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A challenge to the established order

Despite some positive developments that give hope, there is much that should weigh heavily on the conscience of the human race including impending systemic collapse, the crash of the global economy and widespread suffering.

AK Merchant | New Delhi |

In a world where Covid-19 has brought humanity to its knees and exposed the haughty posturing of many nation-states, the lessons of its interconnectedness are still not being learnt. Despite some positive developments that give hope, there is much that should weigh heavily on the conscience of the human race including impending systemic collapse, the crash of the global economy and widespread suffering. For those who believe that there are spiritual forces operating beyond what gives rise to secular and pragmatic ideals, it is clear that eschatology and messianic hope are two sides of the same coin as depicted in the sacred scriptures of all religions.

One of the phases of the judgment of God is portrayed as the utter destruction of completely commercialized and materialized civilization through collapse of its financial structure. The current global health crisis is but one such challenge, the ultimate severity of whose cost, both to lives and livelihoods, is yet unknown. It has caused massive downslide, estimated to be more than US$ 12 trillion already. The daily loss during the lockdown period to the Indian economy last year was reported to be reported to be Rs 32,000 crore (US$ 455 million approximately). Furthermore, it was calculated that India would require a sum of Rs 70 lakh crore (US$ 1 trillion approximately) to revive its economy.

The overall economic impact of Covid-19 in India has been largely disruptive. Its growth in the fourth quarter of FY 2020 went down to 3.1 per cent according to the Ministry of Statistics. The official data of total economic stimulus provided by the Central Government until 31 October 2020 is Rs 29.87 lakh crore (US$ 420 billion).  The Gross Domestic Product has contracted by 24 per cent. As hopes were building up to restore employment of those who had lost their jobs last year, most unexpectedly the second surge that hit the country from April onwards has produced a new setback.

It has caused a near collapse of public health infrastructure and is likely to impact the broader supply chain of goods and services. While the Government has announced payment of dearness allowance (DA) as per 7th Pay Commission, this will benefit only a fraction of the total population. Some of the worst affected sections of revenue generation are the tourism industry, the hospitality industry and a reduction in consumer activity. The fuel prices have been raised several times in the past two months, although consumption has decreased. On the other hand, there is rise in LPG sales.

At the international level exports have declined, albeit there is a great demand for pharmaceutical products. Covid-19 vaccines trade is booming. In fact, the profits of Indian pharmaceutical companies have soared by over 50 per cent. This trend can be adversely affected if China steps in and starts supplying its vaccines despite trade and borderrelated tensions. However, going by what experts say, on the whole the economic impact this year is unlikely to be as devastating as last year. The overall impact will depend on how fast India manages to contain the second wave of the virus.

Leaders, prominent thinkers, and commentators have begun to explore fundamental concepts and bold aspirations to challenge many of the assumptions that have shaped contemporary public discourse. For instance, that self-interest and consumerism far from needing to be restrained, drive prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. This means judging the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others.

At the same time, they concur with the religious precepts that possession of wealth is not inherently distasteful or immoral. Wealth must serve humanity. Its use must accord with spiritual principles; a wholesome pattern of life must be created.  The principle of the oneness of humanity and its related tenets must be wholeheartedly embraced by those in whose hands the responsibility for decision-making rests. The concept of world citizenship must be propagated through educational systems, the media, and global agendas be they bilateral or multi-lateral. The United Nations Organization has often taken the lead, but the responses of sovereign nations who are its members have been woefully inadequate.

To this end, Covid-19 must be seen as a jarring “wake up call” and an important warning to nationstates not to go back to “business as usual”.  For, the forces of materialism promote quite a contrary line of thinking – that happiness comes from constant acquisition, that the more one has the better, that worry for the environment is for another day. These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement which uses the language of justice and human rights to disguise self-interest. Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace while entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed.

The enervating influence of materialism has impacted every culture, social milieu and age group. One has to be ever vigilant and refrain from wittingly or unwittingly absorbing the norms of a debased society and falling prey to the negative influences of social media. Ultimately, the restructuring or transformation of the United Nations system will lead to the establishment of a world federation of nations with its own legislative, judicial and executive bodies. All of us must be anxiously concerned with the needs of the critical times we live in, and focus of deliberations of world leaders must be on swiftly resolving the grave problems surrounding humankind; the destinies of all human beings are intertwined.

Whatever the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the months ahead, we must continue to harness the spiritual resources that can be accessed by every human being such as power of prayers and by manifesting the real spirit of altruism for the safety and good health of all who are battling the global pandemic.

(The writer is a social worker and independent researcher, and an elected Trustee of the Baha’i Lotus Temple. He is based in New Delhi and can be contacted at [email protected])