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Contagion and Constitution - Pandemic and Preamble


Dr Jas Simran Singh Kehal

jas simran kehal may 2021The architect of our constitution felt that it is workable, flexible and strong enough to hold the country together both in peace and war time. If in recent times we have Covid-warriors and Covid war-rooms that means we are indeed at war. Let us analyze how our constitution has fared during these testing times. And let’s probe the pandemic’s influence on the constitutional values of a common citizen.

The Preamble indicates the basic structure of the Indian constitution which cannot be changed in any case or situation. Unfortunately, the Corona virus has not only attacked the respiratory system of its victims but also pounced on the heart of our constitution- that is its Preamble.  

‘We the people’ suggests that constitution is given by the people to themselves and power rests in the hands of the people. It contrasts pure people with the corrupt elite. The pandemic has proved that the current regime has not only rendered these pure people helpless and vulnerable to the deadly virus but also mischievously laid hold on their fundamental rights.

Sovereign Modi handed himself a second stint by using the war cry of the Pulwama attack and making voters believe that it is only him who can ensure India’s external sovereignty. About this dominion, Carl Schmitt describes - A sovereign dictator is a dictator who does not defend an already existing constitution but attempts to create a new one and who does so not by his authority but in the name of the people.

If the richest 1% has cornered 73% of a country’s wealth, can it be termed a socialist nation? Regrettably, these are our national statistics. Covid-19 has proved to be a holocaust for nations with a capitalistic approach to healthcare, the United States being a perfect example.

The United States, despite spending more than 17% of its GDP on healthcare and having state-of-the-art health facilities has been the worst performer in relation to the Covid pandemic. India, trying to copy the US healthcare model but with a dismal 1% health budget is bound to fare more badly than the worst performer. The ghost of capitalism has come to haunt countries that took healthcare as a commodity rather than a responsibility.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates about 1 million Covid deaths in the US and 1.5 million deaths in India by August end of 2021. Comparatively, it predicts less than 5000 deaths in China and less than 500 in New Zeeland by this August end. This striking contrast is the result of the differences in political will and priorities to deal with the same virus.

On one side was Howdy Modi followed by Namaste Trump last year building a seven feet wall not only to cover their inadequacies but also their poor foresight to deal with this pandemic. Perhaps, this is how capitalist-controlled states function. On the other were China, New Zeeland, and the Indian state of Kerala whose Covid elimination strategy was acknowledged worldwide. These acted as a welfare state which is a kind of neo-socialism.

The pandemic has proved that the virulence of capitalism seems to be of equal potency, if not less than that of the Corona virus. Now, where does India stand on the socialist platform globally amidst this pandemic? If Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII) that manufactures a Covid vaccine, has to move to the UK with his family citing threats for prioritized delivery of vaccines - priority perhaps in terms of class (upper than lower), states (BJP ruled than opposition ruled) or cost (the higher bidder) - we are indeed a failed socialist state. Not failed by our constitution, but by its custodians and that includes its citizens.

Covidization of society has also conveniently led to laying the blame squarely on minority religions breaking the secular fabric. Conveniently blaming and prosecuting the Tablighi Jamaat even when the transmission rate was low and not only giving permission to Kumbh mela but also allocating tax payers' money to spread the deadly virus at times of high infectivity smacks of religious bias. Before the pandemic, India’s biggest CAA detention center to house 3,000 inmates spread over 25 bighas, was being built in Assam. Had our current regime a secular mindset and invested similar time, money, and energy in setting up quarantine centers and hospitals for the Covid affected, things would have been better. The virus doesn’t differentiate based on religion while manifesting its virulence, the current regime does.

Covid-era will be remembered as times when India was downgraded to an “elected autocracy” from democracy by Sweden-based V-Dem institute and a “flawed democracy” by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Right on the lines of his friend Donald Trump who coined “Make America great again” which in reality meant to make America white again, Modi’s Hindu-Rashtra philosophy is nothing more than a savarna theology.

Amatya Sen once remarked that democratic governance is the best antidote to the destructive effects of famine in developing countries. Coronavirus has unveiled a monarch in the form of Modi who first instilled Covifear to impose sanitary dictatorship and then propagated apprehensions of disease and made people bang thaalis and taalis. Those were the times when the world leaders were strategizing to combat the deadly virus when our elected monarch was scheming out Bihar elections during the first wave and Bengal ballot before the deadly second.  

Justice is on halt and arbitrariness prevalent in implementing the rule of law. After a sudden lockdown last March when hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers across the country were on roads walking back to their hometowns, Solicitor General Mehta told the Supreme Court on March 31, 2020 that there were no laborers on the road and that a lot of the panic had been caused by fake news. It was in May that SC took cognizance of the matter on migrants and the matter was not even heard until September. Similarly, on an urgent matter of oxygen and essential Covid drugs shortage on 22nd April this year, SC seemed to be busy in its Chief Justice’s retirement and postponed the hearing for the next week.

When an ex-CJI accused of sexual harassment charges is bestowed Z+ VIP security cover within days of retirement and a Rajya Sabha membership within months thereafter, justice is held hostage by extra-judicial powers. And when an ex-CEC is tipped to occupy Palacio Do Cabo (Raj Bhavan in Goa) as a reward for helping the ruling party in its quest for an opposition-free Bharat, democracy has been abducted by extra-democratic forces - all happening in times of pandemic.

As per our constitution, India seeks social, economic, and political justice to ensure equality for its citizens. If social justice means the absence of privileged classes in society then who were those who were assisted by the state to flee the country to safe shores in private jets when flights were banned? If political justice means equal political rights to choose their government then who were those who managed a successful coup in Madhya Pradesh and attempted one in Rajasthan, shamelessly at the time of pandemic? If economic justice means equitable distribution of wealth, who are those who are hoarding and black marketing those oxygen cylinders, concentrators, and vital life-saving drugs? ‘Apada mein avsar’ (opportunity in disaster) is perhaps an opportunity only for the millionaires to become billionaires.

As far as liberty is concerned, the virus has held liberty of the entire society but in the garb of this virus, there is a selective curtailment of freedom. Scenes of police lathi-charging migrants trying to get back to their homes and the same force facilitating crowds at political rallies point to liberty being selectively subverted.

As far as equality of opportunity is concerned, the virus is potent in attacking its victims without discrimination but chances of survival are only for those who can procure or purchase oxygen, expensive drugs, or ICU beds. Pictures of a lady giving mouth-to-mouth respiration to her husband in an auto-rickshaw portray a larger canvas where masses are left to die as if they are living in a gas chamber, with oxygen supply to a select few. Indeed, the opportunity to live has been snatched from the common man.

As far as fraternity is concerned, it seems to be only fostered at the international stage as India has exported 66 million vaccines worth $108 million to about 100 countries across the globe. These would have immunized the full population of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. In pursuit of being a Vishwaguru, the Vaccine-maitri scheme has rendered us Vishwa-Gulam as in the current scenario states are begging for vaccines globally to import them at all costs.

At Singhu border, Gurinder Azad has his interpretation against farm laws. He described farm laws as one of the many steps undertaken to unsettle the federal structure of our nation which is also under pressure from ill-conceived Covid policies. Authoritarianism has piggybacked on Corona virus to crush federalism.

The contagion has left exposed our constitution to fascists. A proxy plea was filed in the Supreme court during the pandemic seeking removal of the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ from the constitution’s Preamble. But as Albert Einstein said - The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it.

Let us tie down the government to chains of the constitution to ensure implementation of the values enshrined in our Preamble in a time of health crisis. This crisis is going to have social, secular, political, economic, and democratic ramifications which are going to affect our liberty, equality, and fraternity.

~~~

 

Dr Jas Simran Singh Kehal, MS (ORTHO), is an Orthopaedics Surgeon. He also has a Masters degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Punjabi University, Patiala. He can be contacted at Kehal Trauma Centre, Nangal Dam, Punjab.

 

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