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South Asia

Revival of Gandhi during COVID-19

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Authors: Omir Kumar and Wriju Banerjee*

This article attempts to trace Gandhian ideals and principles in the measures adopted by India to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, no national leader imagined that this pandemic will be the reason they’ll be forced to change their governance models and will be compelled to devise new strategies to effectively combat the pandemic as well as ensure the smooth functioning of their country. As the virus rapidly spread throughout the world we witnessed national lockdowns being announced, economies crashing, healthcare institutions being overburdened with a rising number of cases, and a general sense of helplessness among countries. India was also one of the 195 countries in the world that fell victim to the novel coronavirus. Although countries struggled to adapt their modes of governance with pandemic India on the other hand saw this as a unique opportunity to rethink its approach towards governance. It formulated numerous policies to revive its economy and at the same time combat the pandemic. The call for Vocal for local, domestic production of medical equipment, constructing a decentralized strategy to combat the impacts of the virus were all measures that assisted India to tactically mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Recently it was also one of the few countries to successfully manufacture a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

These efforts have been applauded by the international community at large but one thing that has gone unnoticed is that most of these measures have a commonality which is that they all have an underlying philosophy of Gandhian ideas behind them. But before we attempt to trace Gandhian ideals in India’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic it’s imperative to first understand Gandhi. 

Understanding Gandhi

The model way used by states to combat the pandemic resembles Gandhian thought and policy in ways more than one. If one were to look closely, they could see the growth of the principles of self-sufficiency within Gandhian thought, which ultimately culminated in the evolution of the Panchayati raj system as we know it today. Gandhi’s adamance for a local, decentralized model of governance is deep-seated in the influence that his younger self grew up with. A subject that intrigued him most was the evolution of the Western capitalist model. The idea of the ‘economic man’, derived from classical economics which emphasized the self-interested nature of all rational beings drew sharp criticism from all opposing thinkers, one of whom was John Ruskin. In his book ‘Unto the Last’, Ruskin dismissed the Smithian notion of division of labour as dehumanizing. This book was Gandhi’s earliest exposure to the theme of capitalism, and it heavily influenced Gandhi’s subsequent works. He wrote Hind Swaraj five years later which followed the same critique of western capitalism and used it to ground the need for self-rule. His focus rested on the countryside and the need to make village republics self-sufficient.

A subtheme within Gandhi’s critique of western capitalism was his opposition to the greed that he believed capitalism harboured, and so what followed was an equally ardent opposition of consumerism. His pushback took the form of an emphasis on a minimalistic  way of living which popularised the image of him known to India today, that of an old man sparingly clothed, whose ashram only served vegetables without spices and which advocated for a simpler way of living. Minimalism was his way of pushing for a ‘limitation of wants’ and a return to simpler times.

Not wanting to see India be bound to the mills of Lancashire and Manchester to feed its consumerist tendencies, Gandhi rallied for the use of khadi which became a popular symbol of his struggle to repel British rule and dependency. He referred to it as the ‘livery of freedom’, but to Gandhi, khadi meant a lot of things. Rather than just being a homespun cloth, he believed khadi contained the essence of a revolution and was a symbol of Indian self-respect and dignity. Further, it was a symbol of an undivided people, of homogeneity and an absence of status. Most importantly, it signified the economic liberation of the masses. In line with Hind Swaraj, he believed that poverty stopped millions from attaining political liberty, as it stripped them of their dignity and limited their potential. He envisioned a humane economic model to counter the British model being enforced upon them and found it in the khadi industry which to this day harbours millions under its employment. Khadi suited Gandhi’s purposes as he recognized that India’s population required labour-intensive employment and so what followed also was opposition to machine usage in places of employment where the same work could be done by people. Poverty he considered one of the many hurdles to attaining ‘Poorna swaraj’, or complete independence.

An extensive character portrait of Gandhi wouldn’t be complete without accounting for the influence Tolstoy’s writings had on him. Gandhi was introduced to Tolstoy’s work during his time in South Africa. Tolstoy by then had written extensively on nonviolent resistance and Christian Anarchism in particular. His book, ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’, published in 1894 laid out his basis for opposing Christian institutionalism, arguing that the ultimate authority for any Christian is their God thus denouncing all forms of state control and instead advocating for divided authority and servant leadership. Alongside John Ruskin, Tolstoy was one of the most important modern writers who influenced Gandhi, with whom he exchanged letters and ideas. Gandhi’s first endeavour at self-sufficiency came in the form of the Tolstoy farm, an ashram he set up in South Africa during his satyagraha against discrimination of Indians.

This idea of building self-sufficient economies eventually seeped into his ideas of economic liberation for the masses and self-dependency of localized units, developing into the idea of the Panchayati Raj system.  This was the culminating point for all Gandhian thought, an anarchical model focused on meeting the minimal needs of all as opposed to feeding the consumerist tendencies of a few. A humane economic model prioritizing the maximization of social welfare but above all, a system that can effectively sustain itself and tend to its own needs. Gandhi believed such a unit would have sustainable agricultural practices without recourse to pollution or excessive usage of pesticides and fertilizers, relying on eco-friendly practices. The land would be owned by those who tilled it and not zamindars, while others would find employment in rural industries such as khadi, handlooms, sericulture, and handicrafts that rely on family labour and do not lead to concentration of wealth. Panchayati raj systems today still hold true to this statement, as many operate their own educational and medical institutions at a time when industrialization has led to the concentration of population in a few cities, where the standard of living has fallen heavily with an equal increment in the size of the ecological footprint.It was in these conditions that Panchayati Raj institutions put up an applaudable fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tracing Gandhi in India’s Fight Against COVID-19

India’s strategy against the pandemic has reflected a lot of Gandhian Principles within it. Federalism and decentralization got a new lease of life in India with the COVID-19 outbreak. If there is one positive that the Indian polity can take away from the crisis, it is the renewed focus on these two tenets. Essential for a democratic nation, both have been enshrined in our Constitution. That is why we have distinct lists earmarking subjects to states and the Centre separately. But time and again, both have taken a backseat, getting overwhelmed by a powerful Centre. This however changed. Public health, as a subject, falls under the State List of the Indian Constitution. And by utilizing its full potential, several states have shot to the center of attention along with the escalating medical emergency.

By responding in a timely and organized manner, these states reflected Gandhi’s commitment to a decentralized form of governance. Take, for example, Kerala. The southern state announced an economic package of Rs 20,000 crore on March 19, being the first state to do so in the country. This was a week before the Centre announced the Rs 1.7 lakh crore financial package to help people during the crisis. Kerala’s announcement was significant because it came at a time when the state had little money in its coffers. Kerala was the first state in the country to report a positive case of the novel coronavirus in late January 2020. In rural Kerala, Kudumbashree movements linked women self-help groups to the panchayat system to provide relief to women and children during the pandemic. Dharavi, being the largest slum in Asia, would have had massive deaths if it was not effectively controlled by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Similarly, the cities of Chennai, Kolkata, and hilly areas that have a long history of Panchayati raj systems and are still governed by it were able to contain the spread of the pandemic. To effectively handle the crisis, it is important to look at the number of recoveries, the number of fatalities along comorbidities. There exists a positive correlation between operating panchayat raj system and effectively handling the pandemic. The robust public delivery system of the Indian state combined with a three-tier government structure was extremely effective in ensuring an effective delivery mechanism of essentials to the most marginalized sections of the society. The Prime Minister has also urged all the Indian States to leverage the decentralized models followed during elections and disaster management to tackle the logistical problems associated with the covid vaccine delivery system. A decentralized mechanism will prove to be extremely efficacious for the delivery of the vaccine to the most remote areas of India. On the economic front, India’s commitment to emerging out of the pandemic as self-reliant or ‘aatmanirbhar’ nation also reinstates Gandhi’s principle for self-sufficiency. His call for rejecting western clothing and manufacturing khadi aimed to serve two purposes – reducing India’s dependency on foreign nations and uplifting the local economy. India’s campaign ‘Vocal for Local’ also intends to achieve these two objectives. Initially, when the whole world was grappling to fight the virus India emerged as the largest producer and supplier of hydroxychloroquine, a prospective drug for treating covid-19. It also exported 50 million hydroxychloroquine tablets to the USA. India also significantly ramped up its production capacity of PPEs and N95 masks with three lakh units each being manufactured daily eventually leading to a surplus within domestic inventories prompting exports of N95 masks to foreign nations. The latest addition to India’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 virus is how it has successfully managed to develop a vaccine. COVAXIN, India’s indigenous COVID-19 vaccine was developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and has already rolled out in the entire country. The Oxford-AstraZeneca has been manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. It says it is producing more than 50 million doses a month. India is also all set to export the vaccines to countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, etc projecting itself as a self-reliant player in the international arena. Even as we approach a post-pandemic world, India’s adoption of Gandhian ideals can prove to be a sustainable strategy that can be continued to help India climb up the global order and present itself as a global hegemon.  

*Wriju Banerjee is a Second Year Student of Political Science at Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, University of Delhi. His area of interest include Philosophy and Political Theory. He plans to enter Academia after his graduation.

Omir Kumar currently doing his major in Political Science with a minor in English from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, University of Delhi. He has keen interest in Public Policy and Political Theory and plans to work in the Public Policy Research domain in the near future.

South Asia

COVID-19 pandemic and positives/negatives of the Pakistani government’s policy towards it

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The covid-19 erupt from Wuhan in December 2019. The first case in Pakistan was observed on February 26th, 2020.It is considered a global pandemic because of its contagious nature. It has engulfed many lives and economies. Whereas Pakistan, despite its socioeconomic and political problems, has tackled covid-19 efficiently so far. Objectives of these policies were to contain and mitigate the spread of covid-19. Pakistan made effective policies to hamper the unfurling nature of covid-19. It was praised by the director-general of WHO and he mentioned it as a lesson for the rest of the world. The upshots of the policies on its citizens were both positive and negative, but they helped a lot in sailing through covid-19.

Covid-19 has accentuated the inadequacy of the health sector. However, to combat covid-19, RFCC assists hospitals to evolve their capacities to provide treatments. Many hotels and motels were converted into quarantine centers. Number of ventilators, gears, beds, and testing capability has been increased. Pakistan got a loan of $760M to improve its medical handling. These policies seem effective as they are the major line to combat covid-19. Number of staff has also increased. These policies play a crucial role in containing Corona virus but due to lack of awareness, many people didn’t get tested. Overall, it played a positive role.

“Out of 220M population, 25% are living below the poverty line and 30% live in grave poverty,” said the PM Imran khan. Therefore, containing the poverty and retaining the economy is an arduous task. For this purpose, the Ehsas program was launched with a stipend money of Rs.12000 for the vulnerable. Employees wouldbe paid a salary during complete lock-down. The government displayed leniency in paying taxes to accelerate the investment. The banks remained open during the nationwide lock-down. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that Ehsas program didn’t prove effective due to the absence of a proper tracking system. The poor and needy people in rural areas were not affable with the technology, therefore they were unable to enroll in this program.

Moreover, the government’s policy of smart lockdown cannot be ignored. It started in April, targeting the disease hotspots. The purpose of this policy was to provide a breathing space to the most vulnerable section of the society. Because nationwide lock-down was threatening food security. Smart lock-down technology played a crucial role and made Pakistan distinctive around the world.

To dampen the adverse effects of covid-19 on society, section 144 was implemented to avoid public gathering. According to the health ministry “home quarantine, zoning of hospitals, and social distancing should be in the nitty-gritty of the policy.” They imposed a ban on air traffic and started screening at the airports for international travellers these measures proved beneficial to some extent. But unfortunately the government couldn’t ensure the SOPs.

In a nutshell, the aforementioned account enables a worthy conclusion that Pakistan has managed to contain the devastating effect of covid-19, however, the danger is not over yet. The second wave of covid-19 has started globally which can overturn the successful results other way round. Therefore, some stringent action should be taken to make the policy of containment of covid-19 more effective that is only possible if there is a consensus between the federal and provincial governments. The only way to limit the dangers of the virus is to come up with the unified and all inclusive national plans.

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South Asia

Who pulls the strings of the government of India?

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While talking to a Cornell college professor, Rahul Gandhi lamented (March 2, 2021) that the RSS was making use of its educational institutions to propagate its tunnel vision (NewsMatters, March 6, 2021). `Wherefrom money comes to run hundreds of thousands of schools’, he asked.

The RSS, founded in 1925, is not only distorting history, and polluting syllabi but also compelling the BJP government to appoint its nominees to key posts whether academic or political.

The RSS’s rationale is that it is their government. As such, they have every right  to make appointments to all political and non-political posts and revise syllabus according to their own version of history.

A bird’s-eye view of appointments

Besides president Kovind Nath, a dalit, and Hindu-monk Yogi Adityanath, several parcharaks (apostles) were nominated for appointment as chief ministers, governors and cabinet ministers. The nominees included ML Khattar, chief minister of Haryana, Trivendra Singh Rawat, chief minister of Uttarakhand, Devandar Fadnavis (Maharashtra), and Ram Thakur (Himachal Pradesh).

The veterans appointed as governors included Balramji Das Tandan (Chhattisgarh), Ram Naik (UP), Om Prakash Kohli (Gujarat), Keshri Nath Tripathi (West Bengal), Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Vidya Saga Rao (Maharashtra), Vaju Bhai Bhala (Karnataka), Padmanabha  Acharya (Nagaland), Jagdish Mukti (Assam) and Tathaghat Roy (Tripura) (Source: Aryana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot (eds), Majoritarian State).

Dr, Lokesh Chandra was made president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Ram Bahadur Roy, former ABVP organizing secretary who was jailed during Indira-Gandhi- imposed emergency was appointed to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts. Baldev Sharma, former editor of the RSS’s Hindi mouth-piece Panchjanya, was appointed chairman of the national Book Trust. Shakti Sanha, private secretary to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was rewarded with appointment of Director of Nehru Memorial and Library. The memorial was the hub of Nehru-Gandhi legacy. A small-time actor Gajendra Chauhan was appointed Chairman of the Films and Television Institute of India. Hindu Nationalist Anupam Kher was appointed head of India’s Board of Film Certification.

Realising that educational institutions are key agents for ideological dissemination, the RSS thrust its nominees as vice chancellors and directors in universities and cultural institutions of higher learning.

RSS’s version of history

A distorted version is taught in RSS-run Vidya Bharti schools. Hindu caste system is well delineated in Rig Veda, Manusmriti and Bhagavad Gita. But, the RSS preaches that the Muslim Turks initiated the untouchability. Turks introduced commodes in India. “Hindus who refused to convert to Islam were forced to clean them. And, thus they became untouchable.”

Conscription power

While addressing a large gathering at Muzaffarpur, Bhagwat said, `RSS volunteers were so disciplined that they could be mobilized in a matter of days should the constitution and laws of the country so demand’. Many senior retired armed forces officers including former army chief General VK Singh have joined the RSS.

Inference

Bhagwat’s bonhomie with politicians, media, judiciary, industry, religious leaders and civil society reflects that the RSS would continue to keep the Modi government under its Octopus claw. Also it is keen to extend its influence in political, societal and non- governmental spheres. To deepen its roots, the RSS has initiated  programmes like Family Awakening (parivar prabodhan),Village Development (grama vikas), and Social Harmony (samara satta). 

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South Asia

Cease-Fire Review: A ray of hope

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Pre-Negotiations are very much crucial to achieve the state of “Negociation Continuelle” (continuous negotiations) the only way due to which conflicting parties go for sustained mode of talks.  On 25th February Director Generals of military operations (DGMO’s) of India and Pakistan contacted with each other to review cease fire agreement, on line of control (LOC), which was held back in 2003.  Both States reaffirmed cease fire agreement and to restart weekly hotline contact at DGMO’s level. The agreement was largely violated by both states for several times and they were accusing each other for violations. But one thing is common that on both sides Kashmiris are suffering, they are raising their children in an environment of fear and severe violence. India and Pakistan are both nuclear capable states of South Asian region and are considered as the custodian of regional peace and stability. And without shadow of a doubt regional peace and security is a collective responsibility of the responsible states. Pakistan and India are the main conflicting parties of South Asian region and Kashmir is the bone of contention between them. Kashmir has been a question of integrity for both States. The Line of control also known as working boundary, divides Indian Kashmir from Pakistani Kashmir. There are several resolutions have been passed by the UN General Assembly to address the Kashmir issue but never implemented. UN wants to solve this issue according to the hopes of Kashmiris. The initiation of bilateral talks in the present outrageous environment is not less than a blessing in disguise and it will be fruitful for all the stakeholders; India, Pakistan and Kashmiris as well. This peaceful move from Pakistan and India is highly appreciated globally because Kashmiri diaspora is present worldwide and they are very much concerned with future of their homeland.

Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi, with his hostile ideology of “Akhand Bharat” assumed office in 2014. His political adventurism based on jingoistic-cum-hawkish policies dragged India State to the verge of staunch illiberalism where identity crisis burst up, which is more lethal than previously existing class crisis. Every community including lower class Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. all are vulnerable to the identity crisis.  On 30th May 2019, he sworn for his second tenure as prime minister of the world’s so called largest democracy. He came with another adventurous mandate and the first demonstration took place when he suspended special status of Kashmir and abrogated articles 370 and 35A. His ideology is regarded as Nazi-inspired ideology because in contemporary scenario only RSS community and other proponents of Hindutva are only considered as “Real Hindustani”. All minorities are suffering in India because their basic living rights are kept aside. The ongoing farmer’s protests shook the foundations of the state, hundreds of thousands of farmers rushed to the Delhi against the anti-famer laws passed by Indian Parliament.

In India Separatist movements are getting pace; minorities are unsatisfied with governing approach of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reuined the secular and democratic face of India. On the other hand, Foreign policy of India is facing severe challenges because PM Narendra Modi’s approach is hostile based on hatred and prejudice. These attributes are fatal for State’s reputation at foreign lands; the recent India-China standoff was just a teaser of BJP’s whole story related to foreign relations. In addition to this, Economic goal of 2025 of India is again became a distant dream just because of belligerent policies of ruling regime.

In contemporary scenario if we look towards India, only Modi-Media nexus will be seen. But in reality the situation is getting worse day by day. The review of cease fire agreement, offered by India, is a positive step towards the regional peace. It is appreciated by both civil and military administrations of both states. When PM Imran Khan assumed office he offered dialogue to his Indian counter-part but Indian Premier refused to go for any sort of talks. India always took a position that to initiate talks first of all, Pakistan has to stop the cross-border terrorism. Both terrorism and talks can never go side by side, this Indian claim is not based on empirical evidences because Pakistan has been facing menace of terrorism  since 2001 and leaving no stone unturned to root out terrorism and safe havens for terrorists.

Currently, India is facing deep internal and external challenges. It is in the interest of India to have peace talks with Pakistan. On the other hand, it is a ripe moment for Pakistan to act decisively because it is the only time when India can review its decision of 5th August 2019.Moreover, it is a ray of hope to establish peace in entire region. This is the time when bi-lateral diplomacy can turn the traditional regional political dynamics. Both states are facing same problems when it comes to poverty, climate change, social security and the list goes on. The realm of these talks should expand and concern parties have to include economic and political regimes in front of each other otherwise momentum of talks will be lost. Regional connectivity is important to have eternal peace, Pakistan and India should review SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) that would provide basis for economic, cultural as well as political connectivity. Major Powers should also play their important role because world cannot afford rivalry between two nuclear states. Now, America is under a democrat President, and they should check every internal and external move of their Strategic and defense ally in Asia-Pacific region. Negotiations between India and Pakistan are in the interest of all other regional and extra-regional actors. Both states should adopt flexible approach while discussing the core issues and should avoid blame game. It will enhance the chances of continuous negotiation which is a pre-requisite for peace and progress.

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