What did the Modi government do wrong

India's government and the struggle between rich and poor

The Indian government puts the blame for its failure in the corona crisis on migrant workers and Muslims. Large parts of the Indian media and the upper middle class are willing to help

On the 13th day of the curfew, migrant workers have largely disappeared from the headlines of the Indian media. In any case, they had only made it there when the subject could no longer be denied. Hundreds of thousands wandered around the streets and highways without food and medicine - the problem has still not been resolved: Many are still on the road and those who have arrived home are treated like lepers there.

In addition, half of the Indian population could run out of cash in a few days. How many people are hungry or even starved can only be estimated.

But suddenly the Muslim community of the Tablighis hit the headlines. Around 4,000 of its members had already gathered in Nizamuddin / New Delhi for a multi-day meeting before the curfew. 25 percent of all newly infected people come from this meeting, for example, was the headline Indian Express and thus gave the impression that the Tablighis were responsible for the spread of the corona virus.

Previously, according to the government, it was foreign tourists who are said to have spread the virus. The fact that initially there were a particularly large number of foreigners among the corona infected was due to the fact that almost only these were tested.

As Telepolis reported on March 31, Rajiv Gauba, Cabinet Secretary of India, on March 26, drew the attention of all Chief Secretaries of States of the government in a letter to the fact that a far larger number of "foreigners" received little attention: those Indians who worked abroad and now came home on vacation - after all, over a million people in two months, which were able to spread the corona virus undisturbed throughout the country.

It is now also clear how haphazardly the Indian government acted. At first, extra trains were even provided to bring some of the millions of unemployed migrant workers back to their villages. But after Narendra Modi imposed a complete curfew on March 24 - with only four hours of preparation time for the population - these trains also had to stop immediately.

Critics do not accuse Narendra Modi of the curfew itself (which can be right or wrong for India in particular), but that he did not think about the country's poor and migrant workers at all. The government's first major relief efforts did not begin until five days after the curfew was imposed. As an immediate measure, there were only warm words from the country leader.

Now the Indian government is turning the tables with the help of the media and is also blaming migrant workers for their "irresponsible actions" to spread the corona virus in the country. Modi, on the other hand, can almost uncritically sell his supporters that the rest of the world appreciates the efforts of the Indian government in the fight against the corona virus.

He also praises the population for how disciplined they are in adhering to the curfew - as if the pictures of beating police officers had not existed. And no migrant workers either. No desperate slum dwellers who are crammed into a very small space in Kolkata at 38 degrees Celsius.

How does such coverage come about?

On March 24th, Narendra Modi rounded up the main press moguls of the leading Indian media. Including the Indian Express Group, The Hindu Group and the Punjab Kesari. At that meeting, he made it clear to them how important it was that the government was not criticized in the coming weeks. This happened six hours before Narendra Modi issued the curfew.

Now something like this only works because the Indian media have already been brought into line under Modi. In Modis India, TV channels are simply switched off after critical reporting. The critical journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered by fanatical Hindus and not by Islamists or Maoists, the alleged dangers of a "democratic" India.

In addition, the media and government are now using the same tactic that was successfully practiced in February 2019: At that time, Indian economic growth was weakening, and there was the highest unemployment in 44 years in the country - Modi's star was falling.

Then on February 14, 45 Indian paramilitaries were killed in an attack in the Pulwama district of Kashmir. The Indian government blamed Pakistan for this. In the past, such attacks have come from neighboring India - even the Pakistani ex-General Musharraf admitted that.

The Indian government sent fighter planes over the border, where 350 terrorists were allegedly killed in attacks on an alleged terror camp near the Pakistani city of Balakot. But the whole hasty military action was in reality a disaster: Satellite images suggest that the Indian army had simply simply bombed the forest in a hurry.

For this purpose, an Indian fighter jet was shot down and the pilot was taken prisoner. To make the humiliation perfect, Pakistani fighter jets entered Indian airspace without bombing. To top it off, Imran Khan released the Indian pilot - without any conditions, as a pure gesture to de-escalate the situation between the two nuclear powers.

Nonetheless, the Indian media continued to spread the story of killed Pakistani terrorists and celebrated their prime minister as a hero who cracks down.

Poor and migrant workers are the target of a shit storm

The upper middle class in India was grateful because they have had enough of the poor image of their country. After all, her standard of living is no different from the West - she also drives SUVs and Mercedes and goes shopping in huge malls. The poor and migrant workers became the target of a shit storm on Indian social media. They were labeled as anti-social because they would not simply lock themselves up in their "apartments". The "rabble" should be incited with fake news.

According to a study published last December 2019 in Lancet Global Health published, more than 4,500 people die every day in India from the following diseases: 938 from respiratory infections (not COVID-19); 1,421 people from diarrhea; 928 from fever of unknown origin; 1,026 from tuberculosis; and 508 people every day from malaria.

Everyone can imagine the insecurity of the common people when all that didn't count in order to take consistent action, but now, according to the media, the most dangerous disease of the century is up to mischief. How do you explain to your child that they should stay in the hut now, even though they were allowed to hop through the smog beforehand? Children in Delhi grow up with smaller lungs than their contemporaries in the west because of air pollution.

On the other hand, ordinary people should understand if quarantine camps are now being built in their immediate vicinity: In the state of West Bengal alone, there were demonstrations against such camps in several places, in which one person was killed.

The man was one of the protesters and was hit by a self-made explosive device thrown by the camp supporters. In West Bengal these are usually the local party thugs of the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), the political party of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The local party leaders benefit financially from such "ventures". Regardless of whether it is a warehouse, a coal-fired power station or a dirty factory that is being built against the will of the local population: dead demonstrators are the norm.

For most media representatives (in their offices), for the upper middle class and for the government, Corona is of course the most dangerous disease of the century because they too are at risk from the Corona virus. You can protect yourself against air pollution with air filters. Against the noise with noise windows. The poisonous rivers and the lack of drinking water do not affect them either, because they can afford the expensive water in plastic bottles.

And when the heat in the country gets too big, it goes to the mountains - 750,000 Indians alone visited Switzerland in 2017. India is not a poor country, as nuclear weapons and record arms purchases show, "only" the majority of the population is poor.

Exceptional phenomena

Of course, there are exceptions among the better-off middle class who are aware of India's inequality, and their voice is Arundhati Roy. If there is such a thing as hope that a radical rethink is taking place, perhaps evidence of this could be seen in the fact that Arundhati Roy's recent article in the Financial Times was printed: Because in her article the Indian writer and political activist calls for nothing less than an end to the neoliberal economic system.

There are also exceptions among Indian journalists for whom their work is not just a livelihood. In addition to the independent publications, this also exists Frontline-Magazine, The Wire, The caravan and with some cutbacks The Hindu. But the majority of media people play along out of fear for their job or do not even think about the responsibility of their own profession.

A prime example of this is a young journalist I met on vacation on a train from Kolkata to Delhi. He said frankly that he just sat in front of the screen six days a week to produce five to six articles a day for his news agency. "With only 500 rupees per item, there is no other way to make money," he said calmly.

The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India have also already been brought into line. Most of them are on the government cash drop. Criticism is produced in comfortable air-conditioned offices for the "filing cabinet". It was that Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a small umbrella organization of NGOs, who fought before the Supreme Court that social organizations that take part in protests may also receive donations from abroad (India: David beats Goliath).

In 10 years of litigation with the Indian state, there has not been an organization that has joined INSAF's lawsuit. Not even Greenpeace India or Amnesty Internationalwho have completely different financial options. Nevertheless, the story of the NGOs who want to damage India on behalf of foreign powers continues to be told with pleasure, with Modis Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being the largest recipient of foreign donations.

Likewise, in other areas the media adopt Modi's words without questioning them. This was also the case last year when the prime minister proclaimed his toilet reform "latrines for everyone". Not just the morning view from a train of hundreds of people who are still outdoors - where else? - Modi gives the lie to their needs, but also the data of his own government.

That is not to say that India would have no problems from Corona with another government. But additional chaos could have been avoided with a sensible plan. Those responsible in neighboring Bangladesh had given their people a few days before they put people on a ten-day curfew, which they called "vacation".

If the Indian government had made it clear for a few days that migrant workers in their stranded places would not have to pay rent and would have received food and money, a lot of chaos could have been avoided.

But even if this had been done, India would remain an example of how little a 30 year neoliberal growth policy that looks more at the numbers than the social realities has done. India's private hospitals are up to date, so that many Westerners now have their teeth done in India.

But the state health system, on which the majority of the population depends, has partly remained in the "Middle Ages". In the state of Bihar, for example, there are 0.11 hospital beds per 1000 inhabitants. In rural India there is one doctor for every 10,000 inhabitants.

"India; India superpower!"

The upper class doesn't care: "India; India superpower!" shouting is more important to most. At the same time, a crisis shows what level of development a country has really reached.

The next few months will show that 800 million people who are poor in one sense or another cannot be ignored. The corona virus has already spread, as the values, which rise steeply every day, show, and it will continue to spread even after the curfew. Abroad, millions of unemployed Indian labor immigrants are waiting to be able to return home. You will encounter a devastated job market.

Even many who believed they were part of India's new superpower will be surprised when reality knocks on their door and says: Huhu, I look different than you thought!

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