AMIDST reports of rapidly rising cases of Corona infection and death India has now entered the second week of the 21-day-long countrywide lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on 24 March evening. This one week has brought us face to face with three big challenges: (i) the cruel and coercive nature of the lockdown and its devastating impact, (ii) the utter mismatch between the medical demands for combating a pandemic and the abysmal state of India’s healthcare system, and (iii) concerted and desperate attempts by the Modi government and the Sangh-BJP brigade to use the Corona crisis to cover up their own failures and fuel their own fascist project.

Two days before the lockdown, Modi had announced a 14-hour-long dress rehearsal naming it a people’s curfew. That was organized with a notice of three full days, but the 21-day lockdown was announced at a notice of just four hours! Modi’s address just said nothing about how daily wage earners and various sections of poor and vulnerable people were expected to survive this period of lockdown. Subsequent announcement of the so-called relief package by the Finance Minister or the Home Ministry notification asking state governments to arrange shelter and food for migrant workers have not left us any clearer or wiser in this respect.

Clearly, the government did not pay any thought to the impact of the lockdown on the lives and livelihood of the overwhelming majority of Indians. The government’s concern has been how those in a position to stay at home would pass their time in lockdown and to solve that problem Modi has released an animation yoga video, and his ministers have suggested playing musical games at home or watching Ramayana on television. Workers and their families deprived of sustenance and desperately trying to go home by walking hundreds of miles on foot are just not part of Modi’s India. Indeed, people without a proper home or without the wherewithal to stay at or work from home are all outside of the lockdown blueprint. But we are once again realizing the hard way that there can be no locking down of hunger.

While the government remains callous and cruel, we must stand with the people at this critical hour with all our compassion and commitment. From helping stranded workers with food and rations, to escorting them home and making arrangements for them in villages in compliance with the hygienic precautions and protocols for protecting people from the corona virus pandemic, we need to make our best efforts to help the suffering working people facing a crisis of survival. The lockdown has also disrupted the lives and livelihood of the non-migrant rural and urban poor and we must make all efforts to mitigate their sufferings by organizing relief and pressurizing the local administration to save and serve the people.

The medical campaign against the Corona pandemic relies on extensive testing of people with symptoms or with history of visiting Corona-affected countries or coming in contact with people who have proved corona-positive. The other part of the campaign is isolating or quarantining corona patients and providing them with necessary medical support including ICU beds and ventilators for serious patients. In India, our infrastructure and preparations are woefully short on every count. What makes matters worse is the lack of even basic protective gear for the medical community. As cases increase and more and more Corona patients need serious medical care, the criminal weakness of our medical response becomes all the more glaring.

The neoliberal health policy has promoted rampant commercialization and privatisation of healthcare at the cost of the public healthcare system. The talk of health insurance is just the other side of this coin and the entire question of universal quality healthcare as a fundamental right has been subordinated to the interests of the nexus of big corporate hospitals and pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Even in the face of such a major public health crisis, the government has refused to change its priorities. It has signed a Rs 880 crore contract with Israel to procure 16,000-odd light machine guns. And the fund sanctioned for the emergency medical mission to combat the Corona epidemic is much less than the beautification and renovation budget for the Central Vista region in New Delhi covering the area from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.

If anything matches the callousness of the government’s response to this colossal public health crisis, it is the cruel and coercive nature of governance and the virulence of the communal and caste-class supremacism which is so central to the fascist project. The police have got a free hand and everyday we are seeing glimpses of a police state. The absolutely humiliating and hazardous treatment meted out to returning workers at Bareilly in the name of disinfecting them, the beatings and other modes of brutal ‘corporal punishment’ being routinely showered on citizens in the name of enforcing lockdown point to an altogether new level of ‘coercive normalcy’ in our otherwise constitutionally proclaimed democratic republic.

Indeed, the trappings of despotic rule revolving around a personality cult and an increasingly centralized and secretive mode of governance can be seen at every step. The government has just launched a new fund called ‘PMCares’ which will have absolutely no democratic control or transparency. And now in the name of checking rumours the government has gone to the Supreme Court asking for stricter control over Corona-related coverage in the media including social media. Meanwhile, dominant media circles have launched a virulent communal campaign blaming the Tableeghi Jamaat for the spread of Corona virus in India.

As we enter the second week of lockdown, we need to learn our lessons from the experience of the first week, and increase our vigilance and collective resolve to face the crisis with stronger bonds of human sensitivity and solidarity.