Skip to main content

These are not the gimmicks expected from the leader of a nation in this time of crisis

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
The famed political cartoonist Manjul has a very powerful cartoon in his Mumbai Meri Jaan, series in "Mid-Day". There are two frames. In the first frame there is the idiot box (TV) blaring “Friends! I’m here to ask for something!”
There are four respondents: one apparently the hoi-polloi (the daily wage earner, the migrant, the unemployed???) who says “ask for me life”; the second, obviously a ‘bhakt’ replies with an unthinking “sure”; the third, with his hands folded, all dressed up but with a cricket bat under his arm (a celebrity??) says “please do”; and the fourth without doubt belonging to the corporate sector saying, “why not”.
Moving on to the second frame the idiot box booms, “Stop applying your brains till further order” and pat comes the four responses “never had it” ; “of course” ; “already did!!” and “ masterstroke”. In typical brilliance, Manjul’s cartoon says it all! It sums up the state of the nation today, in the wake of the terrible pandemic COVID-19!
The pandemic has already taken the lives of thousands all over the globe, with many more times that number who are affected. In India, there are already four thousand three hundred positive cases and the death toll has reached well past 100. Medical experts expect that over the next few days the cases and the deaths, in India will be exponential.
The first case in the country, of this corona virus was reported as early January 30. There were global alarms and fears that this virus would reach pandemic proportions even as it kept galloping through nation after nation. 
However, the Government of India and their cronies, continued to be absorbed in its own agenda: spewing hate speeches, engineering riots, toppling governments, organizing jamborees and the like. They showed an absolutely callous approach in responding to this terrible calamity with needed sense of urgency and professionalism.
Finally, only around the middle of March, the government ‘woke’ up: first calling for a voluntary curfew on March 22 which ended in many road shows in several parts of the country. Then, on March 24, with just about a four hours’ notice, the Prime Minister announced a ‘lockdown’ of the whole country of 1.3 billion people for a twenty-one-day period, which is scheduled to end on April 14.
The abrupt announcement of the ‘lockdown’ has had a severe impact on millions of the poor and marginalized sections of society and particularly on the daily-wage earners, the migrants and the unemployed. 
Voltaire, the French philosopher, puts it succinctly: It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere
The sudden suspension of all public transportation, particularly the trains and buses meant that large groups of them had to walk hundreds of miles to return to their native places. Many of them even died on the way. In some places they were stopped by the ‘authorities’ and remanded to detention centres and at least in one place, ‘disinfectant’ was sprayed on them. 
The sad and cruel fact remains that India, as of today, does not have the wherewithal to counter this pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO)-prescribed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) , the N95 masks so essential for doctors, nurses and other caregivers are virtually non-existent; there is a criminal shortage of ventilators, sanitizers, testing centres/ kits, hospital beds, isolation wards, intensive care units and other necessary medical equipment, if this pandemic accelerates in the next few days and weeks. Strangely enough India was exporting, till March 24 ban, some of these essentials.
Courtesy: Twitter account of Manjul
On the ‘voluntary curfew day’ (March 22) the PM had suggested that the people end the curfew with clapping etc. Once again for April 5 he suggested that candles and diyas and flashlights are lit, whilst all other lights are switched off. 
Both the ‘dramas’ were obviously ‘populist acts’ and given the frenzy in certain areas, would have certainly earned him some ‘brownie points’ , sadly these are not the gimmicks which are expected from the leader of a nation in this time of crisis.
On both days, there were huge crowds everywhere, serenading as though they were victory processions; on the first day, it was beating steel plates and drums, whistling and shouting; on the second day, besides the lights , there was a huge display of fireworks everywhere; almost a Diwali celebration.
A BJP leader in Uttar Pradesh, Manju Tiwari, decided to be different. In a video that has been widely shared, the BJP leader is seen firing a shot in the air to the sound of cheering. In a place in Rajasthan, a house caught fire because of the carelessness of others. The responses by and large could be categorized as acts of idiosyncrasy, sycophancy and ludicrousness! Of a behavior highly irresponsible in these serious times. 
American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote: Pity the nation whose people are sheep/ And whose shepherds mislead them...
The irony of these acts were that whilst there was seemingly all-round adulation (thanks to the ‘godified’ media we have in the country today) the stark reality remains that millions of our fellow country women and men have to eke out a survival; given the situation today, they really don’t know from where their next meal will come.
The ‘celebrations’ (without social distancing), the loud clapping, the fireworks were certainly not sensitive acts to the plight of a sizeable section who are suffering. One cannot deny the fact that this is the way that fascism works, this is how it spreads its devious tentacles.
Fortunately, there are still a fairly large group of thinking citizens in the country: who among other engagements, write, sketch, compose, sing and are also active on social media. There are several who are unable to accept the nonsense that has gripped the nation.
More than twelve years ago, the well-known American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote an incisive poem (based on a similar work written earlier by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran) ‘Pity the Nation’. It is so apt for us in India today! The poem runs thus:
"Pity the nation whose people are sheep

And whose shepherds mislead them 
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars 
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
With force and by torture 
Pity the nation that knows 
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed 
Pity the nation oh pity the people 
Who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
my country, tears of thee 
Sweet land of liberty" 

Voltaire, the French philosopher puts it succinctly, “it is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere”; but Manjul’s cartoon says it all!  
---
*Human rights and peace activist and writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Russia, China to call the shots in Middle East, as Muslim nations turn into house of cards

By Haider Abbas* Only a naive would buy that the ‘situation of ceasefire’ between the State of Israel and Hamas would continue, as if the foiled attempt to demolish Al Aqsa this time, is not be repeated, if not in any near future then in sometime to come. Israel already has spurned the ‘ceasefire’ by storming Al Aqsa after the Friday prayers on May 21.

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Covid fear? Cremation rituals gone upside down, Dalits asked to do Brahminical rituals

By Abhay Jain, Sandeep Pandey*  As Covid consumes human life in a very conspicuous way we are confronted with additional problem of disposing of human corpses. Cremation grounds are lit with continuous pyres, graveyards are running out of land and now Ganga has become a mass grave potentially polluting its water.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.