According to Mahatma Gandhi, the main political power lies with the citizen and not the state. His principle for the legitimacy of the state was self-rule and this principle extended to the individual; a legitimate state is the one in which each individual has the freedom and responsibility to rule himself/herself. His civil disobedience movement established the fact that it is the citizens who maintain a just society by choosing to obey or disobey the state laws. Modiís Janata Curfew was a success due to the mass obedience of the citizens and it is the cooperation of citizens that will determine the feasibility of the current lockdown in India.
Rural districts have reported less cases of COVID-19 as compared to metropolitan cities due to lower population density. Rural regions also have much less pollution which could be a contributing factor to lower number of COVID-19 cases. Gandhi believed in the power of the grassroots level society, the rural society; he wanted the state to consist of self-reliant villages and was sceptical of the modern industrial city. In the Gandhian model, India is a rural country. If Gandhian ideals would have prevailed, there would have been less rural to urban migration and hence, a smaller number of immigrants would have been stuck in the current lockdown in India.
Gandhi was not a supporter of the capitalist model and gave importance to individual autonomy over the forced external process of industrial productivity. In the context of times in which socialism in India had been losing ground due to muscular nationalist right-wing propaganda of the current regime, the coronavirus epidemic poses an unprecedented challenge to the dominant economic model of the country. Nehruvian socialism which believed in the utility of the welfare state seems more relevant currently.
A socialist nation has larger welfare measures in place as far as health and education is concerned. India is one of the countries with the lowest state expenditure on healthcare. India spends only 3.66 percent of its GDP on healthcare while advanced nations such as Japan, which contained the COVID-19 outbreak pretty well, spends about 11 percent of its GDP. India has only 0.5 hospital beds and 0.8 doctors for every 1000 citizens. The percentage allocation of GDP in a right-wing nationalist state is much more on military and security forces as compared to education and healthcare. An ultra-right-wing state pays less attention to the welfare of low paid workers. The COVID-19 Lockdown in India, which was announced just four hours earlier than the starting date, has affected the unorganised sector working class to the worst extent, rendering them hungry and homeless. A state which pays less attention to human resource development leads to higher rates of unemployment with the unemployed class resorting to the unorganised sector for their living.
Epidemics hit states with deeper social inequality harder. Paradoxically, epidemics are blind towards class divisions. The Coronavirus epidemic is an unprecedented test for a welfare driven social democracy. The shock of the current public health crisis might force the ruling political dispensation to understand that some crises can be bigger than even wars. Some crises are not defeated through the army but through the collective health and education of the society.
Manjima Misra is the author of two books: Indian Feminine Fury and Unapologetically Mad. She has studied English literature at University of Delhi and will be pursuing her masters in gender studies.
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