As the putrefying soul of world capitalism unravels its dying glory in the heat of Covid-19 pandemic invasion, everything else has indeed got to be topsy-turvy. And why not? When the grand glory of world capitalism stands exposed of its abysmal hollowness, why and how come others be much bothered of their vanity? Just as objectively alienated but loyal objects of the same soul, they all have to grab their own apportioned share of the decomposed spirit!
On the 8th of April, the Supreme Court directed that the testing for COVID-19 would be done free of cost by certified private labs. Where means of survival elude the masses, free testing was a welcome move. But alas! it was not to be. The Supreme Court revised this decision when it heard the Central Government and other respondents such as private labs owners. Universal and free testing for all was declined in favor of revising it for a few select groups of those who possess identification proofs, as decided by the government, for being recognized as poor and vulnerable. Those who are poor but don’t possess such proofs would have to pay 4500 rupees for the test.
Though, it may be on expected lines for some, however, the ‘cog in the wheel’ behavior such as this and many more being experienced for quite some time in the past, have sent to many a mix of disturbed feelings. For economically struggling common masses, it was yet another shock and a matter of great disappointment. Country’s democratic ‘spirits’ are still grappling with this fact that how come the economic ‘hardships’ of the millionaire labs owners weighed more to the highest court of the land than those of the poor!
The Supreme Court has in the recent past been acting in quite astonishing manner, going even contrary to what is normally accepted as standard jurisprudence thus smashing the common man’s faith in the judiciary. However, the recent remark in a PIL petition related to seeking intervention for the mitigation of the poor and penniless workers’ woes, bereft of salary and shelter, is the one that is the most heart breaking. The lock down was not only unplanned but also symptomatic of the government’s total lack of any regard and care for millions of the poor inhabiting as citizens in this vast country as well as those migrant unorganized, semi-organized or organized workers who are employed in informal sectors spread throughout the country.
The Chief Justice of India had made a damning remark while hearing a batch of petitions by activists Harsh Mandar and Anjali Bhardwaj. He said this: ‘Why do workers need salary if they are being fed by the government.’ How can the Supreme Court be so apathetic to penniless stranded workers’ in a democratic set up? Are the workers as much enough as their bellies? Many have also raised doubts on this that they are being fed. This claim stands challenged now as many survey reports have come that confirms the doubt. The survey report says that 94 percent don’t have any penny and 96 percent have no rations. But who cares? Just in a sweep, His Majesty took the Government’s submission on its face value and concluded that the workers are being fed. How does it feel to the Supreme Court itself that it accepts whatever the government says in its status report and declines from giving a direction just on this basis? It gave a next date of hearing even while Prashant Bhushan kept pleading that four crores of unorganized workers would be in dire straits if they didn’t get their salaries right away. ‘Hungry workers can wait in a democracy like India’ is probably the message of the Court.
On the question of nationalization of huge private hospitals lying idle as waste, the Supreme Court is again on the wrong side. What is the fact? The fact is that a worldwide outcry is pouring in from liberal, revisionist as well as hardcore bourgeois economists alike about the need to nationalize the private sectors to deal with the worsening emergency situation. About private hospitals, it is becoming clearer every day that with the cost of health care going up, many of them particularly the lesser giants can’t run as viable profit-units and are facing the danger of ‘shut down’ as they are crumbling under the weight of their own unsustainable financial structure. They are built in the mould of competition for grabbing super shares of the loot. This causes un-sustainability. In the present circumstances of Covid-19 pandemic, the same market dynamics they so much adore and worship is on their wrong side. As a result, the precious resources, equipments and facilities are turning into waste and hindrance to health care. This is an example of the present-day destruction of capital invested in health sector. It (destruction) is also going to be a good amount if the pandemic continues.
The Economic Times, the mouthpiece of Indian big bourgeoisie writes that health care companies are claiming ”declining footfalls as well as rising consumables and staff costs have put their survival at stake.” Quoting the chairman, Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya, ET says that ”the cost of running a Covid hospital is very high and 50% of them are fixed costs.” Even though, one is not a Covid hospital, it has to maintain PPEs stocks for their doctors and staffs, otherwise they won’t work and treat even non-Covid patients in this scary atmosphere. They know, Covid-19 patients may be asymptomatic, too. One-month stock of PPEs, he says, ”alone costs a few crore rupees for hospitals chains …. industries revenues have more than halved….no one is looking at making money but now survival is at stake.”
What conclusions can be drawn and what demands transpires from this account? Only one that these hospitals are on the verge of shut down not because they don’t have adequate funds or resources, but, because they see not much profits coming from their operations and hence their resources whatsoever are going to be a waste. Can any society ever afford such a waste when thousands and even lakhs are dying because of non-availability of adequate amount of funds to buy equipments? No. Never. It will be against humanity. The whole world is facing the problem of huge waste of resources lying with big corporate private hospitals as well as industries simply because of loss of profit. This may not be visible now to all, but if this pandemic continues, such wastes would be visible to common people, too.
What would be the task of society if it was free to choose one for itself? Only this that they all must be immediately nationalized and put to serve the public at large as quickly as possible. But what if the capitalist Government doesn’t heed to this genuine demand? What if they either let them have options to loot the public by allowing them to charge exorbitantly or simply allow them to shut down and remain idle for some time and provide financial aid in future to again go the same way as earlier looting the public in the name of health care, while on the other hand people are dying of hunger and disease both, due to Covid-19 induced emergency situations? Any sane mind would say, ‘nationalize them all and put to the service of the mankind.’ Naturally, people will demand this from the State. People are supposed to approach the Judiciary to come to rescue in the event of Government turning completely deaf to such outcries. The Supreme Court is rightly expected to take a lenient view, even if it is not their area of work to take such decisions, by at least echoing the same concern. But what we recently learned to have happened in one such public interest litigation (PIL) case hearing is simply shocking. It is not the decision per se which is shocking. The way the concern of the petitioner was mocked and ridiculed is beyond imagination. The Supreme Court termed the PIL lodged in this connection as a publicity exercise saying, ‘don’t create publicity interest litigations’ and pleaded to close the case forthwith. According to a Live Law portal news report dated 21st April, 2020, a bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai made these strong observations and noted that the petition was nothing but a publicity stunt and strongly remarked that such petitions must not be filed.
So, the ultimate door is shut with a bolt. Now, where can one go for larger justice in such emergencies? On the other hand, Government is hell bent to ignore what society at large urgently needs the most.
At this juncture, it would be proper to discuss what Meghnad Desai, one of the unabashed apologist of capitalism and free market as well as one of the few most qualified economists turned supporter of Modi says about capitalism’s failure in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. His grand admission of much needed reforms in capitalism came a la MNREGA in the form of an article in The Indian Express dated 19th April 2020. His Lordship says – ‘The corona virus pandemic has exposed many weaknesses but the most noticeable is the plight of working people in the informal sector in the urban area, particularly metros, who are normally employed but with precarious livelihood’. Not only this, he surprisingly talks of structural weaknesses, too. He writes – ‘Structural weaknesses of the economy and society are exposed at such a time…. this is an ideal opportunity for thinking outside the box.’
However, notwithstanding what these hardcore bourgeois economists are suggesting, though their lips are still very tight, capitalist regimes all over the world are not going to budge. The Supreme Court of India getting topsy-turvy like this where it has forsaken its own image, is just an expression of this impossibility. Though, some cosmetic and ostentatious changes are possible and could be brought. However, the hard reality is that no populist and fraud measures are going to reverse the process of centralization of capital. It has reached a level where any remedy of its lethal impact can only be met with its expropriation at the hands of the society. Either all the centralized social wealth is expropriated, or it will bring doom and disaster to mankind. Hence make no mistake, there can be no midway solution now.
Coming to close, it was neither unnatural nor surprising that in a country where fascism is on upswing and vigorous privatization policies are underway in tune with the neoliberal regime of finance capital and it reign supreme over all other concerns, the move to make testing free was immediately met with a volley of reactions. The bourgeois experts expressed concern over judicial overreach. The question of practicality of free testing was also vigorously raised. They opposed calling it a reversal to freebies, the catch word of those defending freedom of market forces. They know, an upswing in demand for testing and making profit out of this pandemic would naturally come. Some said, this may be disincentive for the labs, and due to this, they would either stop conducting tests altogether or start charging for the material needed for the test thereby making it appear as if the tests are free. Why not? After all they survive on profit, live and die with it! Herein lies the reason why they must be immediately be taken over or nationalized.
Now, even when the Supreme Court has revised the decision of free testing, it is imperative for the society to raise this issue again and again and build pressure so that the government issues orders for free testing of Covid-19 for all who wish to be tested. It is no mystery that COVID testing is crucial to combat the crisis which is being made worse by the deep-rooted class divisions in the society.
And let us make no mistake, virus itself is class-agnostic. The contact between the rich and the poor as also between rich countries and poor countries is in the final analysis un-amenable. After all, who will serve the upper class? If poor countries and poor people carry Covid -19 and are not sanitized and treated and if they are still forced to live in huddled manner in stinking Jhuggis where Covid-19 find red carpets for their spread, the rich will also not be spared. In the last analysis, at least for the sake of logic, the ruling classes will be compelled and obliged, though howsoever grudgingly, to part with their exclusive access to medical resources and other resources. This further strengthens the logic of the need of expropriation of all the social wealth.
For the majority if the virus doesn’t kill them, hunger, apathy, violence and poverty sure will. It sends too coarse a message to be ignored. If this is allowed to happen, ruling class will be forced to forfeit the legitimacy of their claim to rule. It will entail a trail of upheaval that may lead to their overthrow. The Supreme Court, being the enlightened and most intelligent soul of the state, must be in receipt of these consequences. If it also turns deaf, it is but the ringing warning of the present times. History will soon summon all these state actors to its court.
So, the least the state could ensure for now is free testing. The SC’s earlier order was an in-principle nod for this progressive move. It was like an acid test and we as a bourgeois society have failed in this test. If anything, order was the touchstone not only for the Supreme Court, but, also for the state and private sector’s ‘philanthropic’ tendencies if they still existed at all.
When the supreme court one day sought that National and State Advisory Committees in the field of disaster management and public health be activated to plan for the health crisis; When, just the other day, it said that the Court could not take a better policy decision than government; or when it says that it cannot ‘supplant wisdom of government’, then the Court indeed makes a hint, loud and clear, that the human society under capitalism is now without a soul and stands ravaged of any trace of humanity.
In 1789, the French queen Marie Antoinette said (if they have no bread) “let them eat cake”. The phrase that ‘If they are being provided meals, then why do they need money for meals‘ is second only to the queen’s in its ignorance. Aware of the queen’s generosity and ‘charitable’ instincts, such a statement coming from the queen was not accepted and a revolution had broken out. Doesn’t the ruling dispensation know this?
In an earlier petition, too (such as one by journalist Prashant Tandon and a social activist Kunjana Singh), instead of seeking clarity on the issue and issuing notice, the supreme court, CJI in particular, generously heaped praise, glorified the government’s efforts and insisted that their opinion of the government is rooted in ‘facts’. And the ‘facts’ are these, that even after the first COVID case was reported on the 31st of January, the Government relaxed the restrictions on the export of PPE at the cost of the frontline workers’ safety. All inadequacies of health measures and “callousness” of the government in dealing with the situation of hunger, employment and shelter etc. are now well documented by different survey agencies that fly directly into the face of the Supreme Court.
Do we remember today the former CJI Ranjan Gogoi who had once expressed anguish at the low (900) count of detentions (Why are there not thousands?), while going through a petition for seeking better conditions at the detention centres? But we don’t miss him now. The CJI Bobde recently refused to hear an activist like Harsh Mandar for his “seriously contemptuous” and “derogatory remarks” in his speech at an anti-CAA protest. Strange things are happening around, indeed!
The Supreme Court has got its veneer and vanity completely exposed in matters of salvaging the reeking class bias. Even for someone having devoured extensive doses of bourgeois democratic illusions, it in fact makes him increasingly confused about the stance of the Court in delivering justice. Who can justify an attempt to mock the people’s misery other those who are fascists themselves. How can we imagine that a judge of the apex court supplants the right to (bare minimum) wages with charity and food. Workers are not beggars! Someone who can maintain calm with the piecemeal and biased orders of the government and sing praise for the depraved government in the face of the most revolting spectacles of misery, is but a product of this system, a soul mate of capitalism. Yesterday also it was true, yet not fully exposed. It is through such remarks that the Supreme Courts withdraws itself from the lives of the poor, while not relinquishing the power to govern them- thereby rendering the moral authority over the lives of the working class questionable.
Is every one of us, still with pulsating hearts, ready to see the boldest ever writings on the wall?
Peter Kropotkin’s words ring truth in these times- “It is no longer enough for the man of the people today to pour forth his complaints in one of those songs whose melody breaks your heart.”
Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 1/ May ’20)