In the past two days I have listened to three interviews with Indian journalist Barkha Dutt about the stunning second wave of COVID deaths in India. Dutt lost her own father to COVID within the past week. She comes from what she describes as a privileged family in India, but even so, she was not able to get the medical attention that could have kept her father alive. The desperation in her reporting and in her voice are inescapable.
After it became apparent that a second wave of COVID was out of control in India, a number of journalists posted photographs of vastly overburdened crematoriums operating all over the country. There was also video footage of hospitals that are so over run patients are laying on the ground, or on flattened paper boxes with IV feeds hanging from the limbs of trees. Family members are desperately running from hospital to hospital seeking medical attention for loved ones, and individually searching for oxygen and taking it to those lucky enough to be in hospitals.
According to Dutta, India was incredibly complacent after the first wave of COVID. Most people thought the worst was behind them. The Indian government failed to buy adequate supplies of vaccines to cope with a possible second wave, rejected the idea of buying vaccines that weren’t completely made in India and even gave vaccine away after the first wave. Politicians continued to have enormous rallies without any social distancing or masking and the government allowed masses to gather for religious services.
Now, a second wave has hit India and even the official statistics of deaths are stunning. And, as Dutt reports, the official statistics, alarming as they are, are grossly underreporting the number of deaths. Dutt has talked to crematorium workers who report burning over 120 bodies a day. This is one crematorium in one location. Government statistics for that region, report something like 47 deaths for the entire city.
Dutt has said that she can’t even estimate how extensive the underreporting is. She said that she has seen instances where there is as much as a four-fold difference between the official statistics and those she estimates for a city.
To add to the problem, some testing facilities have been asked to decrease the amount of testing so that there will not be so many cases reported. This is reminiscent of actions taken by the Trump administration when COVID case counts became politically embarrassing.
Dutt argues that the Indian government was outrageously complacent and did not adequately prepare for the possibility of a second wave of COVID. She also reports that people in India while initially forgiving of the mistakes of the government, are now angry.
Some people are blaming health care workers for the lack of vaccines and infrastructure, but in fact, it is the fault of the government. Citizens, she says, have been left to fend for themselves. Whether you survive this pandemic depends on who you know and how strong you are. It is survival of the richest and the most connected. People feel that they are out there all alone, she says. There is no state apparatus to turn to for help at the hospitals or the crematoriums. It is just every person on their own fighting for resources. You can hear the fear and desperation and anger in her voice.
This is what the social configuration looks like when the state breaks down in a complex society. This is exactly what the Republicans have in mind for this country. They have worked for decades to destroy the faith people had in the government. They have worked tirelessly to block any policy that would have allowed government to improve their lives of the citizenry. They have blocked any policies which would have even allowed the government to function. Republicans are against effective programs to deal with COVID because successful state intervention in a crisis might have caused people to start understanding and valuing the role of government in a complex society. An effective government response to COVID might cause people to question whether the state is the enemy.
Numerous corporate journalists (who are like parrots) are now having a field day talking about how the Republicans have ceased to be ideological. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have been and are now conducting an ideological fight for a world where life is each against all, where the wealthy and the powerful can secure access to health and clean food and clean water and the rest of us fight it out on the street as did Dutt’s family when they went to have her father cremated.
This is the world Republicans are ushering in. The reality is staring us in the face every day, with every news report, but the reality is so disturbing Americans cannot and will not look at it. They would prefer to watch corporate news hosts make celebrities out of the hundreds of thousands of people who needlessly died because of a refusal to allow the government to act. They would rather watch hosts quote rap lyrics as if they were great literature, follow the soap opera of the royal family, or interview each other about their books (which all say that the institutions are holding and everything’s fine). The American people would, in other words, prefer to do anything, anything but look at the stark reality of the world the Republicans are preparing us for.
And, we should remember that many of these Republicans have no investment in this world. They truly believe that this is the “end times,” and that in a very short time they are going to be leaving the rest of us behind while they ascend to heaven. So, far from being free of ideology, they have the most destructive ideology on the planet. They believe that the worse things get the better because that brings us nearer to the end of the world.
If you want to know what that world is going to look like, just take a look close look at India.
Dutt was interviewed on Christine Amanpour’s nightly news program and by Ian Bremmer on his podcast, Gzero World (5/8/21)