Beijing’s response to Covid underlines that the world needs more democracy, not less
GS Paper III
Topic: Science and technology
Mains: Propaganda campaign by China’s Authoritarian system to end the blame of COVID-19
What’s the News?
There is no escaping the fact that COVID-19 may not have become a pandemic if China were a democracy with a free flow of information through an independent media and accountable political leadership.
Propaganda campaign by China’s Authoritarian system to end the blame:
There is a desperate effort on the part of China to erase its culpability in unleashing COVID-19 across the world through the lack of transparency inherent in its one-party authoritarian system.
- By demonstrating the superiority of its authoritarian system as contrasted with the delayed and often less-than-effective measures taken in democratic European countries and the US in particular. The other seeks blanket publicity of its provision of much-needed medical equipment and medical teams to assist affected countries.
- In reporting on India, Chinese media has often highlighted the plight of migrant workers and the frequent violations of social distancing regulations. It is true that India has sought and received much-needed medical supplies from China.
- China wants to make everyone believe that COVID-19 virus did erupt in Wuhan, but it may not have originated in China.
- Once the gravity of the situation was recognised, Chinese leaders promptly informed the WHO and shared the DNA sequence of the virus with it and other countries and having achieved notable success in arresting the spread of the virus, valuable assistance is now being provided to affected countries in the spirit of solidarity.
- There is no escaping the fact that COVID-19 may not have become a pandemic if China were a democracy with a free flow of information through an independent media and accountable political leadership. This is like original sin, which cannot be whitewashed.
- There are democracies which have done as well if not better than China without resorting to its sledgehammer tactics. Notably, there is Taiwan, which is constantly bullied by China.
- There is South Korea, which has even held parliamentary elections after having brought the pandemic under control.
- Even in India, the government is providing daily updates on the spread of the virus. The media is able to report on the shortcomings in government policies, which are then addressed, though not always efficiently.
- The bottom line is that as a result of being a democracy, we have a better chance of knowing the true dimensions of the crisis, of being able to obtain constant feedback on people’s reactions and access the best advice from multiple sources.
- There have been reports from Guangzhou on racial discrimination against stranded African students, which has led to a sharp reaction from African countries. This will be difficult to live down.
- There is no doubt that economic activity in China is beginning to revive after a steep drop of 6.8 per cent (year on year) in GDP during the first quarter of 2020.
- China’s economy is not as export-dependent as it has been in the past. Exports were 19.5 per cent of GDP in 2018 against 32.6 per cent in 2008. But the external economic environment is critical for China’s globalised economy. It is a significant node in the most important regional and global supply chains.
- This will be impacted by countries re-shoring production or opting for shorter and closer-to-home supply chains, having suffered from disruptions during the pandemic.
- Japan will spend $2.2 billion to assist Japanese companies to shift units from China back to Japan or relocate to South East Asia. In 2012, when China-Japan tensions were at a peak, there was a similar move and India was seen as an alternative. But that opportunity was lost. Perhaps India has a second chance.
China and democracy:
- China will suffer from accelerated “decoupling” from the US economy with COVID-19 sharpening the already fraught bilateral relations.
- In a sense, China was already decoupled from the US by denying entry to US tech giants, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, even while its own tech multinationals like Huawei and Alibaba have built markets in the West. This cannot be sustained.
- The winners in the more digital world which will emerge post-COVID-19 will be the American tech giants, even though the US is politically dysfunctional. Democracies sometimes win even if their politics is frustrating.
- There is no comparison between countries where information flows freely and citizens can criticise their governments and those where the truth was suppressed. Given these differences, the choices made and what China is today let’s not be so naïve as to say it’s been much better at handling this.
- Rather than express envy of Chinese authoritarianism, Indians should be thankful that we are a democracy. We need more democracy, not less, to overcome the COVID-19 challenge.
Language of war against virus has exacerbated the situation for Muslims
GS Paper I
Topic: Indian Society
Mains: Coronavirus and Ghettoization of Muslims and its effect
What’s the News?
Just before the news of coronavirus infection broke out, the largely-Muslim gatherings in protest against the discriminatory citizenship law, NRC and NPR were blamed for the intensification of anti-Muslim bias among the Hindus.
Time to introspect:
- India should introspect and not feel outraged when international bodies advise it to stop the stigmatisation of COVID-19-infected people on the basis of their religious identity. The attacks on Muslims, for instance, continue unabated.
- The sense of resignation of a young Muslim friend was palpable when a young Muslim man committed suicide in Una in Himachal Pradesh after his fellow villagers boycotted him.
- It is, however, not surprising that the head of the government does not feel the need to talk about this crime against a religious community in this hour of global crisis.
Sense of alienation:
- It serves little purpose to enumerate and describe the cases of boycott of Muslim vendors and instances where colonies and lanes have been made inaccessible for people of the community.
- It is no use relating reports of Muslims being forced to live on a river bed in Punjab. It only increases the sense of depression amongst the community and emboldens the Muslim haters.
- Even some well-meaning people in the media succumbed to the old social pathology and felt compelled to create a subhead in their newspapers of COVID-19 cases attributed to the Tablighi Jamaat. The Delhi government felt obliged to hold daily briefings under the category, “Tablighi Jamaat”.
- An impression has been created that Muslims are the “super spreaders”. This when there are reports of experts stressing that sampling information must also be provided for the numbers on the Jamaat-related positive cases to have any meaning. We need to compare the size of the Jamaat-related samples with other samples.
- There is a lament that the Jamaat gathering provided the Muslim haters with an excuse for attacking the community.
- It was argued that it was suicidal for Muslims to protest as Muslims, as it would create fear among Hindus and alienate them further.
- Instead of addressing the deep-seated Muslim phobia in society, many of us are advising Muslims to behave as good Muslims and good citizens. Muslim-phobic material seems to be produced on a mass scale in cyberspace and distributed.
- The language of war against the virus has only exacerbated the situation for Muslims. The virus cannot be seen. Carriers of the virus are visible. So, the “warriors” are attacking them and safeguarding the nation. Gangs of youngsters guarding their localities and villages, shooing away Muslims or attacking them have proliferated.
- Mosques are being vandalised. Gradually a feeling is taking root that the Hindus should not engage in any transaction with Muslims. This could drive Muslims out of the economic realm.
- There are very few of them in the formal sector, anyway. Their further marginalisation would mean being shut out of the informal sector as well. After political and social alienation, this would be the most disastrous thing for them — almost an existential threat.
Coronavirus and Ghettoization of Muslims:
- ‘Ghettoization’ refers to the phenomenon of isolating the members of one community in a separate place. “Ghettos” are those quarters or those parts of cities where the community resides, separated from the other parts of the country/city.
- Ghettoization provides an easy target to hate-mongering organizations backed by powerful authorities. Additionally, the ruling authorities find it easy to curb civic, educational, and other facilities to those areas.
- In the seven decades of Independent India, Muslims have systematically been forced into ghettoes. There were already two zones of sensibilities in India — Hindu and Muslim. The current crisis is being used to deepen the divide.
- The coronavirus has exposed the frailties of humans, and their helplessness as well. We, as a human society, need to mobilise all our scientific and spiritual resources, from all traditions, to meet the challenge that this virus has posed before us.
- It asks us to come out of our confines, join hands, heads and hearts and learn from each other. We cannot afford to be petty and vicious towards others.