Medics outside an isolation ward of coronavirus at Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, on 2 March 2020 | PTI
Medics outside an isolation ward for coronavirus patients (representational image) | PTI
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Coronavirus isn’t just a health crisis, it’s a crisis of capitalism.

In 2001, a high-intensity earthquake rocked Gujarat, claiming thousands of lives and livelihoods. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was the prime minister at the time, promised Rs 100 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to rebuild the government’s G.K. General Hospital in Bhuj city. Vajpayee also reportedly wanted to set up AIIMS-style hospitals in four regions of the country, and Bhuj’s hospital would be AIIMS-West. But as luck, and political interests, would have it, AIIMS-West was never built. Instead, Bhuj’s state-rebuilt G.K. Hospital was acquired by the Adani Group on a 99-year lease through a resolution passed by then chief minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2009. Today, the Adani Group runs the Gujarat Adani Institute of Medical Sciences —GAIMS— and its privatised footprint keeps expanding.

Why am I talking about the Gujarat hospital now? Because the story of G.K. Hospital is the story of India’s response to the novel coronavirus. Coronavirus isn’t just a health crisis, it’s the crisis of billionaires, corporations and capitalism.

The pandemic has sparked a conversation across the world on the importance of public healthcare, high-testing rates and ‘social distancing’ measures, which involve staying at home and quarantining. It is an incredible sight — suddenly, more and more people are demanding greater government role and investment in science to develop a vaccine, passengers returning from New Delhi’s airport wanting cleaner and better quality government quarantine facilities, and the upper-middle-class and elites are asking for ‘work from home’ and paid sick leaves.

For the first time, ‘Indian billionaires’ was trending on Twitter — people were asking where our Ambanis, Adanis, and Mahindras were. Finally, Anand Mahindra announced Sunday that his company will be working on making ventilators and offered his hotels as COVID-19 hospitals.

The message is loud and clear: Everyone, even the richer classes, has become Socialist in times of a pandemic. It’s time we realise that billionaires aren’t the cure for pandemics — the State is. 

It is the Indian state and its capacity that citizens, rich or poor, are again turning to as the country goes into the 21day-lockdown PM Narendra Modi has declared.


Also read: PM declares 21-day full lockdown across India from midnight, Rs 15,000 cr to fight COVID-19


Charity to demand

Today, we have taken the first step by asking questions of India’s billionaire class. Tomorrow, we must shift our political thinking from pity and charity to demanding the governments tax billionaires higher and ensure rights for workers in these mega-corporations and factories. To immediately contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, put an additional tax on the top 1 per cent of the rich. The latest Oxfam study shows they own more than four times the wealth of India’s bottom 70 per cent. We will deal with a pandemic better when we demand that billionaires give higher wages and paid medical leave to all workers — including at Reliance, Adani’s power plants, Amazon’s warehouses, and Uber drivers.

While we were endlessly debating the policy logic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 5 pm taalis and thaalis (when millions of Indians living in poverty don’t even have balconies), another announcement was made. This one was by Kerala’s chief minister. Pinarayi Vijayan announced a Rs 20,000-crore package to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

This is not merely a study in rhetorical flourish, it is a study in political economy. The much-reviled ‘radical Leftists’ were proposing government aid for MGNREGS workers and daily wagers, providing free food grain up to 10 kg through ration shops, and provisions to disburse early social security pensions, among other things. Meanwhile, Spain has nationalised all its private hospitals, and the UK’s Chancellor just announced that the state would pay up to 80 per cent of the wages of Britain’s workers who are not working during the coronavirus crisis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says a minimum of 4-5 per cent of every nation’s GDP should be spent on healthcare. In the Union Budget for this fiscal year, healthcare has been allotted just 1.6 per cent of the GDP. Just for some perspective, we spent Rs 2,989 crore on a Sardar Patel statue, over Rs 1,100 crore to conduct a failed citizenship exercise in Assam and have allotted Rs 20,000 crore to redesign New Delhi’s Central Vista.


Also read: Homeless with no income, migrant labourers wish they had left Delhi before the lockdown


A clear caste-class divide

A primary health centre (PHC) is the first point of access to healthcare for most Indians, not Fortis, Medanta and Delhi’s leading private hospitals.

It is in this area that Kerala outperforms other states, and it is where we must push governments to focus on. Now is the time to ask those millions of poor and working-classes across religions whether the Modi government has invested in their hospitals or instead pushed for Niti Aayog-style backdoor entry of privatisation through ‘public-private partnerships’. Now is the time to ask how much the government invested in science, research and development, especially in a country where cow-urine and cow-dung are being peddled as substitutes for vaccines.

Moreover, the International Labour Organisation estimates that about 81 per cent of those employed in India are part of the informal workforce. Daily-wage earners, domestic workers, street vendors, contractual safai karmis and cleaners are all at the very heart of this pandemic. Even as you sit at home quarantined while reading this, the Zomato and Swiggy delivery people or your cook don’t have government protections and strong unions yet. And for the waste-pickers, the ones sanitising public transport, the virus has reinforced caste occupations.


Also read: Sitharaman promises economic package ‘soon’, but eases norms for businesses and taxpayers


Socialism for the rich

To those saying that corporate efforts such as privatisation and taali-thali-charity are the way out instead of the State ‘giving freebies’ (or rather doing its job for healthcare, domestic and public workers), remember the curious case of the SBI being called in to bail out Yes Bank?

Since 2014, India’s banks have written off bad loans worth Rs 6,60,000 crore. The message is clear: When an Anil Ambani or Subhash Chandra make hay, the Socialist public sector steps in to save the private banks. So, the irony is this — privatisation’s elite cheerleaders actually do like Socialism when it works for their personal benefit, just not when it’s meant for the masses. Indeed, as Bernie Sanders says: “Socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor!”

The author is an MLA from Vadgam constituency, Gujarat. Views are personal.

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. This fellow is a dinosaur. In the first quarter of 21st century, he is talking about socialism! We are living in a harsh capitalistic environment. Either earn, or perish.

  2. LOL Do you even know how much rich are taxed in India its 42.7% on income, GST additional with higher rates for things rich people buy, what do they get in return nothing to say. I am surprised rich have not started moving out of India. No doubt good for nothing fellow Mevani is author here. Whole article is nonsense.

  3. Communism &socialism failed , while a pandemic has brought to its knees all sorts of govts and countries , the citizens of social ists countries were fleeing to capitalist countries even during better times. The idea that some individuals in govt can redistribute wealth when tried out resulted in the officials distributing misery & keeping the wealth themselves . Look at the case of banks , nationalised banks & public sector units have guzzled billions of rupees in capital & occasionally a Yes bank was brought down by its promoter due to greed , we need a government that works for it’s citizens to provide a fair system , which is a pipe dream for India. Socialism vs Capital ism is the wrong sort of debate, in corona times.

  4. Mr mawali, Socialism brought us nothing but poverty without privatisation no economy can develop, certainly not India. If Kerala was performing well it would never had 100 cases. Now, don’t come up with testing logic.

    India needs to get rid of Socialism.

  5. Jignes ji – how much money you paid to The Print to get your blog on their website. Also who is the original writer? Can you speak even 2 lines in English.
    Really pity you, a jobless politician with no future.

  6. Article has some insights but I still didn’t understand how coronavirus and capitalism fall in the same discussion. May be we could talk of globalisation and coronavirus and even then we can’t really rubbish it. I don’t understand why capitalism came into the discussion. But yes, we obviously expect the state to step in because it is every state’s (capitalist and socialist alike) job to protect lives. If this crisis is used by any leadership to take india back to pre-1991 economic model, then that would be a grave mistake. And I agree that indian state has to spend more on healthcare and other important services like education. But we don’t need to abandon free market in other areas. The reason why indian state fails to provide its citizens essential healthcare services is precisely because it gets into areas of business where it should not get into. I’d like to write more, but it’d be too lengthy. But I as an aspiring young indian wouldn’t want to see anymore socialism than already there. May be the right kind of socialism where state runs healthcare and not hotels would be welcomed.

  7. India has plenty of Jignesh Mewanis who make big noise in empty vessel,catch attention of Poor people become MLC & MLA & their achievement ends with hollow speech. Has he made upliftment of downtrodden?. Hollow speech does not fill stomach of poor.

    • Instead of replying to the topic , you are trying attack the character of the columnist – be it MLA / MLC – Ad hominem attack – logical fallcy.

  8. It is time that jignesh and his supporters should be seen working on ground helping poor and needy. He should waste his valuable time online.

  9. During the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent depression in the USA, it was JP Morgan who kept the market afloat by daily buying at govt. request. But for him, USA would have been a history. Billionaires do help constructively when asked.

    • That is why RBI is not publishing the largest wilful defaulters list – citing vague provisions of some law – otherwise ordinary citizens would come to know – which ” Big Money Bags” are being propped up by public money, We have not learnt anything even after Rs 6 Lakh “Hair-Cut” taken by public sector banks due to the NPAs of our so called Industrialists….

  10. India has been “socialist” since independence in exactly the same sense this author has described. Then why is the health infrastructure is such a bad shape now? Please stop this nonsense. Trying the same thing again and again and expecting the results to be different has a name: stupidity.
    Also, why is it the duty of the billionares to feed the poor? If they do, it is a virtue.

  11. Shame on you Jignesh. People like you have fallen to such low levels that during desperate times like these you are still indulging in caste politics.

  12. This is utter nonsense. Handling a pandemic requires a cooperative society. Socialist govts by their very nature create divisions in society as this article itself demonstrates. The history of the last 70 years is filled with socialist demogoguery against one social group or another. This makes effective response to a pandemic impossible because all social groups interact with each other. If we are to follow the ideas propounded in this article, we will be in a hopeless situation.

  13. At this juncture a ‘socialistic’ view may seem the most apt. But with only that in our country would have been more disastrous – at present 70% health care is in the hands of private sector and 30% ….the health care sector as a whole would have been just around 50% of the currect size had it been left to Governments with a socialistic thinking. In fact there would have been a lot more poor people now in the Corona outbreak times seeking health care from far poorly equipped Government facilities had we been following socialistic policies.

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