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

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release of 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

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.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).