By Sushil Kutty
We will not let anybody go hungry sounds fine. But right now for the chap sitting watching television in drawing rooms across India, the ones who do not qualify for ration or direct to bank cash transfers, he is not aware which governments – state and Centre – are doling out food to the hungry millions caught in the lockdown.
Then again, is bread and butter alone that counts?
Nope, says this gentleman whose “fruit supplier”, a woman whose husband abandoned her and their two daughters years ago, is in dire straits. The woman took up various jobs over the years to bring up her daughters. Today, one of the daughters is an MBA. And the other one is studying to be a graduate.
Great, some would say. The good days are here for the brave woman. Nothing of the sort. Whoever conjured up coronavirus is nobody’s friend. The other day, the woman ran out of money and now she cannot procure the fruits to sell to earn a secure livelihood.
More important, the Rs 1500 government relief money that was to be credited to her bank account never turned up. Her health is also a problem. Blood pressure plays tricks and she has no dough for meds. All in all, a lousy slam-dunk job done on her by coronavirus and the government.
Damn right. But she cannot be the only one in such lousy straits. There must be lakhs of similar unfortunate. Across the length and breadth of a ‘coronaoed India.’ People whom the media does not see. People who Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman counts to draw into the several PM welfare schemes that the government has announced after Covid-19, but later doesn’t have a clue about.
Does the government know whether all the beneficiaries get the promised benefits? What is the mechanism to know? What remedies are available to correct anomalies? Media seek opinions from so-called experts. But for these so-called experts, such pandemics are a recurring pastime and for them bad times are but rare!
Media should compel the authorities to act true, and act fast. These are coronavirus days. People like the fruit woman cannot survive on broken promises. Governments, at the Centre and in the states, have to look beyond ‘addresses to the nation’ and videoconferencing’. A show intent is not enough, a show of purpose is also required.
It appears like the authorities did not fully understand the gravity of the situation or just don’t care. And if the April salaries do not land in bank accounts in the first week of May, that will be it. Tens of thousands will be in the same boat as the unfortunate fruit woman. The chain reactions will devastate entire swathes of households.
As it is, there are too many dichotomies. People caught in the lockdown cannot holler from rooftops even if they manage to climb up there on half empty stomachs. They are just not able to be vocal enough, even at such a viral time. Look at how migrant workers have been grounded while the government goes out of the way to move students out of Kota!
And even as Mukesh Ambani’s Jio signs a billion dollar deal with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, there’s no move to put curbs on WhatsApp. Another dichotomy which speaks volumes of the government’s intent but shows no purpose other than a dubious one.
At this point of time, with 10 days left to the second round of lockdown, it looks very unlikely that May 3 will see the closure of lockdown. People are getting tired of the listless lockdown, and not just those people who don’t like to be cooped up in homes 24/7 but people who fear for their jobs and who wonder if the salaries will keep coming without working for them.
There is a viewpoint that continuing with the lockdown beyond May 3 will be suicidal. The economy has to open up. Gradually, to begin with. But stretching the lockdown for an unimaginably long period will take immediate toll. Social unrest will spike beyond the manageable level. The economy will go into a tailspin and governments will get authoritarian. Everybody likes a good vacation, but nobody wants a forever vacation. Whoever thought it would be a toss between the Olympics and Hunger Games!