Covid-19 in India: Political Opportunism and Development

Covid-19 in India: Political Opportunism and Development

Ompha Malima and Sayan Dey

The social, cultural, political and economic marginalization of specific classes by agents of the governing order has become a much normalized phenomena in contemporary India. The invasion of Covid-19 in India has opened a multidimensional gateway for re-configuring and re-systematizing the already existing class, caste, communal, cultural, religious and regional attitudes on race. For instance, let us analyze the issues of communalizing the Nizamuddin Markaz gathering.

On March 31, 2020 around 3400 people gathered at the Nizamuddin Markaz (located in New Delhi) as part of a religious gathering. The gathering continued despite the Chief Minister of New Delhi announcing the suspension of any form of social, cultural and religious gatherings effective from March 16 to March 31. Due to these gatherings, it has been found that several attendees, both from India as well as abroad, have tested positive for Covid-19.

As a result, the government, with the assistance of medical staff, has started identifying the attendees across the country and are putting them under strict medical observations. Such interventions appear to be quite scientific and logical given the nature of the pandemic before us and the urgency it requires.  But, they are strongly underpinned with communal propagandism, which has been one of the central socio-political ideologies of the current ruling class.

Obviously, by ignoring the importance of physical and social distancing, any form of public gathering only upholds sheer callousness and defeats the purpose to curb the pandemic. However, the government strategically used the Nizamuddin Markaz incident to re-configure their traditionally racialized and institutionalized ‘divide and rule’ policies, in order to distract citizens from the various infrastructural shortcomings which the state is encountering during this crisis.

It is important to note that prior to, and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declaration of the countrywide lockdown, Nizamuddin Markaz was not the only public gathering that took place. There are ample instances which show that prominent individuals and institutions have deliberately ignored the advice of social distancing by organizing large public events. For instance, on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), a public gathering was organized by the President of India at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi; with due permission from the Government of Kerala a ten-day long temple festival also commenced on the same day; etc. But, these events are projected in a much normalized fashion.

This is how the present governing structure in India is making efforts to embed high-caste Hinducentrism as the habitual existential cult in contemporary India. The already existing process of dehumanizing non-Hindu socio-cultural practices gained further impetus with the arrival of Covid-19 and the stigmatization of the Nizamuddin Markaz event is a prime example.

It has opened a wider gateway for the current governing structure to expand their doctrines of ‘divide and rule’ and has also enabled them to curate a set of post-Covid-19 social, cultural, political and scientific narratives of violence. In the future, these narratives might assist them to further justify that Hinduism is more civilized, more superior, more sensible and more valid than Islam and will function as a strong support system for their communally segregated political frameworks.

Capitalism and the developmental state
The value of human life can be affirmed by ensuring its existence, dignity and survival. The existence of communities and their continuity lies in local government and service delivery in particular. In the postcolonial epoch, citizens have had to fight for their dignity and survival. People have had to protest and damage property in order to be heard and for basic services – some of which are enshrined as rights in the constitution – to be provisioned. Some have had to resort to courts of law while most have accepted their fate – one of a kleptocratic and apathetic government.

Many a times when people have voiced their concerns, they have been oppressed and suppressed often by the petty bourgeoisie which uses the state apparatus of the monopoly of violence. History always repeats itself with countless instances of state sanctioned violence behind the veil of law and order – just like during apartheid in South Africa. Some citizens can be rightfully hopeless to fight for their dignity because they are aware of the state apparatus and modus operandi of violence instead of solid stakeholder engagement and solution seeking exercises.

This induced and deliberate perpetual conflict between state and citizen is problematic. It maintains the status quo because it hinders development. It rather enforces the hierarchy of coloniality by placing, in this order, the bourgeoisie, the workers and those in the darkest periphery of poverty. It hinders the development of some while exponentially growing that of others, the bourgeoisie. We call this ‘cheating development’ because it systematically hinders some while allowing others to grow.

At this point it is unwise to speak of a so-called developmental state as such. That is perhaps a myth if not a wish. Rather, we can currently speak of a pseudo developmental state due to the stench of coloniality which suffocates those at the periphery. We cannot stress enough that discourses on development are often a disguise for enriching the bourgeoisie. We will reach a fully-fledged developmental state once we unwind the political and economic marginalization of citizens.

The proper developmental role of the postcolonial state is manifesting due to the humanitarian crisis Covid-19 presents to us. Basic services are being made to be seen as if they are rapid responses to prevent further spread of the virus. In former colonial boundaries such as ghettos, informal settlements and villages, state visibility is now more mature than before. Security forces can now patrol heavily armed unlike before. When there are serious instances of crime and hotspots we never see such visibility. In normal days, drug trafficking, violence against women and girls, murder, theft and so forth, reign supreme.

This crisis shows that there is no lack of capacity but lack of will and therefore competence due to lack of experience in dealing with the root of societal problems. The history of corruption in both our countries shows that the lack of political will is mainly because of local governments or municipalities looting money which is earmarked for development and basic service delivery.

It is therefore our position that the state does not deserve a medal for the delivery of services such as water and sanitation, health, security and social development. This is not a privilege but a right because people pay taxes. The very idea of a tax is for the development of a state. Some of these basic services are even codified by law in order to affirm the universal principle of dignity.

Service delivery in times of crisis must not be seen as goodwill from political leaders. They are just saving face because if they do not act, they stand to face a revolt from the proletariat and those in poverty. They also stand to face moral outrage for a crisis that the world has set its eyes on. We find this problematic because human life has to be lost first to be taken seriously. The nature of leadership is reactive rather than proactive, this is fundamentally wrong. It does not only deserve moral outrage but political outrage as well. This outrage stems from the failure to be true to politics – which is the leadership of people and resources to ensure an integrated and sustainable society.


Ompha Malima is a student and former youth activist. Twitter: @MrOmpha. Sayan Dey is a Lecturer in Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. Twitter: @sayandey89.