What would Galbraith have made of the anarchy in India?

It is no longer chaos that Galbraith commented on. With UP CM prescribing oximeters for cow sheds, Gujarat setting up hospitals to treat COVID with ‘Panchgabya’ and Modi Mahal in Delhi, it’s anarchy

Photo Courtesy: @Bhayankur
Photo Courtesy: @Bhayankur
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Sujata Anandan

Economist, diplomat and US ambassador to India during the Kennedy years, John Kenneth Galbraith had once described India as a “functioning anarchy". Everything was chaotic and yet everything somehow seemed to fall into place, he had marvelled. I wonder what he would say about India today were he alive and watching how we have completely mismanaged our Covid crisis. There is no chaos anymore, only anarchy.

Human beings are dying for want of something as basic as oxygen and yet cows – cows! – are being served with oximeters to check their oxygen levels. Where pray? On the tail? Or the hoof? Or the ear? Or the horn? I simply cannot imagine how our human oximeters would work on a cow, though I suppose it is not much cause for worry because don't our cows inhale oxygen and exhale oxygen? In which case, I wonder why hospitals in Lucknow and elsewhere are complaining about running out of oxygen.

I guess Ajay Bisht aka Adityanath is right in lodging FIRs against them for complaining about the lack of such a precious resource. If these doctors and hospitals had better reasoning powers, all that they needed to do was round up all the cows in the state or the country and simply allow them to exhale into an oxygen tank and, voila! There would be no scarcity of the resource at any hospital in the country!

That is notwithstanding the other option offered by a certain charlatan named Ramdev. People need not crowd the cremation grounds for their funerals because with a few deft moves of the fingers, thumb and nostrils, people can breathe in all the oxygen they need. So why are doctors desperately looking out for oxygen concentrators and cylinders? Why, in God’s name, are they not making their dying patients sit up in bed and start working their fingers and noses?

I do notice though that after 83 people in his manufacturing facility came down with Corona, he no longer talks about the curative powers of his wonder drug Coronil which could not succeed in saving the lives of even those sants and mahants who contracted Corona at the kumbh mela.

Then, of course, the government has asked the Indian Council of Medical Research to study the curative powers of the Gayatri mantra! Now if the mantra could cure anything, let alone Corona, we would have long ago been rid of tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases which have been defying vaccines and medical cures, for a very long time. I am surprised they have not added gobar and gomutra to the study – perhaps because at the start of the pandemic last year all those who tried a gomutra cure ended up in hospital with severe complications.

But the worst part of the government mismanagement has been the impossible-to-block-out images of endless funeral pyres across the country. New cremation sites have had to be created, even the Varanasi ghats are unbelievably depressing. Now cemeteries are having to dig ten feet deep to accommodate two bodies in one grave – one at ten feet and the other at the usual six feet when no grave should be uprooted in less than three years. It is quite macabre and every time I see the images or recall them, I break out in goose bumps all over.

All this is complete abdication of responsibility. Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. Narendra Modi is building himself a home, sweet home over the funeral pyres and graves of fellow Indians. I shudder to think of former ambassadors and musicians dying in their cars looking for hospital beds.

Every time, Galbraith's epiphany of India being a functioning anarchy came to my mind. But every one of those times, however chaotic, things came together whether the disasters were caused by epidemics, floods, cyclones, plane crashes or even riots or simply a mismanagement by authorities. There has been nothing of such epic proportions as this mismanagement, though, and it exposes not just the incompetence and inefficiency of the Modi government but its utter callousness and lack of concern for fellow citizens and human lives.

At this point, I have to stress what I have said at other times. World over and in India, I have noticed that it is left, left-of-centre or socialist governments who have been better at Covid management. For example, Angela Merkel's government in Germany or Jacinda Ardern's in New Zealand. In India, I could quote the examples of Kerala and Maharashtra. That is because the non-right wing leaders care more about their people than about their ideology.

It is quite the opposite with right wing governments to whom self and ideology are far more important than the people. For example, Donald Trump's mishandling of Covid in the US is what ultimately had him booted out of office. Boris Johnson in the UK did manage a course correction but the Modi government in India is neither intelligent enough, nor competent nor even interested in saving the lives of fellow Indians.

I feel saddened that after building India up for seventy years to be the fourth largest economy in the world, after being self-sufficient and eschewing all foreign charity at least since 2004, we have now become not just an international basket case but the laughing stock of the world. Once upon a time I was a proud Indian, holding my head high among all my international friends. Now I hang my head in shame and am unable to be anything but apologetic about what is happening in my country.

All that this government knows is how to perpetrate hate and violence. Strangely, the Coronavirus seems to be killing their hating flock as much as it is those being hated. Yet there are still some bhakts as well as enablers of this government, who continue to perpetuate the hate and, unlike Boris Johnson, do not set themselves on a course correction.

I have just one thing to say to this government – a reminder about something I read in William Dalrymple's 'City of Djinns', which is Delhi. Whoever has tried to rebuild or reconstruct the city has lost it. Forever. Right from the Pandavas and Prithviraj Chauhan to Mohammad Bin Tughlaq and even Shah Jahan as well as the mighty British. They all built wonderful monuments on the site of the city of Djinns and lost it by turns. Now Modi is building another monument on the city of Djinns...

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Published: 09 May 2021, 1:01 PM