Flattening the Indian economy, not the Covid curve, the Modi way

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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief. Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: Flattening the Indian economy, not the COVID curve, the Modi way
Social murder is murder committed by the political and social elite when they knowingly
permit conditions to exist where the poorest and most vulnerable in society are deprived
of the necessities of life and are placed in a position where they cannot reasonably be
expected to live well, and will probably meet an early and unnatural death.
Frederich Engels, 1845

Migrant workers and their family members gather outside Anand Vihar bus terminal as they leave India’s capital for their homes during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in New Delhi on March 29, 2020. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP)

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An estimated 8 to 16 crores of India’s poorest are walking the streets and highways of
the cities, which once sustained them, back to their impoverished villages, as they stare
at sure death from hunger, even before the COVID, 19 virus gets to them.
The highways are stamped with bleeding feet, as men, women and children, the
invisible millions, products of neo-liberalism of the ’90s, flee from the heartlessness of
the big cities, which has stripped them of their livelihoods and dignity, ever since
the lockdown was announced on March 23.

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The country has since then seen three more lockdowns, the longest and the
harshest in the world, the last one set to end on May 31. The lockdown which was
supposed to slow down the spread of COVID 19, also giving valuable time to the
government to prepare for the impending crisis, has been squandered away by the
clueless government. And it is bound to be as clueless on May 31, faced with no option
but to probably continue with the lockdown, as figures continue to jump.

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The lockdowns, enforced with the help of a brutal police force, resembling a curfew, to
keep India’s 1.3 billion population locked in, has managed to flatten India’s economy,
while the COVID crisis continues its steady climb, despite the lockdown, with numbers
jumping from about 500, when the lockdown started, to 1,30,000 plus cases after almost
60 days of the world’s most stringent lockdown.

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Catastrophe looms large now with the public health issue exactly where it was and now
added burdens of economic mismanagement and the migrant issue.The extended
lockdowns have completely flattened India’s economic growth to a zero for 2020, with
some financial institutions pegging it at 0.1 GDP%, and some giving it negative points.
According to a recent study by the Azim Premji University, 81 % of the urban population
have lost their jobs, while 87% of the rural population, which has lost its work. According
to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 1220 crore jobs were lost in the
the month of April alone. The loss of jobs/businesses so far is thrice that of the USA.
The national media has shockingly decided to sit out of the biggest story, affecting
mankind in decades, just as it refused to report the calamities like Cyclone Amphan, like

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several such natural disasters over the last six years, on Delhi riots, on the rising
communalism, the rising unemployment, lest any of it reflects badly on the Narendra
Modi government,
The prime minister Narendra Modi’s last 8 PM announcement on May 14, of an economic
the stimulus package of Rs 20 lakh crore, made the headlines but was torn to shreds in a
matter of hours by experts, who exposed it for the sham that it is. This mythical package
which promised to be one of the highest in the world, amounting to 10% of India’s GDP,
turned out to be a damp squib like all of his previous schemes to make India
“atmanirbhar” (self-reliant). It turned out to be nothing more than a loan mela
supposedly to help small businesses with loans on easy terms, which of course was not
the case, with no cashouts as expected.

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Packages in the last six years promised by the Modi government and BJP, which made
the headlines, but never saw the light of day, was Rs 80,000 crores in Jammu and
Kashmir, with a Rs 100 lakh crore package elsewhere for infrastructure development. In
Bihar, the announcement of packages started with a dramatic flourish, with Modi
mocking the Biharis, as to how much they want Rs 50,000 crores or more, Rs 60,0000
or more, Rs 70,000 or more, with the promise finally stopping at 125 lakh crore. After
elections were won, promises were of course forgotten.

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This is the same prime minister who mocked the previous prime minister, Dr Manmohan
Singh for announcing packages which never reached the common man, followed by
fake promises of how things will turn around for the best under his stewardship.
When the first lockdown was announced, Modi announced that about one crore of its
members, though it claims to have 18 crores of them, making it the largest political party
in the world, will feed five people each from March 26, totaling almost 265 crores plates
of food, since lockdown began! As usual after the successful headlines, none of its
grand schemes actually are evident on the ground.

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The poverty-stricken mentality of the BJP is all the more evident, the way in which they
took more than 50 days to kickstart first of the promised 300 trains to take the suffering
crores home, quite a few of whom have already been crushed to death in various
accidents.
It is a matter of introspection why the lockdown was not announced a week after
they were reached home safely for free. After so many hiccups, only 300 trains will be
pressed into service, in the next few days, when Indian railways can run 19,000 trains in
one single day! The disgust does not end here. It has extended to overcharging

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impoverished men and women for the tickets in buses because it was especially run for
them, The “shramik” trains started specially to ferry passengers home, which were meant to
be “free”, to be paid for by the state governments, but was charged.
An exercise in humanity, which would have cost them not more than Rs 20-22 crores. It
took a whole lot of outrage though muted to finally get two of the “shramik” trains to
move. Though both were headed for Bihar, one of them actually reached Orissa, while
the other one landed in Delhi. So tight-fisted is the government when it comes to the
poor, that the trains which were running for 40 hours or more, had no arrangements for
food or water when they had already been for 50 plus days.

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Though the railway’s minister Piyush Goyal kept passing the buck that it is the state
governments that had not given them permission to operate the trains in their states,
for fear of them becoming spreaders of the virus in the villages since about 25 % of
them turned up positive. The fact is that if a lockdown could be announced under the
disaster management act, then surely help could be arranged in the same way.
Bhanu Pratap Mehta, professor of political science in Ashoka University, a columnist
and a former Modi supporter in the past, muttered in an interview, how “we can strip
invisible millions of their dignity and livelihood at the drop of a hat and not even care.”

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“We have imposed 50 plus days in lockdown, without proper income support and
subjecting them to the indignity of queuing up for food. Decades of bad economic
policies has rendered them invisible for the academicians, media, elite. Therefore the
full impact of poverty, vulnerability is not registering within us, when it should be inciting
us, for collective action. This is something we need to go on a mission mood”, but it is
not happening”, he lamented.
The fact is that these migrants do not need our pity/compassion, but need justice.
Instead several states have decided to suspend labor laws, including minimum safety
norms, deciding to now subject them to 12 hour work days much to the horror of trade
unions. When the need of the hour is devising the right frame of justice to address their
plight.

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When the world was busy coping with the virus, the Indian government and the media
was too busy indulging in communalism, targeting the Muslim community, trying to
desperately pin the spread of the virus on the Muslims, much to the horror of the
international community. It finally took a back seat, only after pushback from the Gulf
countries.

“When dealing with a crisis as overwhelming as this, “when the government should be
resetting the health care system, when the single most need of the hour is providing
relief packages, there is no mention of health care, no scaling back of communalism of
authoritarianism. This moment of crisis has actually exposed/exaggerated the worst in
us and there is likely to be more conflict in the short run”, said Mehta.

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Amidst the crisis, BJP did not forget to celebrate its sixth year in power. Elections are
due in Bihar in October, this year, and the manufactured crisis could hurt the power
equation there, considering the turmoil the poor from the state have been pushed into.
So possibilities are being discussed for pushing digital voting in the largely illiterate,
poorest state possible. Something which even the USA would have a hard time doing..
This one change would render the votes of several crore voters redundant, forcing them
further into invisibility.
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This government is so focussed on winning elections, that it is clueless about what to do
after that. The two states where migrants have been hurt the most, Uttar Pradesh and
Bihar, have elected over 100 Member of Parliament’s, for the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) and its alliance partners, about 10 of whom are central ministers, and yet there is
no visible development in these two states, leave alone the country.

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The prime minister believes he can resolve the crisis with centralized decisions, without
consulting the opposition, the affected chief ministers, nor any experts consulted.
Not only has the prime minister not provided any financial support to the states, but has
also withheld the share of the state of the Goods and Services Taxes (GST), making a
mockery of the federal structure of the states. Just in the case of West Bengal, the
center owes about Rs 50,000 crores, including grants, its share of GST and other tax
refunds. And when the chief minister Mamata Banerjee mentioned that the estimated
damage following cyclone Amphan is one lakh crores, the prime minister offered an
interim relief, of a Rs 1000 crores, which is most likely not going up, as happened in the
case of Kerala, when the chief minister’s do not feel a need to ask for what rightfully
belongs to their respective states.

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In April alone, 1215 lakh workers are thought to have lost their jobs, catapulting the
the unemployment rate from 8% to an unprecedented 26% nationwide.
The police under pressure themselves from long hours of duty are either being
compassionate or terribly brutal, lathi charging the already half-dead migrants in a bid to
stop them, as they walk the toughest journeys of their lives, covering 500-1000 km for
days on end, either on foot, or their rickety cycles, most often than not, without footwear.
Not only are they carrying their meager belongings on their backs, but also their tiny

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tots, some even carrying their old parents, braving the scorching sun, determined never
to return. Cities rely on these same labor to build their multi-storied complexes, their
malls, their roads, run their factories and their industries, all of which will stay at a stand
still, even after the lockdown is removed.

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