Those who are facing great difficulties deserve the particular attention of their government
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
When the Covid pandemic started to spread across the world at the beginning of last year and lockdown had to be imposed to nip it in the bud – which didn’t quite happen as subsequent events have shown – economic activities ground to a sudden halt. In order to limit the impact, governments came up with what was called stimulus packages or bail-outs. These were meant to support the important industrial and trade sectors; in our countries a bulk of this went to the hotel sector, that is the tourist industry.
Covid-19 Emergency Spending in the US. Photo – i.guim.co.uk
As the situation has continued to aggravate, with surges that called for second and third lockdowns depending on the country, those most severely affected have been workers at the lower rungs and small businesses which depend on their day-to-day or week-to-week activities to earn a living. The country with the largest economy in the world, USA, has found itself having to vote another 1.3 trillion USD as emergency spending to add to the 4 trillion USD that Congress had already spent to fight the crisis. This additional sum of mind-boggling proportions for us has been approved despite objections from the Republicans who wanted to scale it down to USD 600 M.
Arguing that ‘the government must fight the crisis from the bottom up’, a leader in The Economist of February 6th 2021 suggested that ‘Congress should spend whatever is needed on vaccinations and on increasing the incomes of workers bearing the brunt of the crisis. They have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and if their incomes collapsed, they would slash their spending, spreading the pain to the rest of the economy. Extending a generous top-up to unemployment insurance benefits beyond its expiry in March should be a priority.’
Continuing that ‘nobody should fret about the cost of providing what is in effect disaster relief,’ a note of caution is sounded, namely that ‘prolonging vast deficits, however, does carry a risk.’ At this point, the rest that follows goes above my head, but if I have got it right the message is that those who are facing great difficulties deserve the particular attention of their government.
It would seem to me that the small planters and vegetable/fruit growers and sellers have somehow been left out of the equation in the support that has been extended by the authorities. It was so during the first lockdown last year. Vegetables and fruits were left to rot in the fields, or were stolen as the growers were not allowed to attend to their plantations, with scenes of those trying to even being chased out. This at a time when the crying need was precisely such items which form an essential part of the food requirements of everyone. And everyone – the ti dimoune – is not represented in the queue at the supermarkets.
To me this was a lacuna in the overall strategy of addressing the lockdown, that was not made up for in the current one either. II would have been a significant gesture of support to that category, and for the benefit of a wider section of the population that could have sourced supplies from their own locality, a critical factor in limiting at the same time the spread of the virus.
Because, as has been repeatedly said during this pandemic, we are all in it together.
* * *
This reminded me of the clarion call of PM candidate Narendra Modi to his countrymen during the campaign for the general election that in 2014 that brought him victory, which was
‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’: ‘All together, All for development.’ I have adapted it as ‘All together, Support for all’ for the title of this article, to remind ourselves and our decision-makers the imperative need to extend assistance to all sectors, especially the most vulnerable who supply the most basic and vital need for our survival: food.
This also led me to wonder where Modiji could possibly have got his winning catchphrase, which he updated to ‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas, sab ka visvas (everybody’s trust)’ in his second campaign that saw the leader of the largest democracy in the world being brought back to power with an even larger majority.
Perhaps he may have been inspired by the words of another illustrious countryman of his, and equally wise, late President Abdul Kalam – who shared with him a major common characteristic, namely, humble origins?
What led me to make this guess are the words of Dr Abdul Kalam, who visited Gujarat in August 2002, a few months after riots had taken place there. He describes this visit in his book ‘Turning Points’ (2012), from which I quote: ‘All through my visit only one thought occupied my mind. We have many important tasks at hand to improve the lot of people and to accelerate development. Should not development be our only agenda? Any citizen following any faith has the fundamental right to live happily. No one has the right to endanger the unity of minds, because unity of minds is the lifeline of our country, and makes our country truly unique. After all, what is justice, what is democracy? Every citizen in the country has the right to live with dignity, every citizen has the right to aspire for distinction. To access the large number of opportunities, through just and fair means, in order to attain that distinction and dignity is what democracy is all about.’ (italics added)
It seems to me that these two dignified leaders may have ‘clicked’ – achieved a unity of minds as they went around together. Dr Abdul Kalam decided on the visit shortly after becoming President, against advice to the contrary. In his own words, ‘Many apprehensions were expressed, among them that my visit might be boycotted by the chief minister, that I would receive a cold reception and that there would be protests from many sides. But, to my great surprise when I landed at Gandhinagar, not only was the chief minister but his entire Cabinet and a large number of legislators, officials and members of the public were present at the airport… Narendra Modi, the chief minister, was with me throughout the visit.’
Narendra Modi: such dignity, such greatness of mind and spirit, why such grandeur even one could add. Of the type that can even joke along with the clip that a relative in India forwarded to me, where someone is making humorous comments about the PM’s monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’, the author’s main thrust being that instead he should have talked about ‘kaam ki baat’ – about work rather than mere thinking about it. Well, ‘mann’ can also mean vision, and it is only someone with a clear ‘man’ who can have an enlightened vision.
And that only underscores further that unity of minds that allows such jokes (and jokers) to be taken at face value. One shudders to imagine what could befall the perpetrator of such innocent gibes in neighbouring countries where democracy is only a façade and humour is severely proscribed on ideological or scriptural grounds. And where minds are ‘left at the counter’: as my Indian friend advised me to do when he paid a ticket for me to accompany him to see a Hindi film in the days when they were worth seeing…
* Published in print edition on 26 March 2021
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