January 03, 2021

Towards 2021 with Optimism

THE Latin term `annus horribilis’ (horrible year) has been widely and understandably used to define the year 2020 which had just ended.  This is a natural description of an unprecedented year, which has seen a global pandemic – the corona virus pandemic – the comparable scale of which happened a full century ago when the “Spanish flu” caused worldwide havoc in 1918-1919. 

The Covid-19 pandemic by the end of the year had afflicted nearly 81 million people and caused 1.8 million deaths.  It caused large-scale suffering, especially for those families whose near ones died and caused recurring health problems for many who survived.

The mass outbreak of disease and the lockdown and other measures undertaken by governments around the world to tackle the epidemic have led to an unprecedented global economic crisis – a grave depression with shut down of production, sharp drop in output and job losses for millions of people. 

The global pandemic also brought out in sharp relief the contradictions and the social and economic inequalities which exist in our societies.  Amidst the economic depression, the super-rich have got richer. The profits of the financial corporations have zoomed up while millions have been plunged into joblessness, poverty and hunger.

The state of India is no different.  India has the dubious distinction of having the second largest number of Covid cases after the United States with the number exceeding 10 million. Nearly 1,50,000 people have died due to the virus.  The unplanned and hasty lockdown imposed by the Modi government plunged the economy into a deep crisis.  The destruction of the economy saw millions of migrant workers trekking back to their faraway villages stalked by hunger and disease. This was mass misery inflicted by a callous government. 

The GDP growth plunged down by minus 23.9 per cent in the April-June quarter and then by minus 7.5 per cent in July-September quarter.  Millions became jobless and this was much more in the informal sector.  The unemployment rate went up to a shocking 24 per cent in April and though it has come down since the reopening of the economy, the level was still high at 8.5 per cent in December. 

Both the pandemic and the authoritarian regime have wreaked havoc on the lives of the people. Hunger stalks the land. According to the Global Hunger Index 2020, India has slipped to the 94th position among 107 countries. This at a time when there are 70 million tonnes of foodgrains stocked in the FCI godowns.

The Covid crisis was utilised by the Modi government to reinforce its authoritarian dispensation just as other authoritarian regimes in the world. First of all, the government refused to provide adequate relief to the people in distress despite bombastic claims of a Rs 20 lakh crore package. In actual terms, government spending was not more than Rs 2.5 lakh crore or less than two per cent of the GDP.  It refused to heed the advice of even neo-liberal economists who advocated handing over cash subsidies to the people to stimulate demand in the economy.

The stimulus package only helped to fatten the profits of the corporates.  The list of billionaires (in dollar terms) reached a new high of 90 billionaires against 80 at the end of December 2019.  The net worth of Mukesh Ambani went up by Rs 6.43 trillion, i.e., 37.2 per cent and that of Adani by Rs 3.02 trillion, i.e., 113 per cent.

The drive to attenuate parliamentary democracy and push through a series of laws through ordinances got intensified.  The three farm laws and the three labour laws (apart from one passed earlier) constitute a serious onslaught on the rights of workers and farmers.  Both sets of legislations are designed to benefit the corporates and international finance capital
The Mineral Laws (Amendment) Act was pushed through to facilitate private mining in coal and other minerals. The draft Environmental Impact Assessment Rules is designed to allow projects to bypass many regulations and the response of the local people who may be adversely affected. This will badly hit the adivasis who live in the forest areas.

The pandemic period has also seen a wide ranging assault on democratic rights.  The use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and sedition clauses became rampant. Scores of anti-CAA protestors, many of them students and research scholars, have been falsely implicated in the communal violence in north-east Delhi and charged under the UAPA.  `Love Jihad’ ordinances have been promulgated in Uttar  Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh targeting inter-faith marriages and couples.  In Kashmir, the blatant violation of democratic rights and civil liberties continues with many political activists in jail and the people deprived of 4G connectivity. 

The centralisation drive has dispensed with even the semblance of federal principles.  The rights of the states are being curtailed, or, bypassed in all spheres –   the denial of full compensation for GST deficit; the encroachment of states’ rights through legislations like the farm laws and the Electricity Bill; the use of governors to undermine elected state governments and the extra constitutional conditionalities being imposed for transfer of resources to the states.

The axis between the Hindutva forces and US imperialism was strengthened with the tightening of the military bonds with the United States.  The pandemic period spawned a military alliance, the QUAD. 

Though 2020 was an annus horribilis, nevertheless there were shafts of light amongst the dark clouds.  The start of the year saw the vibrant protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and its counterpart, the National Register of Citizens.  The protests, which began in December 2019, spread and enveloped the whole country in the first three months of 2020. This was the first mass movement against the Hindutva agenda; the CAA-NRC is meant to redefine Indian citizenship and target the Muslims with the aim of making them second class citizens.  The pandemic and the lockdown put an abrupt end to the nationwide mass movement.  The last two months of the year have witnessed a second mass movement, this time of farmers, against the three farm laws. The day ‘Delhi chalo’ began on November 26, also saw the massive general strike of the working class. The farmers’ struggle continues into the new year. 

Both these mass movements herald a new era of resistance to the Modi government’s pro-corporate and Hindutva agenda.  The new year thus begins on an optimistic note: it will hopefully see an end to the pandemic with widespread vaccination by the middle of the year and the possibilities of building up the widest resistance to the reactionary anti-people regime.

(December 30, 2020)