Greatest leveller of all

COVID-19 will not just go down in history as a once-in-a-100-years pandemic that took our pants and knickers off. It shall also be reminisced for how, under duress, it brought us together as a nation. And brought in a semblance of united humility

Last week, I talked shop about the complete lack of unity in our political, Corporate and social classes. Of how we, as a nation and as a people, have shamelessly fallen apart at a time that is most perilous and demanding, when the shrieking call of the hour is to stand together as one to effectively fight off the many demons we face. Of how, our national economic and personal growth — achieved over two decades — has waned and is now near-dead. Over these two decades, we realized, accepted, and became blasé enough to expect and fantasize about glitzy cars, glitzier gizmos, shiny gadgets, split ACs and what have you. Life became comfy and tantalising, and very real and easy. At least for the choice few living in India's once-fast and crazily-modernizing metropolises.

That dream is now gone. As is the yearning for glitzy cars and gizmos. But the veritable and incorrigible truth is that we were not completely dispersed and were totally disunited as a people.

I was right in my previous article, but not correct. I was a mite wrong. Because I did not mention that there is something that still binds us together as a nation, something like never before — the dreaded Coronavirus. And just one week later, I cross out and notch off some of my own writings.

Paradoxically, we are uniting again. Finally, though only on one footing. What's uniting us, sardonically, is COVID-19. Yes, the virus that makes us stay away from one another and not shake hands or hug, even makes us shudder at the thought of proximity even with friends and loved ones, is the only aspect now in our distraught lives that is not discriminating, or giving heed to caste, creed or stature, even religion. It is turning out to be the greatest leveller — within the country, and without.

The list is growing

Amitabh Bachchan and his entire family, plus some staffers. Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Tamil Nadu Governor Banwari Lal Purohit. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and his daughter. BJP chief of Uttar Pradesh Swantantra Dev Singh. Jay Pratap Singh, the Health Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Rajendra Pratap Singh, the Rural Development Minister of the same state. UP Jana Shakti Minister (for 'People Empowerment') Mahendra Singh.

Uttar Pradesh is a numbing example, as the list of afflicted ministers in the state soars. As per news reports, lady Cabinet minister Kamal Ravi Verma is no more, having succumbed to COVID-19. Chetan Chauhan, Labor Minister, has also been tested positive, as has been Uttar Pradesh Ayush Minister Dharam Singh Saini. And the state's Youth Development Minister Upendra Tiwari. If we move to Karnataka, other than Chief Minister Yediyurappa, three Cabinet ministers are down for a bit. They are Forest Minister Anand Singh, Tourism Minister CT Ravi and Agriculture Minister BC Patil. In addition, over 15 MLAs in Tamil Nadu and nine in Madhya Pradesh (eight from the Bharatiya Janata Party and one from arch-rival Indian National Congress) have tested positive.

Some more? Bihar Communist Party of India Leader has succumbed to the virus, while state BJP chief Sanjay Jayaswal has tested positive. Ditto for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. As was a former-Congress leader and Rahul Gandhi confidante and enabler Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Only common denominator

The only one denominator common to every person in the list above — and these are our harbingers, caretakers and saviours — is that they have all admitted themselves into private hospitals. That's food for thought. The powers that be, those who claim, swear and wax eloquent in TV debates on the readiness of our hospitals, that they have worked through the lockdown and are now ready to take on thousands if not lakhs of the average affected Indian citizenry into Government-run hospitals, prefer only and only private hospitals for themselves and their loved ones.

That's food for thought. And hardly an act that inspires confidence in the average citizens. If nothing else, it will push every affected Indian with some and any means to head only to private hospitals for treatment if they feel they are infected. And boy, is that list growing? And as it is ordained to in such turbulent times, the tussle for space in private hospitals is already worsening and their 'charpoys' are already beginning to creak.

And how about the home-truth that despite the Central Government passing on the mandate of monitoring and capping the fee being charged by private hospitals to state governments, no real promulgation has been passed? In the few states where such orders have been passed, private hospitals are flippantly and arrogantly refusing to rein in their lust for profit, even at this scary and deathly juncture. Strange? No. I find it callous, mysterious and clearly motivated. The old adage raises its ugly head through these money-grabbers — make love while the sun shines; make profits when the sun begins to set.

Big numbers. Little hope

Amid all the fear and chaos, here are some numbers that are causing debate and consternation. The Central Government recently announced details of India's COVID-19-readiness. Here's a quick look-see. Today, we have 11 lakh isolation beds in place, as also 11,000 'Coronavirus facilities'. We have 1,300 Government-certified labs for testing of the disease, which are together performing over 5 lakh tests each day. This imputes that at today's established going rate, we shall be able to test out our entire population in 7 years and 4 months, give or take a few weeks. Great, we shall be almost there — by 2027.

Also, consider the fact that we had no Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits six months back, and today, India manufactures 5 lakh of them daily, manufactured by over 1,200 different companies. Perhaps that is where the slogan of 'Aapda Mein Avsar' (Opportunity in Distress) was born — we Indians certainly know how to identify them.

But despite all these egregious accomplishments and shiny badges, every celebrity and important person getting infected is still running to the closest private hospital. When India's former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot at and assassinated, she was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. When Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Union Cabinet members Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were in need of emergency health services, they were also at AIIMS.

Has AIIMS lost its halo amongst the elite now? (But very recently, a most-senior journalist and a personal friend was in need of basic medical treatment — he went to AIIMS).

What is the scenario?

Rather dismal. Since 1991, the Government spending on national healthcare as a part of the national Annual Budget has diminished disproportionately. Today, we are brewing the results. I recently visited a Government hospital in Delhi and close to the COVID wards were a few beautiful dogs, lazing and yawning in the corridors.

Karnataka hospitals went one step better; there were pigs there, lounging around, as only pigs can. Clearly, our Corona-warriors need slightly more than flower petals showered on their heads from helicopters — let's get rid of the canine and the porcine. Ahmedabad was gutsier — a medical centre burned down there, ridding the residing eight patients of their misery and fear.

Saturation point

Much as osmosis, we have reached an inflection point, the true bottom line. Butter chicken and traffic jams are back in our lives. As are crowded bazaars and marketplaces. Malls are out for now, but they shall eventually make a comeback. But fear and trepidation prevail deeper. Today, united India gives one-another a little bit of space, if only for worry of their own safety. When we don't, most of us Indians today warn the wavering next-idiot fellow-countryman take care and "better pull your mask above your nose".

It is a beginning. The end is still distant, some miles away. Today, I see some unity. Albeit borne out of fear. Worry. For one's own self and for close friends and family. I see crassness on the streets and in the corridors of buildings. Acceptable. But the average man and woman are scared. Rightly so. We are saving ourselves, and in the process, one another.

The problem is the idiots within our ranks, in India and otherwise, who believe themselves indestructible. Those that flaunt their off-mask faces, and snicker at our efforts. They should not be allowed to prevail. Hopefully, they shall not make us pay…

The writer is a business analyst and communications specialist. He can be reached at

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