normalised’ and ‘banal’ affair. It displaces any blame on to the failings of the local ‘law-and-order machinery’ thereby disguising the machinations of Hindutva’s hate-filled project of terrorising, inferiorising and ghettoising Muslims while deliberately spreading fears among local Hindu communities of possible Muslim retaliation.

            The Delhi violence marks something of a departure from this post-2014 pattern in that it took place in the capital city; it overlapped with Trump’s visit; and was contained after a few days and not allowed to go as rampant in scale and spread as was the case in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. Most importantly this took place after the BJP failure to make substantial electoral gains in the early February Delhi Assembly elections, though the BJP did somewhat expand its vote share and seat tally. It is not a coincidence that the violence was worst in the northeast region where there is more solid support for the BJP helping it to gain 5 assembly seats there out of its total tally of 8 such seats. Frustrating for the Sangh was the fact that the anti-CAA/NPR/NRC sit-ins and agitations were not showing signs of fatigue. Indeed, there was greater international media exposure of these protests as well as criticism of the BJP central government; all the more so because of the Trump visit. Senior BJP leaders already preparing the ground for the assaults through their calls for violence and hate speeches before and after the Delhi elections, felt enough was enough. Some kind of sharper and more hurtful message, albeit in a more contained time-span, had to be sent.

            What was not expected was that sections of the minority community had out of impending fear, made some preparations for self-defence in a few areas. As a result of this casualties there were less than they otherwise would have been. But it also meant that there would be some casualties and damage in Hindu majority areas including the unfortunate death of an IB officer Ankit Sharma. This was played up out of all proportion by the BJP leaders and an absolutely biased media determined to ignore and divert attention away from the reality that easily most of the casualties by injury and death (a total of 53 deaths accounted for so far) as well as property damages lay on the Muslims. Making matters worse was the fact that there was video proof of the police either being silent spectators or actual participants in the assaults launched by pro-Hindutva cadres, many of whom according to local witnesses had come from across the UP border. This repeats the earlier cases when the police in Delhi did nothing to prevent masked intruders to enter JNU and beat up left students and even teachers. Nor have those intruders been rounded up and punished despite visual evidence enabling identification of them. Earlier in Jamia Millia Islamia University, the police had illegally entered the campus and caused serious injuries to many by brutally attacking students assembled there using stun guns, rubber bullets and tear gas as well as making lathi charges. The police also went into the libraries and hostels to carry out further brutal physical assaults and damaging property. In neither case have the police been brought to book nor will this happen in regard to this latest more serious round of Delhi violence.

That there were also remarkable and heart-warming instances of Hindus sheltering besieged Muslims and of Muslims protecting Hindu neighbours, doesn’t alter the more disturbing reality of pre-planning so that in Hindu majority areas Muslim shops and houses were marked prior to the subsequent burnings and attacks on them. Moreover, police complicity and then its subsequent behaviour (clamping down on all violence only after the passage of a few days) can only be explained by sanctions, messages and orders coming to them from the political masters at the Centre.  

            What is most disturbing is the failure of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court to order the immediate trial of Sangh hate-mongers or to condemn the police. In asking Harsh Mander to prove his bonafides, the Supreme Court seems to have gone beyond that. This augurs ill for hopes of just, fair and impartial punishment later on for all those guilty of criminal violence. Should we be surprised then if there are unusually favourable rulings given to the party at the Centre and its members?

            AAP did nothing to mobilise its support base and activists to protect the besieged areas when it could have done so. It has refused to highlight the disproportionate plight of Muslims for fear of alienating Hindu voters thereby reinforcing rather than contesting the BJP’s ideological-political project. AAP has confined itself to offering relief to all victims who can show proof of their suffering---a difficult enough task requiring legal support not forthcoming from the Delhi government as distinct from concerned civil society activists and associations---and to the setting up of make-shift, poorly equipped camps where the perception of providing relief seems more important that providing sufficient resources to make relief real and adequate.

            Other opposition parties have also done little or nothing. Sonia Gandhi as leader of the Congress, instead of assuring the AAP government when needed, that she would give her party’s full support to any collectively organised effort to fulfil the urgent task of immediately bringing the violence to a halt, preferred to score political points by criticising AAP failures while not daring to mobilise Congress activists and supporters to march en masse to the affected areas as ‘protectors’. The Left parties could have made a similar joint call but when the city was burning in places, they opted to carry out inconsequential marches and dharnas to the ‘shop windows of Indian democracy’, namely Jantar Mantar and Rajghat.

            Modi and Amit Shah as expected, indulged in generalities, claiming to deplore the violence and calling for ‘peace and harmony’ but at the same time pushing, in direct and indirect ways (faithfully followed by their IT trolling cells, their MPs/MLAs and of course their drum-beaters in academia and media), the line that it is the months long unwarranted anti-CAA agitations (allied with their supporters in civil society and from other political parties) that is the real culprit which finally got out of hand and ultimately is to be held responsible for what has happened.

            The overall political consequences are stark. First, the Sangh/BJP will most likely benefit from this polarisation. Communal violence invariably sharpens the religious identity and deepens the attachment to it. This for some time to come at least becomes the identity prism and filter to make sense of what is happening in the society one lives in. Allegiance to one’s religious community generally becomes stronger. Second, the terrorisation and ghettoisation of Muslims is accelerated. Richer Muslims in Hindu majority higher class areas move to Muslim dominated neighbourhoods where they believe they will be safer. The reverse happens to richer Hindus in Muslim majority neighbourhoods who move out. But this is no parallel or equivalent process of ‘Hindu ghettotisation’. Rather, it is the drawing of sharper boundaries diminishing the everyday actually lived co-existence of the two communities which can act to an extent as a counter to the hatreds espoused by religio-political extremist propaganda and practices.

            The one bright spot exhibited by the anti-CAA agitations and the relief, information gathering and solidarity activities, displayed in the wake of the communal violence, is the commitment and participation of young people of college and university going age across religious faiths. In the immediate term, members of the RS in Delhi have participated along with others in these activities. In the longer term it is vital that RS connects to this youth which everywhere, inside and outside Delhi, has been appalled by what has happened and in one way or the other recognises the distinctive threat posed by the forces of Hindutva as well as the feebleness of the challenge, if any, posed to it by the other political parties. This is the constituency from which activists committed to the progressive social transformation of an India, where the socio-economic iniquities of neoliberal capitalism have today fused with the political-cultural ugliness of Hindutva, must be recruited and developed. They then will be a key input into the wider longer-term effort to successfully confront and defeat the hegemonising ambitions of the most evil fascistic force that today exists in our country.

 

Radical Socialist, 8 March, 2020

A Critique of the Central Government Responses to FAQs on the CAA

https://pibindia.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/q-a-on-nrc-national-register-of-citizens/#more-20113

By MIHIR DESAI

 

The answers released by the Central Government to FAQs on CAA/NRC are highly misleading and at times totally false, hiding more than they reveal.  At the end of each answer issued by the Government to each FAQ, my comments are added.

 

Eight of the most important frequently asked questions are ignored by the Government.

Given below are these eight questions which need to be raised.

 

First:

Why are only persecuted religious groups from three countries namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh included in the list? Why are persecuted religious minorities in other neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka (Tamils of all religions), Myanmar (Rohingyas) and China (especially Tibetan Buddhists and Uighers) not included. The answer cannot be partition since Afghanistan had nothing to do with India’s partition. While persecution of the communities mentioned in CAA cannot be denied, it is important to understand why only certain communities from certain countries have been included.

 

Second:

Even while seeking to protect persecuted religious minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, why have the other persecuted religious minorities in these very  countries such as Balochis, Ahmadiyyas and Shias not given similar protection? There is enough evidence about their persecution. Just to give an example: in 1974 Ahmadiyyas were declared a non-Muslim minority in Pakistan and a law promulgated in 1984 made it a criminal offence for Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslim, to refer to their religion as Islam, or to publicly practice Islam, though the Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims.  There have been persistent physical attacks and killings on Ahmadis in Pakistan. They are obviously a religiously persecuted group.  Just to give another example: tens of thousands of Chakma tribals from Bangladesh migrated due to persecution and for other reasons to North Eastern states during the last many decades. Many of them have been given citizenship but many have not and are demanding citizenship. The overwhelming majority of them follow Buddhism so will be covered by CAA. But there is also a section of Chakmas who follow Islam. Are you therefore going to give citizenship to non-Muslim Chakmas and not give to Muslim Chakmas, though otherwise they are identically placed?

 

Third:

Under the Refugee Convention of 1951 and Protocol of 1967, refugee status should be granted to persons who are persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. While India is not a party to either, nevertheless if persecution was the criteria for offering citizenship to refugees why have these benefits been offered only to those who are seen to be persecuted as non-Muslim religious groups and not to those persecuted for other reasons? For instance, on 19th December, 2019, Junaid Hafeez, a Pakistani academician, was given a death sentence for blasphemy. Obviously this is persecution for his exercise of freedom of speech. A large number of persons are in this way, and otherwise, politically persecuted in the neighbouring countries. Why are those persecuted on grounds other than religion not being offered Indian citizenship if India wants to help the persecuted!

 

Fourth:

Linked to the above, why is citizenship being offered to some people on the basis of their religion? This is clearly contrary to secularism which is not just part of the preamble of the Constitution but has been held to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution by the Supreme Court.  The Constitution of India is the first document determining and conferring citizenship. This obviously was done soon after partition and all its wounds. Despite this and though it allowed migrants from Pakistan (both East and West) to acquire citizenship of India it never made a religious distinction between these migrants. The Citizenship Act, which is the primary Act dealing with citizenship does not make any distinction (till CAA came in) on religious grounds. The Assam accord which set out the cut off date of 25th March, 1971 for subsequent ‘illegal’ entry into Assam for the purposes of determining Indian citizenship does not make any religious distinction. The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 does not make any distinction on grounds of religion. There was therefore no justification for bringing in the religious angle now. If at all persecuted persons from neighbouring countries were to be protected, then all persecuted persons should have been offered this protection. 

 

Fifth:

Why is citizenship being offered under CAA to only those who have entered India before 31.12.2014? Is it the case that persecution have stopped after 31.12.2014 in these countries.

 

Sixth:

What is going to be the financial cost and human cost of NRC and can India at all afford it?

 

In Assam, nearly 60 people have lost their lives and their deaths are connected to citizenship related issues. While some have allegedly committed suicide due to frustration, anxiety and helplessness related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), some allegedly took their own lives fearing incarceration in detention camps. There are also some people who died under rather mysterious circumstances in detention camps. 

The cost of the Assam NRC was Rs 1,600 crore, and 50,000 officials were deployed to enrol 3.3 crore applicants. We now know that it ended up excluding 1.9 million people, mostly genuine citizens of all religious affiliations. If we take this as the basis of a back-of-the-envelope calculation, counting only the Indian electorate of 879 million voters, an all-India NRC would entail an expenditure of Rs 4.26 lakh crore, and would require 1.33 crore officials to conduct it.

 

In addition construction of detention centres and after detaining people, even if the conditions are miserable, you would still have to feed them for a long time if not for the rest of their lives. The capacity of Indian prisons to hold people in aggregate is 3.5 lakhs persons. So just to accommodate the Assamese detainees you would have to build six times the number of jails/detention centres as those existing in entire India.

 

This is apart from the huge financial costs to the people. If Assam is anything to go by large number of people have been even forced to sell off their lands and have been driven to financial misery just to pay lawyers for defending their cases in Foreigners Tribunals and High Court.

 

Seventh:

Is the NRC at all required? NRC is a register of citizens of the country. Under the Constitution of India Article 326 and under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1950 voting rights are available only to citizens. So, all those who are on the voting list should obviously be treated as citizens. Aggregate the voting lists across India and you would automatically have the entire citizenship register for all those above 18 years. So why replicate this exercise? Those below 18 are too young to have crawled into India from some other country on their own. So if their parents are in the voting list, children automatically (barring a few exceptions) become citizens. Then what is the purpose of every one being again required to prove that they are citizens. Unless the idea is to weed out a large number of poor persons of all communities (with special emphasis on Dalits, Tribals, Women and Transgender persons) and a large section of Muslims from citizenship rights. Even without the NRC the Government has the power of weeding out illegal immigrants under the Foreigners Act, 1946. Regularly prosecutions are launched since decades for removing those who are seen as foreigners. The entire NRC exercise seems nothing else but an exercise of fear mongering and creating a vast mass of people who will not be voters, to whom welfare schemes will not be available and who would probably be treated as slave labour in various “detention camps” or even if set free would be a mass of people without any rights whatsoever and thus available to the Corporates and their cronies as labourers at an extremely cheap rate.

 

Eight:

If the Prime Minister is saying that there is no plan to start the NRC process why is the exercise of Population Register (NPR) being carried out? On 31stJuly, 2019 a Notification was issued by the Central Government that the NPR exercise will be carried out across the country between 1st April, 2020 and 30thSeptember, 2020. Confusion is sought to be created between the census and the population register. But the population register is part of Rule 4 of NRC Rules and the census is under the Census Act---a completely independent Act having a totally different purpose. So when the population register is being prepared it is the first step towards an NRC. There is no other purpose of a “population register” except to further NRC.

 

Now let us look at the FAQ response of the Government.

 

Q.1 Is NRC a part of the CAA?

Ans: No. The CAA is a separate law and the NRC is a separate process. The CAA has come into force nationwide after its passage through Parliament, while the NRC rules and procedures for the country are yet to be decided. The NRC process that is going on in Assam has been implemented by the Honourable Supreme Court and mandated by the Assam Accord.

This is only partially true. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) is an amendment to the Citizenship Act. NRC process is under the Citizenship Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. The NRC Rules are already notified in 2003. The Rules are under the Citizenship Act. The nature of documents required under both i.e. CAA and NRC are yet to be notified. CAA requires a person from Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain and Sikh communities to show that they have entered India from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan prior to 31.12.2014. However, what is the evidence required to prove this, has not been prescribed. Similarly, the nature of documents required to prove citizenship under NRC is also not yet provided. CAA can exist without NRC, in the sense that those migrants covered by CAA can ask for citizenship without their being any NRC process. But now NRC cannot  be done without CAA. This is because the CAA has become the law (unless struck down by the Supreme Court) and while determining citizenship under NRC, CAA will have to be taken into account to decide whether a person is a citizen or not.

Q.2 Do Indian Muslims need to worry about CAA+NRC?

Ans: There is no need for an Indian citizen of any religion to worry about CAA or NRC.

This is totally misleading. It is the NRC process which will decide whether you are an Indian citizen. So, even if you think you are an Indian citizen having a passport, voting card, ration card, Aadhar card, PAN card, etc., in the NRC process you may still be excluded. This would be true across religions. This is precisely what   has happened in Assam where persons who thought they were Indian citizens having all the cards above were still excluded as they were held not to have fulfilled the freshly laid down criteria for proving citizenship. Once you are declared as a citizen you do not have to worry. But nobody knows whether he or she will be declared as a citizen under NRC. Even a simple mismatch in the spellings of names in different documents (either their own name or parent’s name) have rendered people stateless in Assam NRC.

Q.3 Will NRC exclude people of a particular background?

Ans: No. NRC has nothing to do with any religion at all. NRC is for every citizen of India. It is a citizen register, in which names of everyone will be recorded.

In reality it is likely to exclude a large number people from marginalized sections who cannot establish their citizenship due to lack of adequate documents. The issue is whether NRC is at all necessary,

Q.4 Will people be excluded in NRC on religious grounds?

Ans: No. NRC is not about any religion at all. Whenever NRC will be implemented, it will neither be applied on the basis of religion nor can it be implemented on the basis of religion. No one can be excluded just on the basis that he/she follows a particular religion.

This is untrue. Let us take an example. I am a poor Muslim. I am from India. My ancestors are from India. But I do not have any proof of birth. I will be excluded and will be treated as an illegal migrant, CAA further filters me out

I am a poor Hindu. I am from India. My ancestors are from India. I do not have any proof of birth. Under CAA, I claim I have come from Pakistan. Due to persecution all my documentation was lost in Pakistan. I will be granted Indian citizenship.

Or take another example. I am an Ahmadiyya Muslim who due to persecution has crossed over from Pakistan. But due to CAA, I will be treated as an illegal immigrant and sent to a detention camp.

I am a Hindu. I have crossed over from Pakistan due to persecution. I will be offered citizenship.

Q.5 By conducting NRC, will we be asked to present proofs of being Indian?

Ans: First of all, it is important to know that at the national level, no announcement has been made to begin NRC process. If it is implemented, it does not mean that anyone will be asked for proof of being Indian. NRC is merely a normal process to register your name in the Citizens’ Register. Just like we present our identity cards or any other document for registering our names in the voter list or getting Aadhaar Card made, similar documents shall need to be provided for NRC, as and when it is carried out.

False. On 31stJuly, 2019 a Gazette Notification was issued saying National Population Registration will be done across India between 1st April, 2020 to 30th September, 2020. This is different from the census which is done under the Census Act. NPR is done under Section 4 of the NRC Rules. So it is very much part of the NRC process. What documents will be required to be submitted is not yet clear so it is false to say that similar documents as required for voters card or Aadhar card are required. 

Also there are reports that pilot studies for NPR have already been conducted in three Districts of Tamil Nadu in August, 2019.

Q.6 How is citizenship decided? Will it be in the hands of the government?

Ans: Citizenship of any person is decided on the basis of The Citizenship Rules, 2009. These rules are based on the Citizenship Act, 1955. This rule is publicly in front of everyone. These are five ways for any person to become a citizen of India:
I. Citizenship by Birth,
II. Citizenship by descent,
III. Citizenship by registration,
IV. Citizenship by naturalization,
V. Citizenship by incorporation.

 

That is stating the obvious. But ultimately the Government will lay down which are acceptable documents and which are not. The Government officials will determine whether a particular document is legitimate or not. Foreigners Tribunals will adjudicate about the veracity of documents and whether a person is a foreigner or not. The experience of Foreigners Tribunals in Assam shows that totally inexperienced persons are appointed as judges and they are given targets about the number of foreigners to be declared. If these targets are not met there are serious allegations that they are removed from service. Tens of thousands of Foreigners Tribunals will have to be set up across the country. Existing judicial vacancies are not being filled up. How will you find personnel and money for making these appointments.

 

Q.7 Will I have to provide details of the birth of parents etc. to prove my Indian citizenship?

Ans: It would be sufficient for you to provide the details of your birth such as date of birth, month, year and place of birth. If you do not have the details of your birth, then you will have to provide the same details about your parents. But there is absolutely no compulsion to submit any document by/of the parents. Citizenship can be proved by submitting any documents related to date of birth and place of birth. However, a decision is yet to be taken on such acceptable documents. This is likely to include voter cards, passports, Aadhaar, licenses, insurance papers, birth certificates, school leaving certificates, documents relating to land or home or other similar documents issued by
government officials. The list is likely to include more documents so that no Indian citizen has to suffer unnecessarily.

 

Completely false. According to the amendments to the Citizenship Act 1955, citizenship by birth depends on when you were born. If you were born before 1st July 1987, then it is sufficient for you to prove that you were born in India. But due to the subsequent amendments to the Citizenship Act, If you were born between  1st July 1987 to 3rd December 2004  you will have to prove not only that you were born in India but also that one of your parents was a citizen of  India at the time of your birth. If you were born after 3rd December 2004, you have to prove that you were born in India and at the time of your birth one of your parents was a citizen of India, and your other parent was not an illegal migrant.

 

The documents likely to be required are also falsely narrated. To say that AADHAR Card will be one of the documents to prove citizenship is totally false. Section 9 of Aadhar Act reads as under:

 

9. The  Aadhaar number or the authentication thereof shall not, by itself, confer any right of, or be proof of, citizenship or domicile in respect of an Aadhaar number holder.

Similar arguments can be made about licenses, etc. While being in the voters list or having a passport is only for citizens, it is not even mentioned in the Rules whether these documents are sufficient by themselves as proof of citizenship.

 

Q.8 Do I have to prove ancestry dating back before 1971?

Ans: No. For pre-1971 genealogy, you do not have to submit any type of identity card or any documents like the birth certificate of parents/ancestors. It was valid only for the Assam NRC, based on the ‘Assam Accord’ and the directive of the Honourable Supreme Court. For the rest of the country, the NRC process is completely different and is under The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

While it is true that the Assam process was different, now it is further impacted by CAA and in fact Government of India has declared that they will redo the entire NRC in Assam.

The purpose of both Assam procedure and rest of India is to have a list of citizens and to disenfranchise those who do not fall within this list.  As written in response to question 7, there are different sets of criteria required to establish citizenship.

 

Q.9 If it is so easy to prove identity, then how were 19 lakh people in Assam so badly affected due to NRC?

Ans: Infiltration is an old problem in Assam. To curb it, there was a movement and in 1985, the then Rajiv Gandhi government, to identify the intruders, had to enter into an agreement to prepare NRC, assuming the cut-off date of 24 March 1971.

In fact, this Assam accord is sought to be overridden by the CAA. Even in Assam, a large number of people have been declared as noncitizens despite having all documents. In one sense (though this is only a limited argument) it is easier to prove citizenship in Assam then in rest of India. If you prove that you have entered Assam, say in 1964 from Bangladesh you will be entitled to citizenship. In the rest of the country this would not be enough. If you have entered the rest of India after 26thJanuary, 1950 from say, Pakistan or even Bangladesh, you would be treated as an illegal migrant. Barring a few exceptions, only if you are born in India would you be treated as an Indian citizen. Therefore in Assam, if you entered in 1964, you will not need to prove your birth but the fact that you have been in Assam since then can be ascertained through various other documents such as property cards, etc. But in rest of India this would not be enough. Of course, in many other respects citizenship for persons in Assam is more difficult than those in the rest of India.

Q.10 During NRC, will we be asked to present old documents, which are difficult to collect?

Ans: There is nothing like that. Common documents will only be required to prove identity. When the NRC is announced at the national level, then rules and instructions will be made for it in such a way that no one will face any trouble. The government has no intention of harassing its citizens or putting them in trouble.

Again wrong. This answer lacks any basis whatsoever when the amendments to the Citizenship Act 1955 lays down the criteria in terms of proof required of parents being citizens of India based on when you are born. Instead, it is just enough to implement the Foreigners Act effectively to find out who are not citizens.

Q.11 What if a person is illiterate and does not have relevant documents?

Ans: In this case, the authorities will allow that person to bring a witness. Also, other evidence and community verification etc. will also be allowed. A proper procedure will be followed. No Indian Citizen will be put in undue trouble.

On what basis is this being said? There are no rules prescribed to prove birth. The only provision under law today is as prescribed under The Compulsory Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969. This provides that at least from 1969 every birth will have to be registered. But the overwhelming number of persons in rural areas and many in urban areas including a large number of slum and pavement dwellers, etc. do not register births.  In the absence of any rule, regulation, notification or other Government Order, on what basis is it being said that witnesses will be allowed?

Q.12 There are a large number of people in India who do not have homes, are poor and are not educated and they do not even have any basic proof of identity. What will happen to such people?

Ans: This is not entirely correct. Such people survive on some basis and they also got the benefit of the welfare schemes of the government. Their identity will be established on the basis of that.

We do not know on what basis this is being said. Availing of welfare schemes may not establish citizenship. No law says this. Also the question is not of establishing identity but of proving citizenship. 

 

Q.13 Does NRC exclude anyone for being transgender, atheist, Adivasis, Dalits, women and landless without/ without documents?

Ans: No. The NRC, as and when carried out does not affect any of those mentioned above.

Technically it does not exclude. But how are poor dalits, adivasis, women and landless without documents, or with documents which have a mismatch in the spelling of names to prove that they are Indian citizens. Thus a large number of them may be excluded by some arbitrary criteria.

 

 

 

Statement of Radical Socialist on the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), the Proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) an the Ongoing Protests Against Them

 

 

The Radical Socialist Group (RS) salutes the students up and down the country that have been the real spark that has ignited this popular agitation against the iniquitous CAA and the proposed all-India NRC that is already being prepared. This agitation really took off when peaceful protestors against these two measures and about other intra-university concerns in Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were singled out for particularly harsh physical punishment and brutality by the police. Their use of lathis, gas grenades, tear gas, even live ammunition within as well as outside the university campuses caused a couple of hundred or more injuries among students and civilians. The brutality of this assault on these students is not an accident since they are both Muslim minority educational institutions having a higher than average proportion of Muslims students even as the majority of students, faculty and employees are not. Clearly, the Central government in Delhi and the Yogi Adityanath government in UP deliberately gave a long rope to the police for they would not otherwise have dared to behave in this way.

In localities where a significant proportion of Muslims live, there is growing recognition that these measures are seeking to punish Muslims in particular; hence other marches and demonstrations which have led to confrontations with the police. UP in fact has been turned into a war zone with the police firing and killing with intent against residents in predominantly Muslim localities. For the first time since Emergency Section 144 preventing public assembly of more than five people has been imposed on the whole state – a sign of the viciousness and ruthlessness of this Hindutva-wadi government! Nevertheless huge assemblies have still taken place in Bareilly and Kanpur deserving our admiration for the courage and persistence of the participants, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike even as the former have had to bear the brunt of these attacks.

To be sure there are other protestors. A huge number of non-Muslim students were involved in these demonstrations and protests throughout the country as also a wide cross-section of ordinary citizens from various walks of life. The push given by the students has been caught up by masses all over India. By Christmas, 2019, about 12 to 13 million people have marched across India. In Assam and some states in the northeast, the motivations of most protestors reflected more specific sentiments of regional rather than religious exclusion, i.e., concerns about non-Assamese and non-indigenous peoples whether from other parts of India (many) or from Bangladesh (much fewer) changing local demographic patterns. Such sentiments are to be seen in the context of violation in Assam Accord and make it very difficult for the BJP, the Sangh Parivar and their in-house elite trumpeters to champion their cause. Of course many parties opposed for their own reasons to the BJP have jumped into the fray. But because they are not the initiators nor the dominant presence in these protests, the public credibility of this movement has been higher and public support and sympathy that much greater.

The struggle has led to fissures opening up in the bloc the BJP sought to cement. At the same time, it has shown why inadequate attention to specific oppressions can lead to sections of the oppressed being co-opted by the Sangh. Thus, on one hand, the NRC in Assam having already declared over 2000 transgenders as non-citizens, members of the transgender community were seen in some places as significant visible protestors. On the other hand, however, a much larger community, the Matuas of (mainly) West Bengal, who are mostly Namasudras (Dalits) forced out from East Pakistan/Bangladesh, have felt aggrieved. Many of them have been deprived of citizenship due to the 2003 amendment. As a result, they are a group who are being targeted by the BJP through the CAA. While the left, including RS and its predecessors, have supported the right of this community, the fact that the BJP is in power, as well as its ability to fan hatred of the Muslims among sections of the Dalits, have meant that they are turning to the Sangh and its politics. Without diluting our hostility to the CAA, we stress that there is a need to ensure the restoration of the rights of this community, which were clipped in 2003.

            There are three main reasons why students have come out in this way. First, to show solidarity with fellow students and their rights within and outside university campuses to exercise freedom of speech, assembly and protest without having to face such brutal police assaults resulting in hundreds injured and even a few deaths. Second, what is very welcome is the growing recognition that this attack on secularism automatically means an assault on the principles and practices of democracy itself. Third, this government since 2014 has systematically sought to severely weaken the independence of thought and behaviour of students and teachers by pursuing policies of (i) privatization hurting the access of poor and not-so-poor students, especially but not only among the lower castes, to cheap and decent education at the tertiary level; (ii) communalization of syllabi and in faculty selection as well as in the appointments of of VCs and senior administrative staff; (iii) centralization to weaken the control and influence of non-BJP ruled state governments since most educational institutions come under their authority.

            So much has already been written (and very widely) about the contradictions and iniquities of the CAA and of what an all-India NRC would do. There is little point therefore in repeating what has been said. This RS statement will speak about what needs to be said but has hardly been highlighted. Time and again, left and progressive forces have underestimated if not the determination, then the degree of longer term planning behind some of the key policy manoeuvres of this Hindutva government.

            Take the CAB, now an Act. It was brought into the public discourse in 2016 and introduced into Parliament only after 2019 when the BJP was confident of it passing both houses. But in 2018 the RBI passes a notification allowing non-Muslim minorities from exactly the same three countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh to buy immovable property in India provided they had a long term visa. Furthermore, they could open non-resident bank accounts to stash their earnings in India. To call this geographical parallel a coincidence would stretch even the most credulous of imaginations.

            The CAA in itself does not directly affect Indian Muslim citizens but of course we know it is the necessary prelude to the NRC which is aimed at domestically resident Muslims not just in Assam but throughout the country once the NRC goes national. Insofar as current events have pushed the SAD and BJD which supported the CAA to oppose the NRC extension, expect the BJP to now use stick and carrot to bring them in line. But the CAA on its own sends a very important message---a strong one to Hindus in the three named countries; a significant message also to Hindus elsewhere in South Asia and the world. It is the first time legislative flesh has been given to a political-symbolic statement that has regularly been repeated from the time of Savarkar and Golwalkar to Mohan Bhagwat today, namely that India is the natural home of Hindus and thus vice versa, Hindus are the ‘true’ people of India. Hindus in the three neighbouring Muslim majority states are being given an invitation to consider coming in thereby increasing the Hindu population. Other Hindus from Sri Lanka and elsewhere can also become naturalised Indian citizens, albeit for the time being, more slowly. This is the initial step in a longer term process of partially emulating Israel’s ‘right of return’ for Jews, here for Hindus. And like Israel, Hindutva aims to forge a global loyalty among a diaspora of Indians of Hindu descent and ‘blood’ only. That the CAA and NRC can also promote conversions by Muslims and others to Hinduism has not escaped the minds of Sangh leaders.

            As for the NRC, it has not one but two strategic aims. First, to terrorise and inferiorise Muslims by placing as many as possible in various detention camps and to more generally deprive them and others caught in the net such as non-Muslim political ‘troublemakers’ and many among the poor and lower castes (who can be discarded) of numerous rights including to vote, own land, having job permanency or creating other restrictions to make livelihood insecure and inadequate. In 1935 Hitler took away citizenship from Jews, Gypsies and others not ‘German by Aryan descent’. Over the next few years, more laws were put in place to restrict movement, job opportunities, marriages with Germans, and so on till finally, in war-time, these stateless non-citizen Jews were put in concentration camps. Here, the journey time between Muslims and others made non-citizens, and placement in detention camps, will be much quicker.

            The second goal encompasses the whole population. Census taking involves enumeration of self-declared responses to a set of questions. The proposed NRC will require much more detailed responses to many more intrusive questions from all households and their members so as to build up the most comprehensive collection of personal data. In effect this is crucial to creating a new and very powerful surveillance state that can carry out micro-level monitoring to better deal with actual and potential opponents in civil society. If this Orwellian vision seems far-fetched one needs only look at what has already been going on since 2014. Look at the efforts to link Aadhar to bank accounts, mobiles and to as much as possible of everyday activity. This has partially been restrained by the courts when it made personal privacy a fundamental right. But the effort to undermine this by creating exceptions in the name of national security and similarly claimed urgencies is an ongoing one.  In the next Parliament session, a personal Data Protection Bill will be brought in which has been reworked to maximise exceptions thereby allowing various wings of the government to spy on targeted individuals and groups. This Bill has been sent to a parliamentary committee where the chair and majority membership are either BJP MPs or sympathisers from allied parties, so that the final product will be what this government wants. Given that the NDA holds a majority it will become an Act. As it is, the court of last appeal against violations of privacy will be the Data Protection Authority whose members will not be independent of the government but appointed by it.

            Look too at the current efforts to erode RTI’s functioning. Here the court of final appeal is supposed to be the Information Commissioners at the level of states and the Centre. They are supposed to help applicants when government departments unjustifiably delay their responses or simply evade matters altogether or give information not asked for or justify evasions on grounds not permitted by the terms of the RTI Act. Not only has the government deliberately not filled in many vacancies among these Commissioners but it has now eroded their independence by giving itself the power to decide the salaries and tenures of the Commissioners.

            Finally, look at the huge hate-and-fake messages manufactured on social media by the Sangh Parivar’s army of trolls. And if this social media can also bypass the largely suborned print and electronic media to also serve the mobilising interests and information spreading of progressive forces, as has been the case in the help provided in mobilising these latest protests against the CAA and NRC, there is the government’s capacity to haul up internet providers and shut them down. In 2018 0ver 70 percent of all internet shutdowns in the world among democracies was carried out by the Indian government which through its continuing internet lockdown in Kashmir Valley holds the world record for such continuity of internet blackout. After the latest protests began the government has again resorted to shutting down internet in select areas and in UP on a much wider and prolonged basis.

            The RS applauds the remarkable struggle of the students and ordinary citizens across religious divides to overturn the CAA and prevent the NRC from taking place. Given the recent history of how the Supreme Court (SC) has behaved one cannot rely on it to strike down this Act or rule against the NRC.

The RS commits itself to the long term struggle against this fascistic force. The RS seeks to work with all those who have an uncompromising and principled opposition against Hindutva and its politics, economics and ideology.

December 25, 2019

 

অযোধ্যা নিয়ে সুপ্রীম কোর্টের রায় প্রসঙ্গে র‍্যাডিক্যাল সোশ্যালিস্টের বিবৃতি




বাবরি মসজিদের স্বত্বাধিকার নিয়ে সুপ্রীম কোর্টের রায় কলঙ্কজনক। ভারতের সর্বোচ্চ আদালতের কন্ঠে উচ্চারিত হলেও এই রায়ে আসলে উগ্র-দক্ষিণপন্থী হিন্দুত্বের কণ্ঠস্বর। বাবরি মসজিদের গোটা জমি রাম লালাকে দেওয়ার সুপ্রীম কোর্টের এই সিদ্ধান্ত আমরা প্রত্যাখ্যান করি। এই রায়ের আরো বিস্তারিত বিশ্লেষণ করা দরকার, কিন্তু প্রাথমিকভাবে এ কথা স্পষ্ট যে এই রায় হল গণতন্ত্র ও ধর্মনিরপেক্ষতার পরাজয়। একই সাথে শুধু ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘুদের নয়, ভারতের শ্রমিক, কৃষক তথা সাধারণ মানুষের জন্যও এ এক বিরাট বিপদ।


হিন্দুত্ববাদী সরকারের কড়া নজরে প্রকাশিত এই রায় গত কয়েক দশকের এক রাজনৈতিক কর্মসূচীর বিজয়। স্বাধীন ভারতের সবচেয়ে ধারাবাহিক সাংগঠনিক উদ্যোগ এবং তাৎপর্যপূর্ণ গণআন্দোলনের মাধ্যমে এটা কার্যকর করা সম্ভব হয়েছে। প্রধানমন্ত্রী এই রায়ের সঙ্গে বার্লিনের দেওয়াল ভেঙ্গে পড়ার তুলনা করেছেন। আটের ও নয়ের দশকের হিন্দুত্ববাদী আন্দোলনের স্থপতি লালকৃষ্ণ আদবাণী ঘোষণা করেছেন যে আজ তাঁর ভূমিকা সম্পূর্ণ ন্যায্য বলে প্রমাণিত। সঙ্ঘ পরিবারের গণজমায়েতের ক্ষমতা, যার সুবাদেই বিজেপির এই শক্তিবৃদ্ধি এবং আরএসএস-এর সর্বত্র ছড়িয়ে পড়া, তাকে মোকাবিলা করার সহজ কোন চাবিকাঠি নেই। তারা দেশের প্রচলিত ধ্যানধারণা, মূল্যবোধ, যুক্তি ও বিচারধারা পাল্টে দিতে সফল হয়েছে এবং ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘুদের নিরবিচ্ছিন্নভাবে একঘরে করে তুলেছে। সমাজ ও রাষ্ট্রের (বিচারব্যবস্থা সহ) ধারাবাহিক ও পরিকল্পিত সাম্প্রদায়িকীকরণে সাফল্যই এই রায়ের ভিত্তি।


সুপ্রীম কোর্টের রায় কিন্তু কতগুলো ঘটনাকে বেআইনী স্বীকৃতি দিয়েছে, যেমন, ) ২২/২৩ ডিসেম্বর ১৯৪৯ অবধি বিতর্কিত জায়গায় একটি মসজিদ চালু ছিল, যা বেআইনিভাবে বন্ধ করা হয় এবং চুপিসাড়ে হিন্দু মূর্তি ঢুকিয়ে মসজিদকে অপবিত্র’ করা হয়, ) ১৯৯২ সালে মসজিদটি বেআইনিভাবে এবং অন্যায়ভাবে ধ্বংস করা হয়। এই অপরাধমূলক কাজের বিহিতে ন্যায়-প্রতিষ্ঠার যুক্তিসঙ্গত পথ ছিল মসজিদ পুনঃপ্রতিষ্ঠা। কিন্তু সুপ্রীম কোর্টের রায় উপরোক্ত অপকর্মের অপরাধমূলক চরিত্র স্বীকার করেও অপরাধীদের ও তাদের সমর্থকদের পুরস্কৃত করেছে। এটা ভবিষ্যতের জন্য এক ভয়ঙ্কর দৃষ্টান্ত তৈরি করল।


এই রায় হিন্দুত্ববাদী শক্তির পক্ষে আরও অনেক বিস্তৃত ক্ষেত্র উন্মুক্ত করল। তারা এখন অযোধ্যায় মন্দির নির্মাণের নামে গণজমায়েত করার উদ্যোগ নেবে। একে জাতীয় কর্তব্য হিসেবে দেখিয়ে শ্রমজীবী মানুষকে করসেবার নামে স্বেচ্ছাশ্রম দিতে বলা হবে। উপরন্তু, এই রায় আরো অন্যান্য বিতর্কিত ক্ষেত্রে সমস্যা সৃষ্টিতে তাদের উৎসাহিত করবে। নয়ের দশক থেকে আরএসএস-এর অন্যতম স্লোগান ছিল অযোধ্যা তো বাস ঝাঁকি হ্যায়, মথুরা-কাশী বাকি হ্যায় (অযোধ্যা তো সবে শুরু, মথুরা কাশী এখনো বাকি)। মুসলমানদের বিরুদ্ধে ঘৃণাসূচক মনোভাব আরও উগ্র হবে।


শ্রেণী বিভক্ত সমাজে বিচারব্যবস্থা রাষ্ট্রেরই প্রত্যক্ষ অঙ্গ, শাসক শ্রেণীর স্বার্থের বিপরীতে কোনো নিরপেক্ষ, স্বাধীন বা অলঙ্ঘ্য প্রতিষ্ঠান নয় - মৌলিক মার্ক্সবাদী রাষ্ট্রতত্ত্বের এই সত্যতা এই রায়ের মধ্যে দিয়ে আরেকবার প্রমাণিত হয়। এই রায় থেকে পরিষ্কার যে কোন সংবিধানসম্মত রাজনৈতিক দলগুলির দ্বারা, যার মধ্যে বাম দলগুলিও অন্তর্ভুক্ত, রাষ্ট্র ও সমাজের হিন্দুত্বকরণের প্রচেষ্টাকে উল্টে দেওয়া তো দূরের কথা, আমাদের অন্ধকারে নিমজ্জিত করার এই রাজনীতিকে চ্যলেঞ্জ জানাতেও সক্ষম নয়। এটা ঠিক যে আগামী দিনে রাজনৈতিক রণনীতি সংক্রান্ত অনেক কঠিন প্রশ্নের মুখোমুখি হতে হবে আমাদের, কিন্তু একটা কথা বুঝে নেওয়া দরকার বাবরি মসজিদ রায় নিয়ে কোনোরকম ইতস্তত করলে হিন্দুত্ব ও ধনতান্ত্রিক আক্রমণের বিরুদ্ধে শ্রমিক ও কৃষকের পাল্টা ক্ষমতা গড়ে তোলার দীর্ঘমেয়াদী প্রয়াসের সর্বনাশ হবে। কিছু সুনির্দিষ্টভাবে মুসলিম রাজনৈতিক সংগঠন ছাড়া, অন্যান্য প্রতিটি রাজনৈতিক শক্তির দ্ব্যর্থহীন ভাষায় এই রায়ের নিন্দা করার ক্ষেত্রে ব্যর্থতা থেকেই স্পষ্ট যে দেশের শাসক শ্রেণীর মদতে সঙ্ঘ পরিবারই এখন সমস্ত রাজনৈতিক অ্যাজেন্ডা স্থির করে দিচ্ছে।


এই অ্যাজেন্ডায় আম জনতার বাস্তব জীবনের কোনো প্রসঙ্গ নেই। তাই সময়ের সাথে রাম মন্দির নির্মাণ ও সঙ্ঘ পরিবারের অন্যান্য লক্ষ্যমাত্রা অর্জনের আসন্ন পদক্ষেপগুলি হিন্দুরাষ্ট্রের রাজনৈতিক প্রকল্পের অন্তর্দ্বন্দ্বগুলি প্রকাশ্যে আনতে পারে এবং তা সক্রিয় হস্তক্ষেপের জমি তৈরী করতে পারে। হিন্দুরাষ্ট্রের প্রকল্পকে কোণঠাসা করতে ছোট বড় সমস্ত উদ্যোগে, বিপ্লবী, গণতান্ত্রিক ও স্বাধীন প্রগতিশীল শক্তিকে সক্রিয় অংশগ্রহণ করতে হবে, তাদের নীতিনিষ্ঠ দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি ও দীর্ঘমেয়াদী ভাবনা দিয়ে তাকে পুষ্ট করতে হবে।


কিন্তু আমরা যেন ভুলে না যাই যে তথাকথিত ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ দলগুলি এই রায়ের বিরুদ্ধে কথা বলতে কতটা ভীত। কংগ্রেস ও সমাজবাদী পার্টি বলেছে যে তারা রাম মন্দির নির্মাণ সমর্থন করবে কারণ তা নাকি দেশের ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ কাঠামোকে আরো মজবুত করবে। বহুজন সমাজ পার্টি এবং সি পি আই-এর বিবৃতি মূল সমস্যা এড়িয়ে সংবিধানের প্রশংসা করতে চেয়েছে এবং শান্তির ডাক দিয়েছে। অন্যদিকে মমতা ব্যানার্জির নীরবতা এক তীব্র অক্ষমতার ছবি তুলে ধরেছে। সিপিআই(এম)-এর বিবৃতিতে বাবরি মসজিদ ধ্বংসকারীদের শাস্তি চাইলেও রায়ের সন্দেহজনক ভিত্তি সম্পর্কে উক্তি ছাড়া আর কিছু বলে নি। অর্থাৎ বুর্জোয়া দলগুলি আত্মসমর্পণ করেছে, এড়িয়ে গেছে বা এই রায়টিকে সাগ্রহে গ্রহণ করেছে। আর মূলস্রোতের সংসদীয় বামদলগুলি দেখিয়েছে যে গত তিন দশক ধরে বলা নিজেদের কথার ভিত্তিতেও তারা নীতিনিষ্ঠ ও অবিচল লড়াই গড়ে তুলতে ও রুখে দাঁড়াতে অক্ষম।


বিপ্লবী, গণতান্ত্রিক ও প্রগতিশীল শক্তিদের এই ঘোলা জলে সাবধানে পা ফেলতে হবে। একদিকে আমাদের নিজেদের নীতিনিষ্ঠ বক্তব্য রাখতে হবে। পাশাপাশি, যেখানেই মুসলমান সম্প্রদায়ের আক্রান্ত মানুষ আছেন সেখানেই তাদের প্রতি সবরকম সাহায্য দেওয়ার ক্ষেত্রে সমস্ত প্রয়াসে আমাদের হাত মেলাতে হবে, যদি তা দোদুল্যমান বামপন্থীদেরও উদ্যোগ হয়। উস্কানীর জবাব দিতে হবে সংহতির মাধ্যমে, যৌথ ফ্রণ্ট গড়ে, এবং আজকের শক্তির ভারসাম্যের কথা মাথায় রেখে, শান্তি বজায় রাখার চেষ্টার মাধ্যমে। মুসলমানদের সামাজিকভাবে বিচ্ছিন্ন করার অপচেষ্টার বিরুদ্ধে বামপন্থীদের সর্বত্র ও সর্বতোভাবে লড়ে যেতে হবে।


কিন্তু কিছু দীর্ঘমেয়াদী প্রশ্ন থেকেই যায়। গণআন্দোলনের সামনের সারিতে আছেন যে কর্মীরা, তাঁদের দাঁতে দাঁত চেপে লড়তে হবে শ্রমিক শ্রেণীর ঐক্য মজবুত করার জন্য এবং সেই সমস্ত শক্তির বিরুদ্ধে, যারা ধর্ম ও জাতিকে সমার্থক করে দিতে চাইছে। শ্রমিক-কৃষককে বুঝতে হবে যে প্রকৃত মুক্তি আসবে শ্রেণীগত ঐক্য ও ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ গণতান্ত্রিক সংস্কৃতির রাজনীতি থেকে। এর ফলে অনেক সময়ে আমাদের সাংগঠনিক প্রচেষ্টাগুলিকে দেশদ্রোহী বলে ছাপ মারার চেষ্টা চলবে। কিন্তু সেই ভয়ে ধর্মনিরপেক্ষতা ও সাম্প্রদায়িকতার প্রশ্নে কোনোরকম ইতস্তত করলে দীর্ঘমেয়াদীভাবে প্রগতিশীল শ্রমিক শ্রেণির আন্দোলন গড়ার কাজের ক্ষতি হবে। একে ভারসাম্য রক্ষা করার রায় বলে ইতিমধ্যেই যে মিথ্যা ব্যাপকভাবে প্রচারিত হচ্ছে তাকে হাজারবার পরাস্ত করতে হবে। শিক্ষাজগতে, পেশাদারী ক্ষেত্রে ও অন্যত্র, দক্ষতা ও বিশ্লেষণের গভীরতাকে একজোট করতে হবে এই ঐকমত্য গড়ার প্রতিক্রিয়াশীল চেষ্টার বিপরীতে।


লড়াইয়ের ময়দানে আশু জয়ের সম্ভাবনা মলিন। সব ক্ষেত্রেই হিন্দুত্ববাদিরা সুসংগঠিত। মনে হতে পারে অদূর ভবিষ্যতের নিরিখে এ যেন এক হেরে যাওয়ার লড়াই। আমরা এখন সেই সময়ে রয়েছি, যাকে গ্রামশি বলেছিলেন অবস্থানের যুদ্ধ। আমাদের এখন অবিচল থাকতে হবে সকলের জন্য ন্যায্য, মর্যাদাপূর্ণ ও সমতাসম্পন্ন সমাজ - এই মূল লক্ষ্যের প্রতি। যদি দীর্ঘমেয়াদী রণনীতি অনুসরণ করে লক্ষ্যের দিকে এগোন যায়, শুধুমাত্র তাহলেই ভবিষ্যতের জন্য কোনো আশা থাকতে পারে।

                                                               ১০ নভেম্বর, ২০১৯

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