Under the Modi regime today, pandemic-battered India is going through one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. Together with the economic and social collapse already brought about, consequent on India becoming the epicentre of the second Covid-tsunami, the cruelty, callousness, and total abdication of responsibility on the part of this fascist regime in protecting the lives and livelihood of people are exposed beyond description. The situation is so horrific that even Modi’s PR work backed by submissive corporate media has become ineffective in concealing it.
A year ago when the pandemic entered India, beginning with obscurantist moves like clasping hands, candle lighting, banging utensils, etc., the more than 3-months nationwide coercive lockdown that Modi superimposed on 138 crore Indians had brought about a complete disruption of people’s lives and livelihood. Despite his incessant sermons on “Atmanirbhar” during this period, Modi didn’t do anything in the direction of strengthening the health care system including availability of medicines and badly needed oxygen supplies, and bringing private-corporate hospitals under social control. As a result of Modi’s policies during pandemic, while top one percent of the richest gobbled up their wealth by 35 percent, an additional 7.5 crore Indians were pushed in to poverty in 2020.
In the meanwhile, in the context of global warnings on a second wave of mutated Covid virus and as many governments in Europe took precautions against it by the last quarter of 2020, the approach of Modi and his PR managers who were celebrating the regime’s ‘victory’ over the coronavirus was one of callous, criminal negligence. It was in this context that the Parliamentary Committee on Health and Family Welfare, being aware of the impending danger, in its 123rd Report made available to speaker of Lok Sabha and chairman of Rajya Sabha during November 2020 and which was tabled in both the Houses of Parliament on February 2, 2021, warned of serious shortage of oxygen cylinders in hospitals and recommended a “robust strategy for containment and mitigation of Covid-19,” and “adequate production of Oxygen for ensuring its supply as per demand in the hospitals.”
However, instead adhering to these recommendations of the parliamentary committee and in gross disregard of it, Modi with his false claim of conquering the pandemic has been reckless in holding massive electoral rallies in different states, hold Kumbh Mela, and so on, violating all Covid- protocols and norms even as the whole country is being ravaged by the fast-spreading- pandemic, with daily infections already crossing the staggering figure of 4 lakh (the number of Covid patients in India was 2394 on May 1 2020) and per day death of more than 3000. Today saffron-fascist Modi regime is being exposed as the most anti-people and reactionary one engaged in concealing Covid cases, death counts and nakedly bullying media to not report facts including assault on independent media persons by saffron goons.
In this gravest situation, along with the intensification of inequality and poverty, instead of strengthening medical facilities and health infrastructure under public control, thereby ensuring universal healthcare to people, Modi is undermining it by decontrolling everything connected with health sector. Healthcare being the pillar of people’s sustenance, even imperialist countries have extended vaccine and oxygen to their citizens free of cost and medicines at affordable prices. On the other hand, by unleashing corporate forces on the production and distribution of vaccine, fascist Modi has superimposed world’s highest vaccine price on the citizens of India, a country that has long championed for free vaccines and affordable medicines for people in all international fora. And, as people are gasping for air and collapsing due to lack of life-saving oxygen, black-marketing and hoarding of oxygen cylinders are thriving across the country.
In this horror situation, our immediate demands are:
- Production, procurement, distribution of vaccine should be immediately brought under state control for which provisions of the Epidemics Diseases Act, Compulsory Licensing of the Patents Act, and Drugs Control Act can be used.
- Vaccine should be made available to all free of cost
- Immediate nationalisation of production and distribution of oxygen in the country.
- Strengthen country’s public health system including adequate availability of hospital beds and medicines as affordable to people including extension of healthcare facilities at homes
- Private hospitals should brought under public control through an ordinance
- Expert medical advice should be sought from a team of concerned medical experts including immunologists and virologists and should be made available to public and government’s dependence on pharma companies for information should be stopped.
- Responsible science reporters and pro-people journalists being best sources of information should have full freedom to report on Covid related issues. This is of utmost significance in view of such fascist moves like Yogi's threat of imposing NSA on those who report on oxygen shortages in UP.
- Image-building exercises/expenditures like Central Vista project should be wound up and public money generated thus should be diverted towards securing the lives and livelihood of people.
- Urgent steps are to be taken for an appropriate pandemic-tax on the super-rich, reintroduction of wealth tax in view of the unprecedented concentration of wealth, and an increase in corporate tax for mobilising the required money.
- Ensuring livelihood of people including contract and casual workers, landless poor peasants, marginalised and oppressed including Dalits, Adivasis, fisher-people is equally important as protection of their lives through proper Covid-management. Together with the revamping of MNREG program and free distribution of food stock with FCI, a nationwide initiative with the involvement of state and local governments for ensuring free food, medicines, shelter and other amenities affordable to poor and migrant workers are urgently needed.
- Scarcity of medical staff in the immediate context should be resolved through involving rural doctors and sanitation/health workers.
- Covid management primarily being a health issue, unnecessary police intervention and harassment of the people should be immediately stopped.
- To deal with the pandemic, budgetary allocation for health should be enhanced along with a slashing of the defence budget.
- Anti-farmer black laws should be abolished forthwith, and as long as farmers' agitation is continuing, full-fledged Covid-testing and treatment centres should be established in all struggle centres.
An Empowered High Level Committee composed of medical experts, politicians, economists, and concerned scholars should be entrusted with the task of overseeing the implementation of the above demands.
The Party declares its solidarity with the suffering people and appeal them to unitedly come forward for compelling the regime for implementing these immediate minimum demands.
CPI (ML) Red Srar
1st May 2021
Sudden escalation in the second wave of COVID-19 in India with over 3 lakh cases (315660 cases recorded in India at 11.15 pm on April 21, 2021 is the highest-ever single-day spike in coronavirus infections in the world. Till now, 300310 were the highest single-day infections reported in US on January 2, 2021) and more than 3000 deaths per day has again belied the neoliberal pundits’ prediction of an uptrend in its economic indicators. Ongoing nation-wide vaccination drive that is leaving people to the mercy of Indian and multinational pharma companies coupled with re-imposition of virus management measures such as containment zones, night curfews, reduction in working-time and reverse migration of workers and so on will further dampen economic activity in general. Though IMF and other international agencies had predicted an economic recovery with double-digit GDP growth rate in 2021, such a prospect seems to be very dim as of now. Even UNCTAD’s modest forecast that India is to recover at the rate of 3.9 percent in 2021 is also going to be wishful thinking in view of the critical situation in the country. According UNCTAD, rather than the stimulus packages aimed at easing supply-side constraints (meaning pro-corporate stimulus packages, a large increase in public spending for pandemic relief that is expected to boost the purchasing power of the people is the only route towards recovery.
Revealingly, as already discussed much, India’s economic collapse in 2020 has been historic since the accumulated income loss as measured in terms of GDP for the fiscal year 2020-21 relative to 2019-20 (pre- COVID period approximately) was 27.7 percent compared to around 4 percent for the global economy. On the other hand, UNCTAD forecasts a 4.7 percent GDP growth for world with a 4.5 percent growth for US and 8.1 percent for China (according to latest report, China has recorded 18.3 percent GDP growth during the first quarter of 2021), and an average 4.7 percent growth for the world economy in 2021. This growth “will still leave the global economy over $10 trillion short of where it could have been by the end of 2021 if it had stayed on the pre-pandemic trend.” However, in view of the second wave of the pandemic at a global level, on account of pro-corporate/neoliberal austerity steps and supply-side policies, even the moderate predictions of UNCTAD regarding an economic recovery are going to be too optimistic.
Of course, both international and Indian sources have already acknowledged Indian economy’s historic collapse, along with IMF’s own characterisation of the same as the “worst among G-20 countries” in 2020. Obviously, this has been due to the far-right, crony capitalist policies of Modi regime such as Demonetisation and GST coupled with the most stringent, most prolonged, ill-conceived, coercive and authoritarian lockdown superimposed by it on a population of 138 crore. That’s, the neoliberal fascist offensive by Modi regime that acted as economic holocausts has led the entire economy to a frozen state bringing all productive activities to a standstill as exemplified in a paralysis of the agricultural sector that provides sustenance to 50 percent of the people and destruction of the informal and traditional sectors which are the sole source of livelihood for 95 percent of the 52 crore workforce in India.
A corollary of this neo-fascist offensive has been the unprecedented concentration of the country’s wealth with Ambanis and Adanis through such measures as pro-corporate tax exemptions, neoliberal labour and environmental deregulations and the series of stimulus packages that directly channelled trillions worth of public money into corporate coffers. And, in consonance with the logic of neoliberal accumulation, this fabulous wealth appropriation by the billionaires, instead of contributing anything to the employment-oriented economy, went on ballooning the money-spinning speculative spheres, again leading to further appropriation of public assets by a handful of the corporate superrich. Modi’s megalomaniac’s approach to COVID, starting from such obscurantist practices as “switching off lights” and “banging vessels” and finally superimposing the most coercive and stringent lockdown at a stretch for two months in an unjustified and uncalled for manner had led India to the disastrous situation of the worst performing economy in the world during 2020.
In this context, when the COVID tsunami in the form a ‘second wave’ is ravaging India, its devastating impacts are on the top of the severe damage to the economy that has already been inflicted by Modi’s corporate-saffron fascist policies. For instance, joblessness which is highest in India’s recorded history, have already pushed tens of millions into absolute poverty. However, instead of a badly needed public spending program, Modi, at the behest of his corporate friends, has accelerated the privatisation-corporatisation agenda and all-round neoliberal policies with intensified vigour. Consequently, for instance, under the nationwide covid-vaccination drive, without even resorting to namesake public control, Modi has entrusted the vaccine production, its price determination and distribution solely to big pharma, both Indian and foreign, leading to a further amplification of all the pandemic-induced socio-economic vulnerabilities in the country. Following the announcement of his pro-corporate vaccine policy that is to take effect from May1, 2021, the Serum Institute, the producers of Covishield, that constitutes 90 percent of India’s vaccine supply as of now, has suddenlyrevised its price that was available at private hospitals at a price of Rs.250 to a whopping Rs.600 per dose. While it ensures super-profit for vaccine monopolies, as in the case of all far-right policies of Modi, it is intended to push large sections of poor out of the social safety net.
Coming to the economic scenario, while Modi regime is denying vast majority of Indians their basis sustenance, as reported by the Forbes 2021 list, the ranks of Indian dollar billionaires have swelled further from 102 to 140 in 12 months, their combined wealth doubling to $596 billion in just the past year, when the working and oppressed people of India were bearing the entire burden of the first wave of Covid. According to Forbes, these 140 billionaires now gobble up 22.7 percent of India’s GDP of $2.62 trillion. While the economy was contracted and vast majority of Indians were pushed down on the economic ladder, the combined wealth of the 140 billionaires has almost doubled to $ 596 billion (the combined wealth of the top two -- Ambani ($84.5 billion) and Adani ($50.5 billion) -- comes to $135billion) in the year 2020. Forbes also noted how, in spite of occasional ups-and-downs, the stock market scaled new heights during the same period leading to a gallop in wealth appropriation by the speculative superrich class. Thus, when the GDP contracted by more than one-fourth, the combined wealth of India’s crony capitalists went up by more than 90 percent! This situation, that’s characterised as “prosperity rules at the very top” while majority collapses continues unabated in 2021.
While India thus has the third highest number of billionaires in the world after the United States and China, India under Modi has totally abolished the wealth tax along with reduction of corporate tax from 30 percent 15 percent. A 10 percent wealth tax (as a pandemic tax) alone on the superrich would have yielded many lakh crore rupees to the public exchequer which we could have been used for running the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme to provide sustenance to tens of millions of poorest Indians for many years. This tax money should have also been used for distributing food grains to the hundreds of millions of starving Indians including migrant workers from the buffer stocks which during the pandemic time in mid-2020 reached 104 million tons. In the same vein, this money would have been used for extending healthcare and education to the poor. On the contrary, the anti-people fascist character of the regime has become self-evident to the whole world, as India (having third position in the number of billionaires and second in food and agricultural production) ranked 131 in UN Human Development Index-much below ‘least developed’ sub-Saharan, Latin American and Asian countries.
Meanwhile, under the cover of “Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan” which is another reincarnation of “Make in India”, many lakh crore worth of “stimulus packages” were being granted to the corporate thugs called “wealth creators”, along with outright sell-out of the entire key and strategic sectors including mining, transport, defence, banks and insurance, space exploration, power distribution, health research, and entire frontier technologies to foreign and Indian corporates. While even the US under Biden in the beginning of 2021 again announced a ‘rescue package’ worth $1.9 trillion (equivalent to almost 90 percent of Indian GDP) mainly as direct cash transfers to people, the paltry Rs. 2 lakh direct benefit transfer to the people (along with Rs. 27 lakh crore worth corporate ‘stimulus package’) carried out by Modi during 2020 amounts to just one percent of the country’s GDP. Its outcome has become clear. For, on account of demand-push initiatives, according to latest forecasts, unemployment in US is expected to fall from 8.1 percent in 2020 to 4.1percent in 2022 along with an economic recovery in 2021.
But under the corporate-fascist Modi regime that uses COVID as an opportunity to suck out whatever left in the arteries of common people for fattening corporate cronies, the economic contraction has become irreversible and is going to accelerate further. Obviously, in consonance with the character of neoliberal accumulation, the biggest-ever wealth transfer to the billionaire class is not used for employment-oriented production, but to horrific levels of speculation, plunder of nature and other money-spinning businesses. As we have previously analysed, Modi’s nexus with the speculative corporate oligarchs like Ambani and Adani has pushed India into a vicious corporatisation-speculation trap again leading to the explosive growth of the most corrupt and parasitic corporate class sucking out wealth from the real economy through manifold ways while remaining at the sphere of speculation.
At a time when even neoliberal centres have suggested a return to public-expenditures and demand-push policies for sustaining the economy, saffron-fascist regime is unwilling to deviate from its arch-reactionary character. Modi’s repeated corporate-stimulus packages is continuously pulling back the badly-needed investment in the productive spheres. The latest example of this is his COVID vaccine policy of unleashing big-pharma over the production, distribution and marketing of vaccines in the country. Even in this hour of crisis when India has become the epicentre of the second wave of COVID, Modi is reluctant to resort to a public financing of the vaccination project; instead he is keenly using the vaccination drive for unbridled profiteering by private pharmaceutical companies. Being a typical neo-fascist regime, Modi govt. is deploying all avenues at its disposal for the maximum wealth appropriation by corporate speculators at the shortest possible time. And this saffron fascist move against workers and all oppressed including dalits, adivasis, minorities, women and even children, and on political opponents and dissenters is quite unparalleled today. A broad antifascist front capable of defeating the saffron-fascist regime is the only political option to overcome this horrific situation.
India has become the epicentre of the second wave of COVID-19 with over 3.46 lakh fresh cases as of 11.15 pm on April 23, 2021 (the highest-ever single-day spike in coronavirus infections in the world) along with around 3000 deaths per day. Information on the appearance of mutant variations of Covid in Europe and Africa had been there in mid-2020, and its likely spread to Asian countries was already predicted. And when the second wave of Covid actually started in Europe towards the last quarter of 2020, all the governments there have taken precautions including closing down of borders. But Modi govt, as usual, took a criminal negligence to this information and no preparation was done to meet the impending challenge. Through obscurantist and megalomaniac practices such as ‘switching of lights’ and ‘banging vessels’ followed by the superimposition of the most stringent and most prolonged coercive lockdown in gross disregard of the livelihood and sustenance of hundreds of millions of poor people including migrant workers, and without doing anything towards strengthening the healthcare system, during the first phase of Covid itself, Modi regime has exposed its incapacity and inefficiency in dealing with the pandemic. At the same time, using Covid as a cover, neoliberal, corporate-saffron fascist policies are pursued with intensified vigour.
Today, the Covid surge in India comes at a time when countries like US are reportedly witnessing first signs of recovery from the year-long crisis. While re-imposition of virus management measures such as containment zones, night curfews, job-losses and reverse migration of workers and dampening impact on economic activity along with total failure of administration are there in the second wave too, what is striking now is the nation-wide vaccination drive that accompanies the Covid surge. India being a leading traditional vaccine producer, Modi using his atmanirbhar plank till now was claiming it as self-reliant in Covid vaccine too, and Modi has been encouraging vaccine and oxygen exports much larger than what was mandated by international commitments. Meanwhile, both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech were respectively giving Covishield and Covaxin at Rs.150 to the government which the latter was distributing free of cost through state governments and at Rs.250 (including Rs.100 as service charge /hospital user fee) through private hospitals. This remained the situation even as states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Kerala were struggling to get vaccine doses supposed to combat COVID-19, along with the shipping out of large stocks of vaccines to foreign destinations for attracting global focus on the image-conscious Modi. It was only when vaccine shortage became acute and public pressure mounted that Modi govt. came forward with a revised Covid Vaccine Policy on April 19.
The revised policy, in the guise liberalising the availability of vaccines, has completely overhauled the existing procurement of vaccines from the two private players, viz., Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Henceforth (from May1 onward), their supply will be divided into two baskets: 50 per cent for the Centre, and 50 per cent for the open market through which state governments, private hospitals, and industries that have facilities to administer the vaccine, will be able to procure doses directly from manufacturers. Revealingly, after this strategy was announced by Modi, it was immediately followed by the Serum Institute of India (SII) on April 21 announcing the revised prices for its vaccine — Rs 400 per dose to state govts, and Rs 600 per dose to hospitals (Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy’s which will distribute the Russian Sputnik V shot have not made an announcement so far). Adar Poonawalla CEO of SII has openly declared about his interest in supplying vaccine specifically to private hospitals rather than to state govts, since it is not mandatory to sell through them as per the new policy. Further, based on the new policy, foreign pharma giants will be free to directly sell their vaccines in the open market at prices decided by them!
Thus, in conformity with its far-right, pro-corporate orientation, by compelling the state governments and hospitals to procure vaccine at prices determined by corporate pharma companies, Modi regime has deregulated the Covid vaccine production, pricing marketing and distribution in India leading to the opening up of new avenues of black marketing, hoarding and exclusion of the vast majority poor and weaker sections from vaccination altogether. Its immediate outcome is a collapse of state finances too. Observers have already pointed out that with the possible entry of middlemen into the scene, the price of a dose of vaccine in the open market controlled by vaccine mafia may immediately go up to Rs.1000. Though there are a number of public sector vaccine companies which are capable of producing Covid vaccine, Modi has confined them to the production of traditional vaccines only in which corporate pharma companies have little interest. Along with the announcement of revised vaccine policy, Modi has offered an advance of Rs. 3000 crore to SII and Rs. 1500 crore to Bharat Biotech, which if allotted to well-established public sector vaccine companies like Haffkine, Central Research Institute, Pasture Institute, BCG Vaccine Laboratory, HBL Integrated Vaccine Complex , etc. would have yielded enough vaccines affordable to common people. But a regime bent on demolishing public sector cannot do that. Chapter XVI of the Indian Patents Act empowers the govt to intervene in emergency situations and revoke the patent right granted to a company if it is reluctant to make the invention available to the public at affordable prices. Obviously, a corporate-bootlicking regime cannot resort to such Compulsory Licensing provisions of the Indian Patents Act for bringing the private players under social control.
Ironically, in many developed capitalist countries including the US where healthcare is highly privatised, people are vaccinated for free and the regimes there are reluctant to deregulate the vaccine industry. In view of the second wave of Covid, many companies there have announced distribution of vaccine “on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.” On the other hand, with Modi’s deregulation of Covid vaccine business, the Indian private pharma giant SII is going to gobble up 2.5 to 3 times the profit since May 1. Thus, with its new Covid vaccine policy, Modi regime has unfolded itself as the most reactionary and anti-people one in the world. By allowing vaccine mafia to reap super-profits amid the pandemic that ravages the whole country and transforming it into a ‘hell’, Modi regime has become a ‘merchant of death’. In this context, we appeal to all to come forward upholding the universally accepted right to free vaccination as people’s fundamental right to live. The political task at this juncture is to build up a broad unity against this regime that has left people to the mercy of corporate vaccine mafia.
CPI (ML) Red Star
24th April 2021
CPI(ML) Red Star Statement on Covid-19
When PM Modi has told the people in his brief address that his government has done everything possible to confront the pandemic and there is nothing more to be done now except waiting for the Vaccine to come, there are many serious questions we have to ask him. The Covid-19 was declared a pandemic on 12th March by the WHO. Before that the first case was detected in India on 30th January. Nothing was done to check the international passengers at airports, to test and quarantine them, So, during this period 15 lakh passengers reached India without checking.
On 24th March, just after closing down all means of transport, without announcing plans for preparing the people to face the pandemic, abruptly the Lockdown was announced, with Modi claiming that in three weeks’ time it will be contained. Now after many Lockdowns, followed by continuing series of Unlocking lasting over 7 months, the number of Covid19 patients has increased from 500 to nearly 79 lakhs and the number of dead is already 1,18,000. Nobody believes these numbers, including the WHO. Since the state governments are asked by the centre to cut down the testing, the actual figures Covid19 patients in India, already in second position, may have crossed the figures of US, 88 lakhs, the first in the list long back. Except calling upon everyone to use masks, clean the hands and keep physical distancing everywhere, the only thing the Prime Minister and his Home Minister are doing nothing except repeating let us wait for the vaccine. And in the Bihar elections, the BJP has made free supply of vaccine as one of its election promise, clearing the message it is going to be charged!
Meanwhile what is happening in the country? Nobody knows the actual number of patients died of Covid19, as well as through other diseases and accidents, during the exodus from cities following 24th March Lockdown, due to starvation and malnutrition. As almost 30 crores contract/casual workers were thrown out of jobs, and most of them are not yet rehabilitated, the number of jobless people has sky-rocketed. Meanwhile even all existing workers’ rights are also cut, economy has further contracted, opened units are also cutting down number of workers, and as a result they are impoverished further.
The Modi govt. has refused to ask the managements to pay wages for the lockdown period or provide allowances to the unemployed, free rations, free testing and treatment to all, while announcing a series of assistances to the corporates. Even the medical staffs are not paid wages regularly, forcing them to strike at many places. As the number of tests are drastically cut, and in the festivals and political rallies as in present Bihar elections all restrictions are violated, the number may jump up in the cases at any time creating catastrophic conditions. Already there are reports from Europe, Africa and Latin America about a second wave of increase in the number of Covid19 patients. In this situation, once again the CPI(ML) Red Star is putting forward the following urgent demands:
- Remove restrictions on tests, provide free tests for 3 or 4 times more, hospitalize those affected and make quarantine compulsory. It will help to locate the patients and prevent uncontrolled spreading. Continue necessary restrictions on festivals, meetings, and providing safety kits to all those who need it. Provide unemployment allowances to all jobless, free family ration and free treatment for all.
- BJP is the ruling party at the centre. In Bihar it has announced that it will provide free vaccines to all in Bihar if it is voted back to power. Other parties are also announcing such promises in different states. The vaccine should not become an issue in Election Manifesto of any party. The central and state governments should ensure that the vaccine is made available free of charge to all citizens.
- Contrary to Modi’s claims, the testing, treatment and quarantine is not provided free of charge in many states. As a result, more and more people have to depend upon private hospitals. From the beginning it was demanded that the private hospitals should be brought under the control of the government. Now many reports are coming out from practically all states that they are fleecing the patients enormously and some of them are even running ‘organ trade’. The central and state governments should be asked to bring them under control, and a campaign should be launched, especially focusing on those running mafias for organ trade etc. for bringing them under government control till the Covid19 subsides. Take stringent action against private hospitals who used Covi19 pandemic to loot patients and indulged in unlawful activities. Organize agitations against corrupt hospitals to compel government to take action.
- On the question of unlocking of transport sectors there should be a uniform policy. Now airways, taxis, buses, metros and even some special trains and in Mumbai some of the local trains have started operating. But from some states not even essential long distance trains are not started. In the special trains tickets are very costly. At the same time Railways privatization process is taking place fast. A policy should be worked out according to concrete conditions in each state to run essential trains which is the only long distance transport available for the common people taking necessary precautions based on discussions with people’s representatives.
Polit Bureau, CPI(ML) Red Star
The spread of Corona Virus in India has been on the upswing despite the measures undertaken by the state. In most parts of India the suffering has been immense. The central Government took up the issue of Covid 19, with great amount of delay. From early February WHO started warning the Governments all around about the impending dangers of the pandemic. That time Indian Government was busy in organizing ‘Namaste Trump’ and the ruling party at Centre was busy with the operation Kamal to overthrow the Congress Government in MP. As The Janata Curfew was declared on 22nnd March and total lockdown on 24th March, the issue started being taken up seriously. To shirk the responsibility of the state, it found a very convenient target. The Tabligi Jamaat’s (TJ) seminar (13-15 March) in Markaz Nijamuddin was blamed for the spread of Corona by the Government and then by the media. Definitely some lapses must have occurred in organizing of the seminar at this time, and a large assembly taking place during a pandemic is inexcusable at one level.
At the same time thousands of people had come to India for the event ‘Namaste Trump’. Nearly two lakh people were exposed to this event. The Temples and Mutt congregations were going on. The TJ people had come to India with due permissions and screenings at airports. Despite all this the move to blame them for spreading Corona just exemplified the mind set and political manoeuvre of the Government. Demonising Tablighis was to target the whole Muslim Community of country.
The Godi (Lap) Media (or Communal media) went hysteric in proclaiming that Tablighis were deliberately spreading the disease as per the plan. This is their ‘Corona Jihad’ and they are preparing ‘Corona Bomb’ in Markaz, which is at stone’s throw from the police station of the area! The reach of this section of media is astounding. It got picked up and ‘Muslims are deliberately spreading the disease’ became part of the ‘common social understanding’. The impact on the social life was instant. Muslim truck drivers at places had to run away to escape the mobs. The Muslim vegetable vendors were beaten up at places and not permitted in many housing colonies.
After some of these Tablighis were quarantined and admitted to hospitals, it was a heyday for the fake news makers. What started doing rounds was that these Tablighis are making obscene gestures to nurses, are spitting, and are moving in the wards without clothes. All this gave grist to the mill of Islamophobia, already peaking in India. Police promptly went into action and cases were launched against the Tablighis who had come from abroad. The cases filed were under various clauses related to violation of VISA rules, spreading the epidemic, and also preaching Islam.
In couple of judgments on the issue, the role of media and police has come from scathing criticism. The blatant falsehood of FIR’s and the propaganda of section of Media stand exposed. In its judgement the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High court, the observation of the court are remarkably reflecting of the state of affairs of the attitude of police and media towards Muslims. The High Court clearly stated that the action against Tablighis is an attempt to find the scapegoat for the Covid 19. It observes, “, “A political Government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats. The aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken.” And further critiquing the media, the Court observes, “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading covid-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners.”
The judgment should go down as a case study of the attitude of state (police) and media towards its religious minorities in the country as those Muslims who came from aboard for seminars or touring the country were harassed to no end. The Court states, “This action indirectly gave warning to Indian Muslims that action in any form and for anything can be taken against Muslims. It was indicated that even for keeping contact with Muslims of other countries, action will be taken against them. Thus, there is smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and Muslim for their alleged activities. The circumstances like malice are important consideration when relief is claimed of quashing of F.I.R. and the case itself.”
Incidentally as Covid 19 shows us that those who matter and those who spread information are totally biased and look for scapegoats among Muslims, it also shows that there are some who are treated as Holy Cows. In the recent Delhi violence most of those who have been targeted are those who were active in protests against Government in anti CAA-NRC agitations. Those who gave provocative speeches, Desh Ke Gaddaron ko, (Anurag Thakur), There are rapist amongst those participating in the protests (Parvesh Varma) and ‘We will dislodge them physically (Kapil Mishra), are very much moving around while those who talked of peaceful protests are under the scanner.
Similar attitude was also observed in the series of bomb blasts, which shook the country between 2006-2008. Just one example will suffice, in the aftermath of Makkah Masjid blast (Hyderabad) scores of Muslim youth were arrested right away. They were released again by Court for the lack of any credible evidence. In Malegaon blast case ditto, one of the accused in the blast Pragya Thakur is on bail and has become the law maker. In practice what is ruling is the biased attitude, targeting some for their religion and exonerating others, again for their belonging to a particular religion!
In 2020 September Issue of Red Star, under the title “India’s Economy is projected for the Biggest-ever Contraction”, quoting both international sources and official Indian agencies, we have briefly outlined the unravelling economic scenario for India in 2020. Accordingly, IMF, World Bank and ADB, together with India’s own Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MoSPI), RBI, and the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), have come to a consensus on the projection that the Indian economy was moving to a 4.5 percent contraction in 2020. Some independent researchers even predicted a shrinkage of India’s GDP from $2.11 trillion as estimated in 2019 to $ 1.9 trillion in 2021. Of course, independent institutions such as the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP), had even went a step ahead warning an impending 15-22 percent contraction for the economy. Among the factors identified by these studies that led to this historic downturn, the most important was the prolonged, ill-conceived and coercive and authoritarian lockdown superimposed by Modi.
However, most of these agencies were unwilling to have a close scrutiny of the economic performance of the 6 years (2014-20) of Modi’ rule and more or less were concentrating on the pandemic-link of the economic crisis including the regime’s ill-conceived policies that accentuated it. Though India’s per capita GDP has been one of the lowest in the world (140th rank according to 2019 estimate), corporate centres along with Modi government were still spreading the illusion that by 2024 India’s economy would move to a $5 trillion size. Contrary to the perspectives put forward by well-meaning scholars that Indian economy under Modi has been plunging throughout, the neoliberal pundits and a many academics were reluctant to have a concrete evaluation of the crisis confronted by the broad masses of Indian people. Though a general agreement is there among them that lockdown is the immediate cause for economic reverse, still they are in tandem with the official view that strict lockdown has helped India keep case fatality rate lower than counties like the US, the UK, France, Japan and Italy.
However, following the Economic Review report for August prepared by Indian Finance Ministry that was released following the spread of the information that GDP numbers for the first quarter ending June showed the worst ever quarterly performance by the Indian economy, the government was forced to willy-nilly admit thus: "Data now available for the April-June quarter confirms a significant world-wide year-on-year contraction of output resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. US economy has contracted by 9.1 per cent, UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany by 21.7 per cent, 18.9 per cent, 22.1 per cent, 17.7 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively with the overall Euro area contracting by 15.0 per cent and Japan has contracted by 9.9 per cent. Relative to these advanced nations, India's GDP contraction at 23.9 per cent is slightly higher." And it is to justify this unparalleled collapse which Modi regime whitewashes as “slightly higher” without any scientific basis, that the Finance Ministry claims the “stringent lockdown” as helping the nation to contain its COVID-19 case fatality rate to 1.78 percent, as compared to 3.04 per cent in the US, 12.35 per cent in the UK, 10.09 per cent in France, 1.89 per cent in Japan and 13.18 per cent in Italy. On the contrary, as is evident from IMF’s Gita Gopinath’s unkind comment on India’s GDP contraction as “worst among G-20 countries”, neoliberal centres are unwilling to take Modi regime’s explanation as taken for granted. And of late, Lancet, the renowned medical Journal has vehemently criticised both Modi government and the ICMR under its control for covering up the gruesome pandemic situation in India.
Coming to the economic scene, the 24 percent collapse in GDP in the first quarter (April, May, June) of the financial year 2020-21 has gone against the calculations of the ruling classes. In common parlance, it implies that the total value of goods and services produced in India in April, May and June this year is 24 percent less than the total value of goods and services produced in India in the same period last year. In fact, sector-wise analysis of data shows a more frightening situation. In terms of the gross value added (GVA), barring agriculture where GVA grew by 3.4 percent (on account of favourable weather good monsoon) as claimed by government, all other sectors of the economy saw an absolute collapse. Thus, GVA in construction sector has shrunk by 50 percent, in trade, hotels and similar services by 47 percent, manufacturing by 39 percent and mining by 23 percent. According to some estimate, the entire economic activity during the quarter has been only 25 percent of what it was during the same period in 2019. The job-loss due to the collapse of the relatively labour-intensive sectors mainly comprising informal/unorganised activities alone is estimated at around 140 million. Meanwhile, the Express Research Group of MoSPI has made the startling revelation that compared with the first quarter of the previous financial year, individual consumption expenditure that comprises around 56 percent of GDP experienced a decline worth Rs. 531803 crore (the decline is estimated at 27 percent) and private business investment that is composed of 32 percent of GDP collapsed by Rs. 533003 crore (the decline is estimated at around 50 percent) in the first quarter of the current financial year.
The outcome of this unprecedented decline in respect of the two biggest “growth engines” (i.e., individual consumption and private investment which form economy’s driving force on account of the continuous downsizing of the government expenditure resulting in a decline in its share in GDP to around 10 percent) of the neoliberal economy that accounted for 88 percent of India’s total GDP, The government has no data regarding the millions of informal/unorganised workers, migrant and daily workers who lost means of livelihood and employment, though unofficial estimates count them in the range of 12-14 crore. As estimated by CMIE, around 21 million white collar professional employees and 5 million industrial workers have been sacked in India during the past one year alone that does not all include self-employed professionals like doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, etc. As a matter of fact, the 23.9 percent GDP contraction in the first quarter of 2020-21 as estimated by Indian Finance Ministry, on account of paucity of data, is not based on the real state of the economy pertaining to the informal sector. Therefore, as pointed out by US-based neoliberal experts like Raghuram Rajan, if the damage to the informal sector is also taken into consideration, then the economic collapse will be worst in sharp contrast to the GDP drop of 12.4 per cent in Italy and 9.5 per cent in the US, two of the most COVID-19 affected economies. Hence, as the global economy is going to contract by 4.3 percent this year (as calculated by UNCTAD, this year the world will experience a complete wipe-out of $ 6 trillion in terms of GDP –equivalent to the combined GDP of Brazil, India and Mexico), as estimated by MOSPI, Indian economy is going to collapse at the rate of 7 percent in the current year!
However, the very same neoliberal centres who now expose India as the worst performing economy were unanimous in characterising it as the “best performing country” in the world in 2014 with a GDP growth rate of around 7 percent when Modi government assumed power 6 years ago. Since then, what happened has been an irreversible downward trend in GDP growth rate along with the intensifying poverty, deprivation and pauperisation of the broad masses of toiling people as manifested in the historic decline in production, biggest unemployment in five decades, horrific levels of inequality and corruption. Though already discussed much, let us go through a few indices to unravel this historic plunge of India during 2014-20. For instance, in 2014 India’s ranking in Global Hunger Index (prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute) was 55. Under Modi, within two years it steadily declined to 100 in 2017 and further to 102 in 2019 among 117 countries in the world and much below that of all South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka (66), Nepal (73), Bangladesh (88) and Pakistan (94) in 2019. Regarding hunger and deprivation of children, an indication of the seriousness of poverty and deprivation, Indian position is despicable. In India, only 9.6% of all children between 6 to 23 months of age are given a minimum acceptable diet and medical care. India is also notorious for under-5 mortality rates and prevalence of undernourishment owing to inadequate food. And, as an indicator of inequality and deprivation, India’s rank out of 189 countries on the 2019 Human Development Index released by UNDP is 129. Of course, there is no dearth of statistics highlighting the extent of poverty, hunger, inequality, unemployment, corruption, etc. in India.
Let us see the other side of the picture too. Under Modi regime during the same period, the concentration of income and wealth with the superrich Indians witnessed a sky-rocketing. For instance, in 2013, i.e., before Modi’s ascendance to power, the number of dollar billionaires (those having assets worth $100 crore and above) in India was 63. After Modi’s coming in mid-2014, their number steadily grew to 90 and further to 138 in 2019. Ambani who leads this list with $ 8060 crore (equal to around Rs. 6 lakh crore) is the fourth richest in the world today. In the absence of reliable domestic data, we have to depend on international sources such as Forbes, Oxfam, Credit Suisse, etc. to get a real picture on this. While 53 percent of the entire national wealth is gobbled up by just one percent of the superrich, the poorest bottom half of the population owns only around 4 percent of the national wealth as of now. When Modi came to power if one percent of the superrich appropriated around 50 percent of the additional wealth generated in a year, on account of his superimposition of corporate saffron-fascism, today this proportion has grown to almost 80 percent, quite unheard of anywhere in the world!
Over the last six years of Modi regime, this horrific wealth concentration on the one hand, and hitherto unknown levels of deprivation and destitution of the masses on the other, have revealingly taken place along with a process of India’s economic transformation from “best performing” as estimated in the 7 percent GDP growth rate in 2014 (as recognised by both Indian international agencies) to “worst performing” as is manifested in the 7 percent contraction of GDP as now admitted by the Indian Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MoSPI). Obviously, the roots of this destructive process are not caused by any extraneous or external disturbances but a logical corollary of the fascistic “surgical strikes” directed against the people ranging from the superimposed demonetisation to the coercive lockdown pursued by Modi without any economic or medical basis. Demonetisation in 2016 that terrorised and subjugated the people in the guise of dealing with black money was an ingenious move for an unprecedented concentration and centralisation of wealth in most corrupt corporate, crony capitalists. The GST that followed (since mid-2017) was also aimed at bringing India’s goods and services market under the firm control of corporates after demolishing the federal structure of the Constitution. Both these neoliberal-fascist offensives that may be characterised as economic holocausts led the entire economy to a frozen state, brought all economic activities to a standstill and paralysed the agricultural sector that provide sustenance to 50 percent of the people and destroyed the informal and traditional sectors which are the sole source of livelihood for 95 percent of the 52 crore workforce in India.
The whole package of far-right neoliberal polices and direct measures such as pro-corporate tax exemptions, neoliberal labour and environmental deregulations, series of stimulus and economic packages that directly channelled trillions worth of public money into the coffers of corporate thugs and outright loot of public sector banks coupled with the fascistic demonetisation that at a stroke wiped out 86 percent of currency in circulation quite unheard of in modern history, followed by GST and so on have already led India to a historic economic stagnation on the eve of COVID-19 itself. The fabulous wealth thus appropriated by corporates, both foreign and Indian, according to the logic of neoliberal accumulation, instead of contributing anything towards employment-oriented productive sphere, actually went into money-spinning speculative spheres or for further appropriation of public assets by a handful of the superrich billionaires. Consequently, on the eve of COVID-19 itself, Indian economy had entered into the biggest-ever contraction in its history along with its concomitant manifestations in all spheres.
Historically, crisis has been an opportunity for fascists and Modi knows the art of effectively utilising it from his experience of heading both state and central administration. Thus without even consulting the parliament or opposition, and with a four-hour notice, and quite reminiscent of the manner in which demonetisation was implemented, he superimposed the most stringent and most coercive lockdown that continued at a stretch for two months on an economy which, as we noted in earlier articles, was already in ICU. This highly authoritarian and destructive move which is unjustified and uncalled for while collapsed the entire industry and service sectors, also impacted the agricultural sector due to abrupt collapse in demand and freezing of trade and transportation. Only the fascistic administration and its oppressive instrument such as police required to implement the lockdown remained functional. The outcome: India has become the worst performing economy in the world during 2020 April-June quarter.
Now if we take the entire Asian countries, the estimated COVID-triggered economic contraction for this part of the world during this period now hovers around an average of around 6 percent, even as the real economic collapse of India may be larger than the 24 percent now estimated by government’s own agencies. For instance, former chief statistician Pranab Sen had projected a GDP contraction to the extent of 35 per cent if the real situation in the informal sector is also taken in to consideration. Therefore, COVID-19 is only partial explanation for India’s current economic collapse. Rather, it is directly connected with Modi regime’s far-right fascistic policies that serves corporate capital since 2014. The present unparalleled economic collapse of India is corporatisation-induced. To reiterate again without much elaboration, as we have already said, unless this trend is reversed through an appropriate political intervention, the corporate-saffron fascist regime will again try to deploy all avenues at its disposal to carry forward its disastrous pro-corporate agenda and put heavier burdens on the backs of common people.