Imagine a happy economic scenario for India: double-digit growth rate, tens of millions of jobs getting created every years, fiscally responsible government having made overflowing coffers, state finances with massive surpluses instead of huge deficits (which is the present case), and similar good tidings. Had our economy were so good, how would our political masters have responded the novel coronavirus?
It gives me the shudders to even think about such a possibility. Had the economy been in the pink, politicians would have imposed an indefinite lockdown—at least till a decline in cases or, better, till a vaccine is invented and made available at mass scale. They would have imposed a house arrest on every citizen. Politicians just love the lockdown. Chief Ministers from different parties clamor for its extension; one of them even threatened shoot-at-sight orders—apparently shooting us to save us from the virus!
Thankfully, the economy was in an awful shape even before the Covid-19 epidemic hit us. It is awkward to use ‘thankfully’ in such a manner but that is the truth.
We should be thankful to God, if he exists, for bad things.
The booze lovers who queued up in front of liquor shops a few weeks ago must have thanked their lucky stars for the pathetic state of state finances. For the excise states get from liquor sale constitutes a substantial part of their revenues; and this was the reason that Chief Ministers decided to open up booze.
This reminds me of Quintus Arrius’ message to the slaves rowing the Roman war ship in Ben Hur: “Now listen to me, all of you. You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live.”
Those who like their drinks are allowed to do so not because of the great liberal principle that a man or woman should be allowed to exercise their free will and consume alcohol if they wish to, even if they indulge in some vice so long as they don’t hurt others; they are allowed to do so because the great ship of state has to keep moving. Or the Leviathan has to be kept alive.
Individual freedom, civil liberties, democratic rights don’t matter; states matter, the State matters.
Had state finances not been as messy as they are, our political masters would have continued prohibition by the backdoor for very long, if not forever. Make no mistake about it, the ban on sale of alcohol for several weeks was unannounced prohibition.
Our politicians were giving vent to their moralizing instincts. To paraphrase David Horowitz, inside every politician there is a moralizer and a tyrant screaming to get out. For weeks, prohibition was imposed all over the country in the name of fighting the novel coronavirus; it would have continued had it not been the empty coffers.
Profligacy of state leaders has saved us from the sanskari nightmare.
In fact, the gradual phasing out of the lockdown is also for the purpose of restarting the economy and replenishing the public exchequer rather than restoring the civil liberties and democratic rights that have been enshrined in the Constitution. Our politicians keep us alive to serve this ship of the State.
And, by the way, it is not just Indian politicians who want to keep people under lock and key; many leaders in the West also want to do the same. Even in America, the ‘land of the free,’ there are Democratic governors and mayors who have locked down the people in their jurisdictions and kept the keys with themselves.
In fact, there are American politicians who have themselves violated the lockdown rules that they thrust upon their voters. And some of them were so shameless and insolent that they justified their actions.
No violations by the powers that be have been reported in India, which is not surprising, for the media has stopped being critical of anybody who wields the danda, literal as well as figurative. As I have written earlier too, journalists are not only not opposing the violation of human rights and civil liberties but also instigating the authorities to further erode all democratic rights of citizens by saying such things as ‘yahaan lockdown ki dhajjiyan udai ja rahi hain’ (here the lockdown is being smashed to smithereens).
But is the media, shamelessly compromised as it is, beyond redemption? Again two negatives cancel each other out. The media is not only dishonest but also dishonestly dishonest—that is, a journalist or media house never remains faithful to the clients (companies, political parties, whoever, whatever) that purchase their services. Again two negatives cancel out each other.
The filth all around that most Indians suffer also seems to have strengthened their immunity against flus. This perhaps explains the relatively lower effect of the coronavirus.
What saves us are the various manifestations of evil—profligate governments, bad economic policies, dishonestly dishonest media. Such are the ironies of this postmodern world.
And it would be another negative, corruption, that would save us if Big Brothers become too big and bothersome and too moralizing.