The first year of a new decade has seen one unfortunate development after another with the result that mid-year India faces multiple crises. The first crisis appeared with the advent of Covid- 19. This was part of a worldwide situation, and the situation in India was far from being the worst in the world. Unfortunately, the related economic crisis in India turned out to be extremely serious.
Hence it was not just the disease but the related economic and livelihood crisis, the sufferings of migrant workers as well as the unintended but huge neglect of treatment of non-Covid patients which together became an enormous crisis. Side-by-side there were a series of adverse weather events which took a heavy toll.
West Bengal most of all, Odisha to a lesser extent and a small part of Maharashtra witnessed enormous devastation caused by the fury of cyclones. In some districts this became the biggest cause of distress. Locust swarms ravaged not just Rajasthan but covered a much wider part of western and even central India reaching parts of Madhya Pradesh and even Maharashtra. National Capital Region and Mizoram faced excessive seismic tremors.
These were the reported adverse events but in addition a much bigger part of the country faced other adverse weather events causing a lot of difficulty especially to farmers. It was in this situation that a sharp escalation in the confrontation along the India-China border took place. Clearly, China has been adopting a more aggressive posture and has even encouraged Nepal to do so.
Pakistan continued with its aggression, leading to escalation of diplomatic stress as well. Suddenly, in terms of its security situation, India appeared to face a lot of additional stress, almost a state of siege. At the same time, therefore, there has pressure to increase defense expenditure, increase expenditure to help the poorest and most vulnerable sections of people many of whom face almost a survival crisis , increase expenditure for calamity relief and disaster response and increase expenditure to revive some crisis-ridden sectors of the economy.
The pressure to increase this expenditure comes at a time when revenue receipts have been abysmally low, and a quick revival does not appear to be likely. The finances of several state governments are worse than those of the Union government, and this at a time when they are expected to spend much more to meet the pressing needs of weaker sections and vulnerable people.
Clearly these are exceptionally difficult times and strong commitment on the part of the nation, the people and governments are needed to help us overcome these serious problems within a democratic framework. It is important to have an appropriate policy framework to face these multiple threats. The Union government should strive to make optimal use of the best available talent, including in particular retired civil servants who have excelled in diplomacy and tackling tough situations, as well as health experts who have excelled in community service and grassroots work.
The key to the Covid response is to observe all precautions while avoiding panic. Panicky reactions, exaggerated perceptions and scaremongering in the past have made things more difficult. We should look clearly at what the evidence says and then work out a balanced response. We should link this to the protection of essential livelihoods and the care of all serious patients as well as preventive and protective care, particularly for mothers and infants.
The key word here is balance – a balance between the Covid response and attending to all other essential needs. We have suffered a lot due to neglecting this balance. Let there be no more suffering due to this neglect. We really need to avoid the kind of arbitrary orders and declarations that have been seen from time to time in Delhi – making things more difficult instead of easing a bad situation. Our nation cannot afford such policy failures, confused perceptions, and decisions unrelated to actual evidence.
The India-China border crisis should be faced by continuing our defense preparations in border areas while at the same making broader military-level, political and diplomatic efforts for de-escalation. Our national resolve should be to make steady efforts to defend all our borders while remaining committed to peace. Border disputes should be resolved in a spirit of give and take and by enhancing mutual goodwill. This is an ethical position which will win us friends and sympathisers abroad while providing us a sustainable framework for a firm and clear policy on defending our territorial integrity.
There should be broad national consensus on such a policy. The key word in this time of crisis not just consensus but also unity – national unity based on avoiding all discrimination and promoting harmony among all sections of people. Communal harmony is extremely important. A few fissures have appeared in recent times and this is the right time for the Union government to send a strong message that the commitment to equality in all important respects as reflected in the Indian Constitution will be honoured and respected. Unity based on equality and justice is the biggest need of the hour, so that the nation and its people respond with courage to the multiple crises.
(The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements)