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New normal amidst Covid-19 crisis: Politics of greed, power, divisive propaganda

By Debmalya Nandy*

Widespread economic distress, loss of employment due to unplanned lockdown, and now unlock phases, have been a nightmare for millions of people, yet, ironically, the biggest headlines in Indian media have been a temple, which is increasingly becoming a founding stone for normalizing majoritarian politics in the country. A close second are the stories of elected state governments sought to be toppled.
Political mudslinging in the time of a crisis is not new to Indian politics, but the recent state of affairs across the nation is leading to a new normal, since it has no connection with the novel coronavirus crisis.
The world has been exploring “new normals” in personal and professional practices in the on-going Covid-19 scenario. But it seems Indian political parties do not need a crisis to explore newer styles of functioning. Their journey to absolute iniquitousness seems to have become a constant process. With every new twist and turn, the political drama is unfolding in the most weirdest manner, beating all past records and setting new standards.
First Karnataka and then the recent political turmoil in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have posed a challenge to the whole democratic setup of electing government by citizens. Recent political developments in some other states show that this “new normal” is gaining rapid popularity in the political fraternity, culminating into a standard operating practice.
Frequent political clashes and nasty physical and verbal exchanges between confronting political parties have been reported from West Bengal and Bihar. These states will soon go to assembly elections. While horse trading, political leaders engaging in unethical exchanges and switching parties are not new to India, BJP seems to have found a way to normalize all this.
Those executing the election processes in India are often found to resort to frequent political muscle flexing and money power to topple elected governments. This is taking taking the ailing democracy into an ICU.
As for the common people, they have been turned into mere spectators of this great Indian political circus. Even keen observers of major political parties do not expect a drastic change to the worsening state of politics. They are bewildered: All this is happening when half of the country is battling a great health and economic crisis.
The nation is going through an unprecedented distress, and the current pandemic has exposed our economic capacities. The fragility of our administrative system is out in the open. 
Six out of 10 workers in rural areas and eight out of 10 workers in unorganized urban areas have lost employment during the lockdown
We entered the pandemic amidst overall economic slowdown. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) in 2017-18 had shown that the country’s unemployment rate stood at 6.1%, which was the highest in the last 47 years. However, the powers-that-be ignored the crisis and pushed for regressive social divisions through majoritarian political moves.
Independent research suggests that 6 out of 10 workers in rural areas and 8 out of 10 workers from the unorganized sector in the urban areas have lost employment during the lockdown. More than 100 million potential beneficiaries remain excluded from the Public Distribution System (PDS). Yet, these seem to be non-priorities for our political system. 
The Union government has completely failed to respond to this crisis. The relief packages announced so far are as unplanned as the unilaterally imposed lockdown. The measures are inadequate to address the issues of food and nutrition insecurities, employment and livelihoods.
Moreover, most of the numbers cited by the government to deal with these crises are incorrect, and the actual allocations are far less than what is projected. The first economic relief package announced worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore actually had a major share of it already accounted for in the budget presented in February 2020-21 , and the second announcement of Rs 20 lakh crore too had very little fresh allocations. The political system of the country has failed us when we needed it the most.
When we need effective policies and smooth governance to battle hunger and livelihoods insecurities, what we see today is policy paralysis. The Parliament of India remains dysfunctional when it should debate public issues and come out with reformatory actions.
Political turmoil and violence in different states and shameless political muscle flexing for gaining power and authority have left the common citizen in dismay. Indeed, the political executive is doing a great disservice to the citizens of the country by remaining unaccountable for its actions and conduct.
Amidst all this, the role of the mainstream media has been disappointing. The so-called fourth pillar of democracy seems to be rather unresponsive to the issues of the people. The media erupted with its coverage of the ground-breaking ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. While the event captured the front page, key issues of employment, food security and livelihood, which pertain to 70% of the masses, were largely ignored.
A century ago, Tagore wrote:
“in the very year in which twenty million of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought;
The pauperized masses without any food or shelter, came begging at your door crying for help,
only to be turned away, they were forced to take refuge in forests, caves,
camping under roadside foliages, derelict old temples;
and in that very year
when you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple of yours, that was the day when God pronounced:
In my home the foundations are built with the values of Truth, peace, compassion and love
The poverty stricken puny miser,
Who could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects,
Does he really fancy giving me a home?”

The temple and resort politics has become the new normal of the Indian political system. Public issues have gone completely out of the priority list. After all, it is the temples and the resorts that would earn votes, seats and money.
The civil society must come out and denounce and reject the obnoxious politics being played in the country without taking care of people’s emergency needs for subsistence and survival. The irresponsible, untimely and ugly political mudslinging is only adding to the current predicament of the common citizen.
In a year when the country is not only passing through pandemic, but also numerous floods and cyclones, millions are being pushed to abject poverty. Yet, the politics of greed, power and divisive propaganda continue, weakening the foundation of our society.
---
*Social activist

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