Chinese police officers wearing masks stand in front of the Tiananmen Gate on January 26, 2020 in Beijing, China. | Photographer: Betsy Joles/ Bloomberg via getty images
Chinese police officers wearing masks stand in front of the Tiananmen Gate on January 26, 2020 in Beijing, China. | Photographer: Betsy Joles/ Bloomberg via Getty images
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The coronavirus pandemic isn’t taking a toll only on economy but it is also affecting our relationship with democracy. We have gone from blaming democracy for homeless migrant workers to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation. We have secretly fantasised about enforced discipline of authoritarianism to tide us over the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

When the news of the coronavirus began to flood social media in late December and early January, there was a belief that the democratic governments around the world will soon find a solution to the problem. In India, too, there was hope that all departments of the Narendra Modi government would work in tandem, like we had seen in the past during terror attacks or in wartimes.

By March, though, the belief started changing. In developed countries such as Italy, the UK, the US, Spain, France and Germany, the situation turned from bad to worse. The US, the biggest democracy in terms of economy, was dragging its feet. Its president Donald Trump was making one irrational statement after another. The only time he sounded smart was when he requested India for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ). But soon, it was clear: a democratic, united fight against the pandemic would only be found in Hollywood movies. Reality was a mess.

Also read: India’s democracy deficit comes in the way of its battle against COVID-19

Loving autocracy

People’s social media timelines were flooded with news of deaths and predictions that crores of people are going to get affected by the coronavirus. That’s when people secretly started rooting for autocratic rule. Democracy was giving too much freedom. So India’s love for strict rules and school-like punishments began to resurface. Democracy, some said, was hindering the fight against the coronavirus.

Late Rishi Kapoor demanded that an emergency be declared to keep people in their homes and obey the lockdown. Democratic India was being projected as a failure because it was attacking doctors and nurses. A police officer’s hand had been chopped. The hitherto unknown Tablighi Jamaat claimed its fame by becoming, as projected by pro-government channels and bigots on social media, the super spreader of the coronavirus. It is the anything-goes nature of democracy that allows such mishaps to occur again and again.

For many on social media, the initial dislike for China turned into admiration over its tough, autocratic manner in which the lockdown was imposed. For middle-aged uncles picking holes in the democratic system, for whom things like democracy, freedom and human rights were “soft, endearing terms that sound good during peace time”, China finally succeeded in controlling the spread of the coronavirus because it showed “national character” whereas European countries like Italy didn’t and therefore struggled.

“In India, citizens showed their unity while clapping and banging thali. But in the end, they submitted to the call of one person.” The elders locked in their homes recalled the Emergency when all the offices and trains ran on time. “That kind of discipline is required to fight a pandemic,” they said.

Also read: Legal autocrats are on the rise. They use constitution and democracy to destroy both

Giving up on democracy

As the coronavirus continued to spread, people no more in love with democracy started wishing for a powerful leader who could keep everyone forcibly at home, a leader who will single-handedly revive the economy by forcing people to work 10-15 hours a day. And once the pandemic has been conquered, they will work so hard under that leader that India will become a world power within a decade.

Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut’s celebrity sister Rangoli Chandel called for a complete ban on national elections so that PM Modi can continue to rule because what, after all, is a democracy? And why care about poor migrant labourers who just wanted to exercise their democratic rights and return to their homes thousands of kilometres away, even if it meant they had to walk hungry and thirsty? They could have simply stayed where they are. Would they have been able to travel in lockdown if they were in China?

Then we learnt that an app, Aarogya Setu, wants to collect our data to contact-trace coronavirus cases — only, there was no limit to the amount of data it could collect from us. The Modi government then fixed some security flaws, and is now on its way to make its use mandatory — it has already made it for its employees and for people living in ‘red zones’.

It’s a wake-up call. Be it any part of the world, and regardless of the situation, you can’t let go of your democratic rights. Life is not only about surviving a pandemic, it is much more than that. It is arts, literature, cinema but most of all, it is people, and from every strata. Laughing, crying, struggling to make a life for their families. For them and us, democracy is a necessity. Autocracy is that weak moment in which citizens don’t want to take the responsibility of their democratic rights. Autocracy isn’t good for anyone, not even the autocrats. By the way, a second wave of coronavirus is back in China.

Views are personal.

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  1. Are writers like you paid for writing this kind of gobar on such a big platform? All you do is scream so loudly for freedom and democracy but you don’t sound like you have the minimum criteria to be called a sensible and responsible citizen.

  2. Why does The Print have journalists like Gupta and co who have a myopic view which differs from majority view and reality on the ground. Are these journalists on the payroll of the Chinese/Pakis etc? Perhaps, that is why The Print lacks credibility!

  3. Upper and majority of some what better off middle classes always love autocracy. They know democracy leads to concessions to the poor and disadvantaged

  4. Simply mentioning Views are personal pseudo declaration. If it’s personal why are you broad casting the views thrusting on the public at large. You are not understanding realty.

    You are comparing India to USA, ITALY AND SPAIN without understanding and being blind to facts and results.

    Whole country is not going to beleive or follow a particular individual whoever it is to ban elections or make a person to be our perennial dictator.

    There is a limit to denigrate the virtues of our country and spreading the hatred. We should do constructive criticism it is undesirable to do blind criticism and at the same to time not to have blind faith.

  5. The only point to back the assumption that we are “secretly” loving autocracy was the use of Aarogya Setu app (which obviously would need to collect the most data possible, if it was trying to save a billion lives). Whether people are going to keep using the app after the pandemic is over, whether the government makes it a compulsion even after is definitely food for thought.

    On the contrary, the author herself “secretly” fantasises about autocracy, for she sees the demand of people for good governance as the demand of people for autocracy. So, she believes, autocracy = good governance. Wonderful! Good reporting. Exactly what the country/world needs right now.

    (Views are personal)

  6. Autocratic or authoritarianism? This article paints a biased picture, an agenda which is being pushed through by this blog which isn’t even chewable. I am calling this a blog because it is not deserving of the journalism tag. Go and see the plight of migrants. Go and look for those who had to sleep on empty stomach yesterday without a hope of having any food the next day. Less governance is good governance. And if you do not like democracy then I’d request you to move to Brunei once the lockdown ends

  7. If Indira Gandhi had this app in 1975 , the emergency would still be on. That’s how deadly its potential is.

  8. Thanks for an excellent article, brainwashed Indians will not appreciate. Not all democracies failed against Corona. Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea have set examples. Japan has democracy & discipline, proving they can co-exist. Pakistan is an example how religious fanaticism & weakening of democratic institutions can damage a nation.

  9. Only such outstanding scholarship can place reliance being placed on a bollywood actor and a relative of a bollywood actor to drive home a brutally flawed point of view!

  10. This is something I wanted to read someone bothering for personal liberty and Democracy.
    There are many loopholes in system making arogya setu app complusion is like weird one.
    what About people using feature cell phone that doesn’t support android application.

  11. RSS inspired by Adolf Hitler
    Each coin has two sides Heads or Tails? One side would mean good and the other bad,
    RSS formed in 1925 (94 Years) inspired with Adolf Hitler and adopted his bad side as used for
    Jews (Holocaust) to crush Muslims (Bharat Minus Muslim) and failed to follow good side i.e.
    boost of economy: Adolf Hitler achieved his goals in four years from bankruptcy to strong
    nation with economic Sciencefic development policy challenged the World but Nature not
    permits him.RSS /BJP is incompetent busy in raising slogans only to take country towards
    Stone Age.

  12. Wow, an opinion piece citing a bollywood star and a close relation of a bollywood star!
    Such profound research and analysis.
    Scholarship at its pinnacle.

  13. India is and has always been a feudal society; the eldest male member in the family treats everyone to go by his edicts and he tries to do so till he can and when the next generation walk out of his influence.

    The Child also goes out and brags, “My father is strongest.” He keeps doing so until he finds that too painful and walks out of that.

    The same thing plays out in politics as well; the children of Modi within the party and outside of it go and brag, “My Modi is strongest.”

    They keep doing this until they gain their sense and decide to walk out of the shadows of their political father.

    The children of Modi are clapping for their feudal father and they want everyone else also to do so.

    Their father and they try to scare all others who don’t go by their ways.

  14. NO , NO, you are absolutely wrong India or Indian do not love autocracy. Why you or journalists of your type have not read , or if read kept remembering even recent history. First major attack on indian democracy was inflicted by Madam Indira G in 1975 and in 1977 , at first available opportunity she was shown people power. since then most of the incumbent governments can not claim to be getting third term as was practice during pre-1977 era of Nehruvian dynasty. From 1984 to 2014 all the governments formed were coalition governments – some of like-minded parties and some as rag-tag jugaads to stay in power till coalition crumbles under its own weight. Again , in era between 2004 and 2014 , the DYNASTY ruling by a remote control and its sponsored class of journalists misread the MOOD of NATION and thought the Golden days are back again for EVER as the government and its ministers indulged into unprecedented corruption and the clan of journalists unprecedented fallaterry. But every crisis or hopeless point of time gives birth to new breed of reformers. Babas led moral protests to show the sanity in public life. . Narrative changed. The political horizon saw rising of new star in Modi — the most hounded politician between 2002 and 2014. Is it history of some isolated island located in vastness of Pacific ocean ? Madam, it is most recent history of our own country. It has story, it has meaning, it has message for all reporters, politicians on the both sides , and even for public which is actor, visualiser, witness and participant. Please overcome your tendency to see in a binary or with anti-Modi goggles.

    Even remember , 2020 history in -making. Modi government has so for done better on Corona front better than many of , if not all of, foreign governments. Data and visuals are on your TVS, Laptops .

    India is moving ahead, will move ahead . if not an actor, be witness to war India is going to win against pandemic or managing ECONOMY simultaneously or afterwards.

  15. This article is utter nonsense. Even if it is an opinion, such opinions are crass and not worth publishing. There should be a difference in opinion and fiction. I admire The Print articles but this reporter is a fiction writer and a bigot in real sense. If you people want to be a great portal, stop publishing such fiction articles.

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