Effects of Corona pandemic called for a considerate and considered response. They call for all care for the vulnerable and all help to the needy. They call for all efforts – medical, economic and social- to minimize the affliction and save the afflicted. They call for solidarity with the affected and all measures for those who are likely to be. They call for imbibing the lessons learnt from the pandemic and force a course correction. Heightened activity, standing with those in need and pressing for that which is needed, will be helpful in advancing the struggle for radical transformation of society.
A crisis lays bare more clearly the character of a society and its contradictions; it makes apparent the clothes (or lack of them) of the emperor! Where-else has one come across millions walking across thousands of kilometers on foot! Where-else (except some cases in our neighbouring countries in South Asia) has one seen brutal assault on the people for controlling this pandemic! Poor people are being treated as human vectors and being subjected to economic and social culling.
This crisis has demonstrated, if it was required and probably it was required for the middle classes, once again that there is no substitute for a public health system. With four fifth of health care in the private sector and four fifth of doctors too in that sector, there is no role being played by the private sector in meeting the requirements arising out of growing pandemic. Except probably of those who come in as experts on TV channels. The vast private infrastructure built with support from Govts., money from public sector banks and thriving on the entitlements from the Govts. is lying waste as there is little profit to be made. Govt. has not moved to marshal these resources, built largely with pubic largesse, in the task of meeting even the emergency health needs of society.
The situation calls for raising the demand and building a movement for strengthening public health system and providing universal free health care to every Indian including all its aspects e.g. medicines, hospital stay. After all, the Corona pandemic has highlighted the need to attend to health needs of society and that this can be done through a public health system only which at present is in precarious condition. The meagre allocation to Health in Budget does not permit this. Govt. should allocate 5% of GDP to Health. Central Govt. has promised to raise the allocation to 2.5% over the next five years. Why not raise the allocation immediately to this level i.e. 2.5%, in view of the need of public health system highlighted by this pandemic? All steps including providing PPEs, accommodation and risk allowance should be given to health care workers. All health care workers should be regularized. Moreover, preventive aspect of health care should receive proper care.
The plight of the workers, particularly migrant workers, has come into limelight since the beginning of lock-down. There are crores of migrant workers (139 million according to 2011 data). They are starving and destitute, without food and wages. But the Govts. have displayed the most cynical and insensitive attitude toward these workers who have built the metropolises, sky scrapers, smooth highways, and who provide services most inexpensively and generally help to bring down wage rates and raise profit rates. Govts. have asked owners to provide them with wages and food and house owners to not charge rents and evict them. Govts. have outsourced this responsibility knowing full well it will not be fulfilled. We should demand that free food (or dry ration with all things attendant) should be supplied to all at least for six months and Public Distribution System should be revamped for this. There should be no requirement of any cards. Hunger does not care for them. Moreover, it should cover the rural areas where vast multitudes of landless poor peasants and agricultural labourers are without work and food.
ILO estimates widespread job losses, especially in the unorganized sector, in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, putting this as roughly three fourth of the total employed. With over 90% of the workforce in India in unorganized sector one can easily see the magnitude of misery and destitution staring at workers in India. While corporate should be asked to give salaries (without any cuts), govt. should pay the salaries for the workers of all the micro, small and medium enterprises. Leaving it to owners will lead to litigation during the pandemic and job losses after it. This coverage needs to cover not only the period of lock down but the period till the economic activitiesare resumed and the enterprises start employing. The economic package announced by the Govt. is peanuts (it also includes already existing schemes) and will do little to revive the sectors employing large number of employees. Construction, MSMEs, retail trade, tourism and hospitality industry, transport, besides aviation and real estate are facing prospects of a large-scale drop in business and job losses. All these need to be addressed with specific measures. There is a need to waive off interest on the loans to MSMEs as well as postpone EMI payments for the middle classes.
In fact, the world will face big economic depression in the coming period. IMF estimates a decline of nearly 9 trillion US dollars in global GDP i.e. global GDP contracting by roughly one tenth. China has seen nearly 6.8% decline in production while US has seen over 4.8% decrease over the last quarter. And all these estimates are subject to the projections of control being made. IMF has been repeatedly revising its estimates. For India it has been bringing down projections of growth rates, now projecting contraction. Worldwide contraction will have repercussions on the global economy. Corona has comfortably slipped into the ongoing trade conflicts and rise of protectionism, intensifying both. Post-Corona world economy will not be same. Foreign capital has already started leaving third world countries including India. But it has not stopped the ruling class politicians from clamouring for capital from imperialist countries. The situation demands that Make in India be coupled with Make for India and for a campaign against stranglehold of imperialist capital in different sectors of economy.
Agrarian economy has been crying for drastic measures. Landlords and rural elite have made most of the relief that has been sent to rural areas, meagre as it is. Their control over panchayat institutions has come in handy for this. But the vast masses of peasants and agricultural labourers are in the crying need for relief. MNREGS should be extended to cover everybody and for as many days as necessary and not only given to job card holders, there should be immediate and full purchase of agricultural produce from the fields at MSP along with Corona bonus to compensate for loss of earnings from other sources which is an important component of income of all sections barring landlords, rich peasants, money lenders, generally the rural rich.
All sections of people need help arising out of economic depression and need to avoid Covid19. It was expected that the Govt. would do everything to help the people overcome this crisis. However, the Govt. has done little except heaping pain and suffering on the people. The way they have imposed and extended lockdown without caring for the common people is ample proof of how much this Govt. ‘cares’ for the people. Govt. is holding people responsible for Corona spread while Govt. bears the main responsibility. On the other hand, in the name of tackling Corona pandemic, the govt. has launched frenzied attacks on the people. While they are asking people to be “where they are” they themselves are using this situation to affect changes which they have since a long been trying for but were meeting resistance. In the name of controlling Corona pandemic, all the sites of protest against CAA-NRC-NPR have been forcibly dismantled. And a witch-hunt has been launched against activists who were active in protests and in relief work post violence in Northeast Delhi in last week of February. Even the Epidemic Diseases Act is being used on a mass scale to suppress political dissent. With higher judiciary in self-imposed selective quarantine, the democratic rights of the people, including those sanctioned by law are being trampled on, with Supreme Court abdicating its responsibility, a few bytes to the contrary notwithstanding. In this period too, Supreme Court has not refrained from delivering judgment against reservation in tribal areas, making a number of observations against reservation for SCs and STs and also on minority educational institutions. On a number of petitions on the plight of workers and peasants, Supreme Court has generally been reposing faith in the Govt. Corona has covered up this abdication. All witch-hunts be stopped, all political prisoners should be released and sending to jail as well as custodial interrogation must be immediately stopped. Corona should not be unleashed against political opponents.
Govt. has been making a lot of hue and cry about lack of funds. This cry is generally reserved for when the govt. has to spend on the people. This lack has not prevented the Govt. from writing off debts of defaulters to the tune of nearly 69 thousand crores. In fact, Modi Govt. has reportedly waived off the bank loans of the rich to the tune of Rs. 6.65 lakh crores. This is in addition to tens of lakhs of crores doled out to super-rich in the form the taxes waived every year. And this section, patriotic as it is in RSS vocabulary, is not to be burdened except in the messages delivered on channels.
The method to raise money has been a clear exposure of the Govt. Central Govt. employees are being forced to contribute to PM Cares Fund. Govt. has also announced freeze on DA for next 18 months. State Govts. of different parties are also cutting salaries of govt. employees. But when it comes to raising Income tax, Central Govt. came down heavily on IRS officers who suggested to raise income tax to 40% for those earning over one crore annually and that too temporarily. Central Govt. has announced initiation of disciplinary action against these officers, saying that this proposal is against the govt. policy. Even making such a suggestion pertaining to rich ‘patriots’ is not to be tolerated! Through this the Govt. has clearly stated that its policy is to tax the poor while giving largesse to rich. It is they who control the mainstream media and any offence to them will seriously undermine the artificially manufactured consensus on the steps to tackle Corona. They have already spread Corona, one should not expect them to spread their wealth as well!
But similar consideration was not shown to the poor. Indirect taxes which affect poor the most, continue to be high. Despite collapse of crude oil prices in the international market, this has not been translated into reduction in prices of diesel and petrol. On the other hand, several state govts. have increased prices of diesel and petrol. Such shortsighted policies are not only against the people but detrimental to efforts of revival of economy. In fact, all indirect taxes should be abolished, especially those on petrol and diesel. Lowering the prices of petrol and diesel will be helpful for agricultural operations as well as industry besides lowering the prices of essential commodities.
To raise the funds, direct taxes should be increased. Income tax on the rich and super-rich should be increased in graded manner. It should be remembered that income tax on the rich and super-rich has been reduced since the advent of new economic policies. These slabs should be increased to 40% for those with income of above one crore annually, 50% for those with income of above 5 crores and 70% for those earning above 10 crores annually. Similar slabs have existed in the past.
Wealth tax, which was waived off nearly two decades back, should be re-imposed. It was 2.5% then and it can be same to start with, to be further raised as per the need.
Govt. must stop filling the coffers of the rich. No NPAs should be waived. No debts should be written off. Rather corporate veil, a construct of the company law, should be lifted. It means that default amount or tax dues should be recovered from other assets of the defaulting party. This veil can legally be lifted in certain cases and default/NPA should be covered among them. It will help for feeding the people and spending on public health. And after all rich are being made to pay only what they must pay, only they will not be allowed legal subterfuge.
It is also time that Modi Govt. should bring back black money stashed in foreign banks. Modi had promised it earlier.
Rather than taking these measures the Govt. is using the Corona pandemic to legislate anti-worker changes. It has tried to increase the working day to 12 hours while the need of the hour is to reduce the working day to enable more workers to be employed. Corona times have made the May Day Struggle issue contemporary and relevant. If Govt. is serious about its promise of payment of full wages to workers (No lay off or retrenchment), a promise they must be made to honour, shorter working hours will increase efficiency. Moreover, Modi Govt. is also speaking of using Ordinance route for enacting Labour Codes which is an out and out anti-worker step.
A big movement is necessary to bring pressure on the Govt. to adopt pro people measures. Need is to rally the workers and other laboring sections on these issues. A broad-based unity of the working class must be built on these issues. But for the struggle to advance, revolutionary forces in the working class movement must play their due role. They must build broad united action without compromising on their initiative. This combination alone can take the movement beyond the confines imposed by the ruling classes. Revolutionary forces have the responsibility to articulate uncompromisingly the interests of the working class and toiling people.
May Day 2020 comes during challenging time. But challenge also involves opportunity for those who have a vision to see and who dare to advance. Corona pandemic has sharply aggravated the already deepening crisis of the imperialist system. Post-Corona world is pregnant with many changes and possibilities. It is for revolutionary forces to turn these possibilities into movements forcing changes and advancing towards changing the system.
April 30, 2020