When Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indians to show gratitude through thali, taali and ghanti on Sunday, the country’s upper middle class and the elites couldn’t stop themselves from proclaiming how great their ‘supreme leader’ was. Some even uploaded videos explaining the ‘scientifically proven’ benefits of sound produced by clapping and ringing of bells — as a measure to kill coronavirus, the pandemic that has tied the entire world up in knots.
Influential personalities like Kamal Hassan, Rajinikanth, Sonu Nigam and several others supported the PM’s call. Soon after, TikTok was flooded with videos of people demonstrating how they were going to clap in their balconies, burst fire crackers and light diyas.
For a country staring at millions of coronavirus cases and deaths possibly in lakhs, it was a sad reminder of public indifference to a major health crisis as thousands of people all over the country came out on the streets Sunday to beat utensils and blow conch shells — because it was a day of celebration, not a curfew.
— Shailaja Shashikant Jogal (@jogalshailaja) March 22, 2020
A gift from abroad
But this indifference is not unique. After all, it is the country’s elites and the middle class who have brought this deadly virus to India. Be it the first case of a Kerala resident returning from China’s Wuhan — where the COVID-19 originated — or that of Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor, who came from the UK and slipped through screening spots at the Lucknow Airport to join politicians at parties and social events over the next few days, without alerting anyone about her travel history.
The Uttar Pradesh Police may have booked her for negligence (she was tested and found positive) but will there be any action against the political leaders and others who were partying despite ‘social distancing’ and ‘no handshakes’ and ‘stay at home’ becoming the buzz words, with no less than PM Modi mouthing them?
Speaking of Modi, nearly two months after the coronavirus outbreak in China, his government didn’t see it fit to cancel or limit the India tour of US President Donald Trump and his entourage in late February. Instead, it went ahead as per the planned schedule — trips through three cities in three different states, along with a rally for 1,00,000 people in Ahmedabad — while the state government got a wall built to hide the poor living in the slums.
The elites didn’t cancel their parties and those travelling abroad didn’t stop themselves from bringing the virus back home with them. Ministers and MPs who came in contact with Kanika Kapoor have quarantined themselves. Some like former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and her son Dushyant Singh (who later met President Ram Nath Kovind and even went to Parliament) got their test results — negative — within a day when common people have to meet several criteria to even get tested and then wait 5-7 days for the results.
Sharing it with India’s poor
But India’s wealthy didn’t just bring coronavirus to India; they are now passing it on to the poor and working class too. As journalist Richa Pinto reported, Maharashtra had its first positive COVID-19 case from the underprivileged background only this Thursday. A domestic worker in Mumbai contracted the deadly virus from her employer who had recently returned from the US. “Until Wednesday, it was largely travellers from the affluent class or those with a history of foreign travel who had tested positive for COVID-19” in Maharashtra, which has so far reported the maximum number of cases in India.
Some journalists were also tweeting about their domestic workers using PM Modi’s speech as an excuse to take leave on Sunday for Janata curfew.
In West Bengal too, the positive COVID-19 case came from the corridors of power. A son of an IAS officer escaped the test for days and was later found to be carrying the virus. The bureaucrat’s mother had by then attended several meetings. There are several cases such as these and many more will likely emerge in the coming months.
Yet to loosen the purse strings
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has shipped millions of face masks and testing kits to African and Asian countries. World’s second-richest person Bill gates had announced $100 million aid in early February. Pop star Rihanna has pledged $5 million for ventilators in hospitals. Hollywood stars Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have pledged a $1 million while designer Versace has offered to pay more than $200,000 to a hospital in Italy. Netflix has created a $100 million relief fund for those in film and TV industry affected by coronavirus.
We haven’t heard from staunch nationalist Akshay Kumar or Anupam Kher or Left’s favourites Anurag Kashyap and Swara Bhasker or everyone’s megastar Amitabh Bachchan. Nor have India’s billionaire industrialists — the Ambanis and the Adanis — have felt any urgency to offer any support. Anand Mahindra, the owner of Mahindra Group, finally became the only one so far to announce some help — his 100 per cent salary as aid, offering to turn Mahindra resorts into care centres, and planning to make ventilators.
There are many things the rich class in India can do. Not bringing the poor down with them, when they show little heart to lift them up, should be on top of their list. Now more than ever.
Views are personal.