by Nilofar Suhrawardy 29 July 2020
Democratically speaking and as per the Indian Constitution, each life matters in India too and not just for votes. COVID-phase has certainly placed communication strategies of key Indian leaders in a tight spot. Shrewd political strategies can work only to a limited extent when people themselves have a lot to be bothered about, regarding their own health.
Covid-19 is here to stay and people have to learn to live with it, as per reports from practically all parts of the world. This certainly strikes a dismal note but there is nothing really surprising about this. What should one learn from this? Of course, efforts are being made to spread awareness of steps that need to be followed to save one-self and one’s family members from being affected by Covid-19. But this is not an answer to numerous problems raised by a coronavirus, related to health, employment, the country’s economy, people’s earnings, education, transportation and so much more. Also, corona-panic has led to people doubt even a mild fever, a cough, or sneeze with a symptom of being COVID positive.
Paradoxically, governments at the central level and at most state levels have not yet been able to comprehend as to how to tackle this situation. If it does not take long for respected leaders to organize programs in honor of international leaders, one wonders as to what holds them from making due arrangements to tackle the present situation?
Yes, it is not an easy job. But the country is not short of human resources for coming out with needed measures to take steps in the right direction. Considering that series of lockdown moves followed by unlocking down have in no way contributed to checking the spread of coronavirus, alternative measures need to be urgently considered.
Besides, if there were an ailment that had been completely eradicated from the world, particularly developing countries like India, one could have assumed that an anti-corona vaccine would spell some relief in the coming years. Cardiac arrests, diabetes, dengue, flu, viral fever, pneumonia, tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria, measles, mumps, and so on still keep afflicting a greater part of the population, young and old. Of these, all are not infectious, but once a person is declared a diabetic or has a heart attack (both of which are non-infectious), he/she is expected to exercise greater caution about his/her medicines, check-ups, etc, than before.
Tuberculosis has still not been defeated totally. It remains an infectious ailment, though of course, now its treatment is far more effective than it was earlier. Besides, stigma is no longer attached to TB patients. Measles and few other diseases affect most at some age or other. The general rule is that the patient is kept isolated from other members of families until he/she is cured totally. Strangely, so far, pre-COVID-phase had not been marked by any lockdown and severe impact on the economy. What does this suggest? Just as most ailments, including viral fever, are least likely to be done away in the near future, prospects of Covid-19 lurking around for quite a while (or even forever) cannot be ignored. First, one is forced to point out that Covid-19 is not the one and only ailment affecting people in general. But if only Covid-19 continues to be focused upon, people suffering from other ailments are likely to suffer more.
Seriously speaking, corona-panic has forced most people to stay away from clinics and doctors for their regular check-ups. Of course, doctors at hospitals and their clinics are available for online consultation. But can each Indian make use of this facility, that of online consultation? Besides, now, it has become compulsory for patients to go through COVID-test before being treated for whatever has forced them to visit hospitals. An immediate relative of this journalist recently suffered a fracture in her lower limb. She was rushed to a hospital. The surgery of the fracture could have taken place within a few hours. But it was delayed until the result of her Covid-test came (which was thankfully negative).
This rule really does not seem to be fair and needs to be reconsidered. One is getting the impression that practically each and every aspect of the country’s functioning and a person’s life is now dependent on Covid-19. If COVID is here to stay, for how long can people’s life, theirs, and the country’s economy remain practically stalled? Undeniably, the risk of Covid-19 cannot be sidelined. Rules regarding wearing of masks, maintaining social distance and similar norms should certainly be enforced. But coronavirus cannot be checked by lockdowns, sealing of borders, curfews, and so forth. Coronavirus does not spread at specific hours. It cannot cease at particular points because of borders being sealed.
Also, there is no guarantee that vaccines being waited for will eliminate this virus, like a magic wand, from spreading within a short period. If this was the case, nobody would have said that Covid-19 is here to stay. Perhaps, greater attention should be paid to taking measures for increasing people’s immunity against coronavirus. Announcing the need to wear masks or imposing fines for not wearing the same is not enough. Some money can be used from Prime Minister’s fund to distribute free masks, soaps and other such goods needed to maintain required hygienic standards and increase immunity can be distributed.
Certainly, spreading “news” about new corona cases and deaths is essential to make people aware of the need to follow measures to guard themselves against being affected by Covid-19. At the same time, several other factors cannot be ignored. India has the second-largest population. COVID-deaths in India is not even a percentage of this country’s population. In contrast, a fourth of Indians die from cardiovascular ailments every year. Covid-19 cannot be ignored but neither can other health problems affecting a larger number of this country’s population.
If perhaps the country was not affected by trauma caused by Covid-19, many questions would not have at present remained unanswered regarding electoral promises of leaders in power and their rhetoric about their accomplishments. The keynote harped upon repeatedly was that the government has achieved in a term what had not been achieved in the preceding 70 years. If this was really the case, the pathetic state of the country’s health system would not have been exposed. Yes, the fact that India has the second-largest population in the world cannot be denied. But this doesn’t imply that it is impossible for respected leaders to pay attention to their basic needs.
Health, education, transport, and employment figure among a few sectors, which need appropriate attention to ensure the development of the country as a whole. Yet, unfortunately, while present power-holders have not refrained from assuring citizens during the progress of their respective campaign of all, they have yet to work seriously towards this goal.
What is worse is that the present COVID-phase has been witness to minorities and several others being refused admission in several hospitals for treatment? Many have succumbed to the disease primarily because of their being forced to rush from hospital to hospital and not being admitted. Why has this happened? Of course, these cases have been taken note of by certain outlets of media but have not been paid substantial attention by power-holders. Why?
There have also been instances of top political leaders suspecting COVID-symptoms and/or those having tested positive being admitted in hospitals. Well, compare their case with that of others who have been refused attention. This certainly does not spell equality of all. Nor does it seem suggestive of constructive steps having been taken to ensure the development of all. Besides, to this day, attempts are being made by certain extremist elements to blame Muslims and also hold economically weak sections as responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in India. This seems suggestive of communal and social bias being exercised to divert people’s attention from adequate steps not being taken by most power-holders to check the spread of this vicious virus.
Prior to Muslims being blamed for corona-spread, the noise was being made about their nationality status. Communal jargon against protests at Shaheen Bagh, Jamia Millia Islamia being subject to violence followed by riots in parts of Delhi seem to be all interlinked with one motive- blame and target the Muslims. When COVID-phase struck the country, Tablighi Jamiat members were blamed. The nature of news being spread was such that Muslim fruit vendors and others were also targeted primarily on account of their religious identity. The chronological linkage between anti-Muslim biases repeatedly attempted cannot be ignored.
What is worth noting is that spread of COVID-phase has not let the anti-Muslim communal jargon remain aggressive and dominant for too long. Statistics have defeated it. The same can be said about bias entertained against economically underprivileged being held as strong carriers of this virus.
COVID-phase has exposed the bias still prevalent at various levels in Indian society. It has also exposed limited capability of the present power-holders to tackle crises of this nature. The eye-opener to this tragic reality is the migrant laborers’ long walk back home. Though there have been instances of social activists reaching out to help them on their own with food, etc, the government stepped in much later. Varying decisions are taken regarding people being quarantined only to indicate a confused mind, lacking absolute clarity, of elected leaders. The same may be said about some inter-state borders being sealed and some being open. Can any virus be quarantined? Can it be limited to certain areas?
It is for individuals to exercise necessary precautions while stepping out. Besides, coronavirus or any other virus does not exercise any bias while afflicting persons. It so happens, that some have stronger immunity against it than others. During this COVID-phase, it is all the more pertinent for power-holders to lay stress on each life being as important as the other. So far, the substantial emphasis has not been paid to this point. Whether afflicted by Covid-19 or some other ailment, patients cannot be turned away from hospitals simply because of their religious identity and/or socio-economic stature.
At present, the majority are too concerned about health issues linked with Covid-19 to be apparently moved by any other issue. Where does this place the communication skill of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team?
Certainly, with problems created by COVID-phase, Modi and his party are caught in a tight political situation. Subtle attempts are apparently being made to divert people’s attention from the negative impact of COVID-phase to China. But China is not Pakistan. And at present even if anti-Pak and/or communal cards are used, prospects of these having the desired impact are fairly limited. Questions are being posed regarding how many hospitals are present leaders, at Centre, and at various state-levels responsible for. If they have funds for building statues and so forth, what has prevented them from paying due attention to attending to the basic needs of Indians? If it was not for COVID-phase, these questions may not have risen. There is a difference between being a master strategist for electoral politicking and exercising communication strategies while in power. People expect result-oriented work not rhetoric from leaders in power. And this may be viewed as crux of leadership-crisis, Modi seems faced with!