Blog- ‘The Rot’

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New York, April 24

I saw a report in Tribune India. It simply stated that as per investigation only 1 plant out of the seven sanctioned to produce oxygen is functional in Himachal. The initial surprise transformed to rage within moments. It does not take a whole lot to excite extreme emotions these days. The heart rending images that flood my whatsapp forums, the constant news of near and dear ones contracting or succumbing to this virus and the abject demonstrably verifiable failures of our system to provide an iota of solace are enough to excite extreme reactions.  There is a whole bit of information for one to decide and decode how this was an avoidable calamity, how misplaced priorities of uninformed, inept and frankly irresponsible and criminally negligent dispositions both at Centre and state levels have transformed this pandemic to an existential crisis never seen before in the life time of our young nation. Let us therefore look at history and try to understand how tragedies happen.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bengal_famine_of_1770 . The policies of East India Company  that resulted in this extreme deprivation have been documented.

In addition to its profits from trade, the company had been given rights of taxation in 1764. In Bengal, these profits came from both land tax and trade tariffs. Within the first few years of its ability to tax, the Company doubled the total land tax; most of this revenue flowed back to EIC investors. As the famine approached its height in April 1770, the Company faced declining profits. Acting upon the advice of Mahomed Reza Khan, the Naib, the Council added 10% to the land tax of the ensuing year.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_of_1876%E2%80%931878 . The policies of colonial government that resulted in multitudes of dead has been documented

The famine occurred at a time when the colonial government was attempting to reduce expenses on welfare. Earlier, in the Bihar famine of 1873–74, severe mortality had been avoided by importing rice from Burma. The Government of Bengal and its Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Richard Temple, were criticised for excessive expenditure on charitable relief. Sensitive to any renewed accusations of excess in 1876, Temple, who was now Famine Commissioner for the Government of India, insisted not only on a policy of laissez faire with respect to the trade in grain, but also on stricter standards of qualification for relief and on more meagre relief rations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengal_famine_of_1943 . The misdirected policies  of  the colonial government that resulted in multitudes of dead has been documented

The financing of military escalation led to war-time inflation, as land was appropriated from thousands of peasants. Many workers received monetary wages rather than payment in kind with a portion of the harvest. When prices rose sharply, their wages failed to follow suit; this drop in real wages left them less able to purchase food. During the Japanese occupation of Burma, many rice imports were lost as the region’s market supplies and transport systems were disrupted by British “denial policies” for rice and boats (a “scorched earth” response to the occupation). The Bengal Chamber of Commerce (composed mainly of British-owned firms), with the approval of the Government of Bengal, devised a Foodstuffs Scheme to provide preferential distribution of goods and services to workers in high-priority roles such as armed forces, war industries, civil servants and other “priority classes”, to prevent them from leaving their positions. These factors were compounded by restricted access to grain: domestic sources were constrained by emergency inter-provincial trade barriers, while aid from Churchill’s War Cabinet was limited, ostensibly due to a wartime shortage of shipping. More proximate causes included large-scale natural disasters in south-western Bengal (a cyclone, tidal waves and flooding, and rice crop disease). The relative impact of each of these factors on the death toll is a matter of controversy.

I encourage you to read deep. The common theme in the above instances is pretty clear. Apart from the initial genesis,  the gravity  of these tragedies was made infinitely more acute  by reckless, rash and imprudent decisions prior and post their first augury.  To supplement income the levying of 10% land tax when doubling the revenue tax exacerbated the first famine, the overzealousness of rationing relief when a similar effort had succeeded prior in part due to accusations of frivolous spending aggravated the second disaster and diversion of national resources to the british war effort in world war 2 created a behemoth of miseries in the third one. Simply put each and every of these disasters started as small eruptions and then mutated to extremes due to ineptness, defunct strategy, indifference and gross mismanagement. All these famines happened when we were being ruled by a foreign disposition who had no immediate interest in our well being. Their main objective was to fill the coffers of the company and its shareholders and then the empire by exploiting the lowly alien multitudes with all means and suck us dry.

So what is different today? We have the same ineptness, the same indifference and  the same mismanagement, albeit from a disposition we chose and elected. While we could have blamed East India Company and then the colonial British Empire for the travesties that befell us before independence, who do we blame today? Blaming BJP and Modi, who have frankly been abjectly abysmal in their response, would be easy. This situation was mishandled by a self absorbed, egotistical disposition but that is not the point  The point is that the issue is elsewhere. It is us.

We have approached every calamity as pre ordained anger or justice. We have never shown revulsion, or if we have, too meekly, at the decay that rots our system. We have never insisted that the roads be paved, the ambulances have the right equipment and the hospitals have the right infrastructure.  We might have groaned, we might have feebly begrudged, we never insisted.

That a functioning system is a right not a luxury, that the ambulance needs to have basic facilities , or the roads have to be paved, or the hospitals have basic infrastructure,  has been too grand an opulence we do not deserve. Why, I am not sure. What  is irrefutable is if you do not insist, you do not demand, you do not get. There is no difference between an East India Company , or a British colonial rule or a democratically elected government at the helm.  They reflect our laziness and tardiness, they reflect our indiscipline and frankly they revel in our indifference. For then it is convenient to sweep everything under the rug of preordained ness  of such circumstances and enjoy unbridled fruits of power. The incentive to deliver is frankly missing. The above calamities including this one could have been contained by a more focussed disposition kept on their toes by a more demanding overseer, us. So yes, while pillior the current government and rightly so, we need to introspect. We need to find out why we have been left rudderless. Why death is being delivered at our doorsteps with impunity.

It surely is blinders put on by a section who outsource their critical thinking and thus are mere compliant and con formal lemmings that feed the megalomania of the self absorbed.  But beyond that It has to be the nihilist fatalists among us whose impulse is to blame it on the preordained, the sad but oft repeated “if my time has come nobody can prevent it” fatalism crap exhibiting abject capitulation to a force unseen, a power unknown.  And the rulers know and feed off it. They know that the anger would be transient, amnesia more permanent, If they knew otherwise they would not dare to betray us.  If they knew that we will never forget they would not dare.

In the end, please ask questions, please be angry as I was.  I am not ashamed of my extreme reaction and that sudden impulse of extreme revulsion.  We do not deserve this and by god this was preventable.  Reflecting on this message  I just received “the system did not collapse, it got exposed.”

Take care. God bless us all and India as we struggle to keep afloat.

Writer is a professional, currently settled in New York. Views expressed are personal.

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