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Admin 2020-04-21

21 Apr 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1) Fighting together


In the battle against COVID-19, in which survival depends on a unity of purpose, governments can ill afford to play up differences and divisions on the smaller details, or allow them to take centrestage. Among the points of difference, and contention, between New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram over the relaxation of controls in the second phase of the lockdown, is the wisdom of opening up barbershops, restaurants, bookstores.

The Ministry of Home Affairs had written to the government of Kerala on April 19, protesting that the permissions announced by it for April 20 were at variance with the central order, issued under the Disaster Management Act. State Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran, who looks after the interests of the sector hit worst by the novel coronavirus, admitted that unlocking was a novel exercise and attributed(assign) the incident to a “misunderstanding”. So far, so good.


The first difference of opinion between the Centre and the states on containment strategy does not necessarily represent conflict. It is a learning process, and an opportunity to reaffirm the federal(having or relating to a system of government in which several states form a unity but remain independent in internal affairs) spirit. But what is gleaned(obtain) subsequently depends on the manner in which the problem is addressed.

While the prime minister made a visible effort to marshal the states against the coronavirus — holding extensive consultations with all chief ministers ahead of the extension of the nation-wide lockdown — the Centre has constituted six inter-ministerial teams which will assess the situation on the ground in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

This can be read as a lack of faith in the state administrations. Both the Centre and the states need to appreciate what is at stake, and to understand that any points scored off(won) each other may come to nothing — the final political reckoning(signalling) will only count the lives and livelihoods lost. In a battle that is being waged on multiple fronts, by various strategies, the question of legal jurisdiction must not be overemphasised or allowed to come in the way.


COVID-19 presents different realities according to geography. What is good for Kerala is not necessarily good for Maharashtra, and vice versa. Each state has its own disease map and its own scatterplot(a graph in which the values of two variables are plotted along two axes) of the resources that can be mobilised against it, whether it is respirators or self-help groups, and the value of local knowledge cannot be stressed enough.


The prime minister had himself acknowledged that states should have the elbow room to craft their own exit strategies, but, at the same time, it is also clear that stakeholders must agree on a common minimum programme. Let it consist of goals and broad guidelines. The details may be left to the states. Centre and states must sidestep conflict in crisis, agree on a common minimum programme on containment strategies.


2) Lawless in Palghar

Lynching of three men in Maharashtra points to shocking police failure. Culprits must be urgently brought to justice.


The lynching of three men in Palghar district, Maharashtra, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis is a shocking case of police failure. More than a hundred people suspected to be involved in the incident have been arrested and the police personnel who evidently failed to prevent the crime from being committed have been suspended.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has ordered a high-level probe and assured that the culprits will be brought to justice. He needs to urgently deliver on his promise. Lynching of three men in Maharashtra points to shocking police failure. Culprits must be urgently brought to justice.


The incident that took place last Thursday night, a video of which went viral subsequently, was allegedly triggered by suspicion that the men, including two sadhus and the driver of the car in which they were travelling from Mumbai to Surat to attend a funeral, were thieves. The villagers, belonging to a tribal community, had formed vigilante groups, apparently following rumours that organ-harvesting gangs, child-lifters and thieves were roaming in the area.


By all accounts, the forest guards, who initially apprehended the travellers, and the small police team that later arrived in the village, failed to intervene or prevent the mob from taking the law into its own hands. The incident represents a terrible failure of the law and order machinery. The government must take exemplary(perfect) action against the police brass responsible for this shameful abdication(giving up ones responsibility) and surrender to mob justice.

Especially in times of heightened fear and anxiety such as these, amid a lockdown necessitated by the fight against the coronavirus, it is incumbent on the law and order machinery to be alert and vigilant(aware) and to counter rumour and prevent suspicion from gaining ground through sustained outreach to the people. In times such as these, the administration needs to visibly and firmly send out the message that the rule of law will prevail — not the mob. Any failure to do so can prove to be costly — as has been seen earlier, in other contexts and settings, in the lynchings in UP, Jharkhand or Rajasthan, for instance, over suspected illegal cattle trade.


Action must be taken quickly and firmly against those in the police force who failed to take action against the culprits, or were complicit(involved) in the crime committed at Palghar, lest the people’s trust in, and respect for, the authority of the state is eroded. There must be no delay, much is at stake.


3) The drift to the left

The corona crisis threatens to write the obituary of global capitalism. It will have a lasting impact on national economic strategies and politics.


There is a Chinese joke from the mid-1990s about US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin driving down a road to arrive at a fork(the point where something, especially a road or river, divides into two parts). Clinton turned right without signalling. Blair tagged along. Yeltsin, who was blindly following the Anglos, was not looking for choices. A tentative Jiang looked back to ask his lone passenger, “which way?” Deng Xiaoping, in the back seat, said: “Signal left and turn right.”

(which means all are heading in the same direction i.e capitalism)

The imagined story tells us a lot about global transformation in the last four decades. It was about historic political changes within major economies and between them. China was an integral part of this story. Deng gave a huge booster shot to global capitalism while helping China rapidly elevate(rise) its international standing.


This extraordinary transformation was running out of steam in the last few years and the corona crisis threatens to write its obituary(a notice of a death, especially in a newspaper, typically including a brief biography of the deceased person). The reversal of the great right-ward drift since the 1980s has begun.


But first to the four men on the road. In the US, Clinton moved the Democratic Party away from its working-class roots and embraced the Reagan revolution — domestic deregulation and free trade. In pushing the party to the right, Clinton ended the political wilderness of the Democrats in America. In Britain, Blair did much the same by rebranding a working-class party as the “New Labour” to end nearly two decades of Tory rule under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The socialists in France and Europe demurred(raise objections) at the “Anglo-Saxon”( of English descent) capitalist excesses but had no choice to adapt.


As Yeltsin buried the Soviet Union and turned to the Western model, the newly-liberated members of the Warsaw Pact embraced economic openness and joined the political project on European integration. It was Deng, however, who provided the “piece de resistance” of the era by opening up China to Western capital.


After the Tiananmen Square events in 1989, there was a brief moment when China flirted with closing its economy. In his famous “southern tour” in early 1992, Deng ordered renewed economic reform that propelled China political fortunes. Deng was convinced that “leftism” was a bigger danger than “rightism”. But the right turn had to be masked with a left signal in a country that was avowedly(fiercely) communist. So the CCP maintained a relentless emphasis on socialism, even if it was with “Chinese characteristics”. Cynics(doubters) have named it “red capitalism” or “capitalism with Chinese characteristics”. It did not matter what the CCP called it, but the global consequences were profound.


The new Washington consensus led to booming international trade, super-profits for Western capital, prosperity for China, and benefitted many parts of the developing world, including India. The emergence of the internet economy reinforced the proposition that a world without borders was just around the corner(likely to happen). But the “losers” from globalisation, especially in the West, showed up to ruin the party.

In Britain, the Brexiteers successfully mobilised against the integration with Europe in the 2016 referendum. In the US, Trump whipped up passions on trade to squeak through to White House in the 2016 elections. Trump argued that globalists had outsourced American jobs to China and vowed(promised) to bring them back. Trump’s success has turned the rich men’s Republican Party into a champion of the working people fighting against the inequities perpetrated by a globalist elite. In politics, surprises never cease.

Boris Johnson won a massive mandate in 2019 by reaching out to the working class and breaching the Labour’s “red wall” in the north. Both Johnson and Trump are now actively undoing the Thatcher-Reagan consensus on neoliberal economics. Some of the core elements of that era — free trade, fiscal prudence, downsizing the state, marginalisation of the working class and partnership with China — are all unravelling today.


The uncritical support for free trade is being replaced by arguments about “fair trade”. London and Washington are doling out large sums for protecting the paychecks of the working people as the economy undergoes a massive contraction. The Republicans who had voted against bailing out Wall Street during the 2008 financial crisis are now letting trillions of dollars flow out of the Congress.

Meanwhile, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, is pivoting to the left on economic issues, partly in response to the pressure from Bernie Sanders, who has suspended his campaign but wants a big say in the party’s platform for elections this year.

We do not know if Biden is merely signalling left for electoral purposes or genuinely reclaiming the old working-class base of the Democratic Party. Democrats are also under pressure to respond to Trump’s charges that the party and Biden are complicit(involved) in letting China gain the economic upper hand over the US through free trade and refusing to see the emerging political challenge from Beijing.

As Trump ties China, globalism, and Beijing’s responsibility for the pandemic with Biden and the Democrats, there are growing prospects for the decoupling of “Chimerica” that emerged in the 1990s. Democrats can attack Trump as fiercely as they want to, but they can’t afford to be seen as weak on China.


The Western imperative(need) to separate from China has been reinforced by Xi Jinping’s abandonment of the Deng line on keeping an open economy and a low international profile. The perception that China, the biggest beneficiary of globalisation, has taken advantage of the West has been reinforced by the corona crisis.

If the rightward shift had transformed the global political economy and international affairs in the last four decades, the drift to the left — de-globalisation, big government, the focus on redressing inequality and new political weight of the working class — is likely to have a powerful and lasting impact on national economic strategies everywhere and the politics among nations.