In God’s own beautiful and lush green country, during the times of extreme crisis, a natural catastrophe, or an epidemic/pandemic, the people and the government do not really rely on God or divine intervention; though the love and respect for God remains steadfast and steady, despite the ‘Left landscape’. Instead, they rely on their own skills, compassion, discipline, social commitment, and infinite efficiency.
They also rely on good sense, collective and shared public interests, the synthesis of theory and praxis; most often, crucially, they can anticipate the signs in the far distance, even while they quickly learn from their past mistakes and are not averse to innovate, be flexible or non-conformist in certain trying circumstances. This is political and social, human and public interest, celebrating both collective humanism and individual intelligence.
For instance, during the anti-CAA/NRC protests, a young female law student in Ernakulam, Kerala, made a smiling protest against the rather crass “identify them by their clothes” remark by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after the students in Jamia, Delhi, were brutally beaten up by Delhi Police inside the campus. She consulted her friends and other students, even while apparently she had never been overtly political or ideological, and not a pronounced part of a political students’ group.
After she got a collective okay, she chose to wear a hijab, and celebrated it for the world to see. ‘Can you judge me by clothes’, was her cultural and political statement, a stunning question mark; her smiling face ushering in both pure hope and rebellion of the young, for a movement which has been largely led by the young and women, including mothers and daughters.
It became a standard motif across the country, henceforth, with Hindu women wearing Hijab and Muslim women wearing bindis, and men dressing in different kind of outfits across the eternally secular childhood ‘fancy dress’ lessons of ‘unity in diversity’ all over the country, including at the famous Shaheen Bagh in Delhi.
“Fighting an epidemic like corona requires scientific temper, humanism and a spirit for inquiry and reform. I strictly follow scientists and experts than those who eulogise on the imagined benefits of cow dung and cow urine.”
Needless to say, her picture and story became an instant hit on the social media, and the media, internationally, nationally and regionally; her subtle and categorical statement carried the day against the so overtly crass and polarizing remark by the PM. It became a trend. So much so, in some churches in Kerala, young girls in hijab sang the lovely Christmas choirs at midnight, even while the 7-7 football matches in packed open-air stadiums in districts were interspersed with the collective rendition of the slogans of Azadi.
But, then, the people of Kerala are not averse to new ideas. During the devastating floods, Christians prayed inside mosques and Muslims prayed inside temples and Hindus opened their homes and temples for all citizens. When the Centre played crude and petty, as usual and so predictably, thousands of locals in Kerala and friends, relatives and supporters all over India and in the Gulf, poured in with all kinds of help: physical help, relief material, food, medicine transport, cash, building material, boats, books, notebooks, pens and pencils, you name it.
Among scores of ordinary folks, the fishermen were the heroes, with their rough and beautiful boats, their sturdy and rugged bodies, and their deep and intimate knowledge of the sea and rivers, the shores and the tide, and the inherent and hidden dangers in navigating the waters during the fierce floods. They just moved in and took over, with the Indian military and air force in complete solidarity, who helped with logistics but did not really know the complex local conditions. Tens of thousands of stranded people, children, pregnant women and old people, were rescued by the fishermen, even as the Kerala government, short of funds and with little support from New Delhi, took the war against the floods to a war footing and did a stupendous job.
You should just check out the aesthetic homes which have been built for the displaced; with not even a sign of the Kerala government claiming the credit. There is so much dignity and decency in the meaning of these homes, beautiful and small as they are. Indeed, thousands more could have died, and cities, towns and villages would have gone under, if the locals and the Left government led by Pinarayi Vijayan had not worked with great imagination, resilience and tenacity, and with an open heart.
This is best illustrated by two videos coming from the state, among several others: one is of physically fit cops in uniforms dancing with the lyrics and melody of a famous female folklore while explaining how to cope with the daily struggle against Corona, including, how to wash hands. They not only dance in lovely choreographic rhythm, but they are all male cops, and they seem to know their steps too well. Another video of a Kathakali dancer teaching the nuances of hand-washing is also stunningly shot, with a pinch of humour thrown in. Indeed, the police video was showcased by, guess who – Russia Today (RT), the famous Russian television channel, otherwise infamous for other ‘scoops’.
The other video is of a man in ‘mundu’ waiting for an auto. The auto arrives. However, before he enters, the auto driver points to something. It is a water container with a tap, and a sanitiser, fixed on the side of the auto. The man dutifully washes his hand, rather meticulously, folds his hands towards the driver in recognition and gratitude, and thereby the happy and healthy ride starts.
Like the Nipah virus which Kerala and its Left-led state government combated with extraordinary skill and finesse, and nipped it in the bud, they were able to anticipate the signs of the Corona virus much before the rest of the country, even while the danger signals from Wuhan in China were as transparent as ever.
It only happens in Kerala, as the folklore say. Even in authorized liquor shops, men in their mundus waiting for their daily dose of Brandy, yes, Brandy, come heat or humidity, keep their social distance. The queue has been marked in many booze outlets with red or yellow lines, to keep distance and wait for your turn, almost like in the frisking process in airports. And the finest of the drinkers are following this rule, before or after the hangover.
Like the Nipah virus which Kerala and its Left-led state government combated with extraordinary skill and finesse, and nipped it in the bud, they were able to anticipate the signs of the Corona virus much before the rest of the country, even while the danger signals from Wuhan in China were as transparent as ever. Indeed, the fact is that the Chinese top leadership did suppress early information on the virus, as was the case with SARS. However, Kerala, with its continuous to and fro of travelers from outside the state and country was extra-vigilant. The vigilance, indeed, started in February itself.
Local bodies, panchayats, students’ groups, civil society organizations, primary health centres, district hospitals, district administrations, schools and colleges, women’s groups, etc, all contribute to the collective effort. Even prisoners joined in to make masks. Private hospitals have been told to serve patients by the district administrations. Religious institutions are on the alert, ready for relief and emergency help. All hospitals are on high alert, and the system is safe, tested and secure, despite the state being so vulnerable in terms of so many people carrying the virus from abroad.
Indeed, it has excelled in detecting the carriers, those with whom they have been in contact, checking all of them and keeping them in quarantine even while giving daily counseling, and then taking them in for specialized care and treatment, that is, those who have tested positive. There is, however, no sense of panic. Even domestic travelers have been advised to follow self-imposed quarantine, while all trains and buses, all of them, are being checked by experts and volunteers at entry points into Kerala.
When I went to Kerala in two trips, in February and early March, people seemed to be already aware of the ramifications. In early March, there was a health desk at the Kochi airport which stopped me and asked the place of my departure. On told that it was Delhi, they let me go out of the airport. Even in Thrissur, and packed tourist places like Fort Kochi, sanitisers were being used, people were keeping basic social distance, and precautions in travel etc was being used. There was a general alert on travel, transport, and airports, and those coming from abroad.
I bought my first ‘Himalaya’ sanitiser for Rs 40 from a small shop in a small bylane near Fort Kochi on March 7. While it is still helping me out, the sanitisers are all but over in Delhi and Noida chemist shops, fake sanitisers are being sold at huge prices, and there seems to be a lot of hoarding otherwise. In contrast, the students and youth wings of the CPM, for instance, are making and distributing santisers, among other organisations.
The contrast during crisis periods is striking and truly reflects leadership qualities. For instance, the manner in which the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, led the collective, pluralist and humanist fight against xenophobia and terrorism, after scores of Muslims were killed in a brutal attack by an Islamophobic fanatic, became a role model for the entire world. The entire country, including the indigenous people, joined in public and private places to protest, to sing in mourning, to heal wounds, and to assert the idea of humanism, love, togetherness, secularism and community life.
Local bodies, panchayats, students’ groups, civil society organizations, primary health centres, district hospitals, district administrations, schools and colleges, women’s groups, etc, they all contribute to the collective effort. Even prisoners joined in to make masks. Private hospitals have been told to serve patients by the district administrations.
So much so, on one day, the entire country wore the hijab, including the prime minister and her colleagues, including armed, female gun-toting cops. Indeed, Ardern’s moving and sensitive speeches and interviews became international bestsellers, with the whole world applauding this little and beautiful nation. Surely, there is little the current Indian leadership has chosen to learn from New Zealand and its fantastic prime minister.
There is perhaps more to learn from the three-minute speech by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, sporting a salt and pepper beard, and apparently looking very tired. His own family is in a medical crisis, but he was cool, brief and visionary. He simply told his people: stay at home and be safe and sound, follow the precautions, and don’t worry, we will take care of the rest – everything, hospitals, emergency services, medicine, health, economy, wages, joblessness, bank accounts, immediate and long-term future, food – everything. You just stay at home.
Contrast this with the 30-minute odd speech by the Indian prime minister. Not one visionary step suggested in a country of millions with abysmal health infrastructure, abysmally low Union health budget, an overstressed and minimalistic health care structure, including doctors and nurses, absence of testing, intenstive care centres, specialized quarantines or counseling, and with almost 93 percent of the workforce, half of them women, most of them poor and marginalized, outside the formal economy, surviving on daily wages, with no economic or human rights, not even the right to work, no scaffolding worth its name to look for during such an unprecedented crisis.
The PM likes grandiose statements, grandiose events, grandiose gestures, like beating utensils etc. Okay, fine, in support of doctors and nurses. Sure. However, the least he could have done, apart from other concrete actions, is that he should have declared all stadiums, including the fancy Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad (in the Rs 100 crore backdrop of the Howdy Trump show), as specialized and state-of-the art isolation hospitals with full medical equipment and the best of doctors with full State protection. This is precisely what Mamata Banerjee has done with a stadium in Howrah – and the PM can take a lesson from her.
Spain has nationalized the private health system – and India? Billionaires have come forward everywhere with huge packages – and India? Industries have suspended production and are producing sanitisers, masks and other protective equipment – and India?
The PM is scheduled to make another address to the nation on Tuesday, March 24 at 8 pm. While what he has to say is still awaited, it is safe to say that announcing measures now is too late.
Compare this to what the Left Front government led by Pinarayi Vijayan and a feisty scientific and hardworking Health Minister, KK Shailja ‘Teacher’, has done for the state – even as Modi’s hyperbole was being shown live. Visionary and practical steps, and with long-term impact. Check this out:
- A Rs 20,000 Crore special package for the State to overcome COVID -19. It takes an inclusive view and ensure that no one is left behind.
- 2 months welfare pensions in advance
- Rs 1320 Cr for providing Rs 1000 assistance to families not eligible for welfare pensions.
- Rs 100 Cr for free food grains to families in need.
- Rs 50 Cr for subsidized meals at Rs 20
- Rs 500 Cr health package
- Loans worth Rs 2000 Cr through Kudumbashree
- Rs 2000 Cr for employment guarantee programme
- State government will clear arrears by April; will amount to Rs 14,000 Cr.
- Fitness charge relaxation for Autos, Taxis
- Tax relief for passenger vehicles
- Relaxation in bill payment deadline for electricity- water utilities.
- Entertainment taxes reduced for cinema halls.
Besides, the health minister has stated categorically, that she has no faith in mumbo jumbo. Her bold statement recently has yet again gone viral: “Fighting an epidemic like corona requires scientific temper, humanism and a spirit for inquiry and reform. I strictly follow scientists and experts than those who eulogize on the imagined benefits of cow dung and cow urine.”
That is why, one can safely say that in God’s Own Country, it is often the government and the people who show the way. Hence, we can only say: Salute! Cheers! Bravo!
And, thank you!