Government of India
The Government of India (ISO: Bhārat Sarkār), often abbreviated as GoI, is the union government created by the constitution of India as the legislative, executive and judicial authority of the union of twenty eight states and eight union territories of a constitutionally democratic republic. It is located in New Delhi, the capital of India.
- The government was not able to handle the economic fallout for the poor. [...] The COVID-19 outbreak is yet another demonstration of how the Indian poor are systematically excluded from the government’s policy-making. A case in point is the government’s failure to account for the 40 million poor and homeless children before declaring the lockdown. The COVID–19 episode in India has proved that, to date, the voices of the poor are unheard in the decision-making and policies that affect them the most. Further, data and evidence regarding them are least likely to be considered by the government when framing policies.
- Surya Gupta and Armin Rosencranz, COVID-19, the Government’s Response, and India’s Sustainable Development Goals (May 22, 2020), edited by Tim Zubizarreta, JURIST
- The 40-day lockdown was further extended at a time of sporadic expressions of resistance and anger by migrant workers in a few cities. Extreme precarity doesn’t have a singular expression. While some are responding with anger, others are responding with resignation. The severe distress among migrant workers in India is not entirely by chance. It has been marinating for a while but the epic new scale has been manufactured due to the unplanned and unilateral decision of a lockdown taken by the prime minister. The arbitrariness and unpreparedness are evident from the confusing messages from the central government concerning transport for migrants.
- The migrant worker distress has also exposed the inherent fractures of the “one nation” narrative that is one of the unique selling propositions of the BJP government. While it goes against the grain of the idea of India that has a rich tradition of pluralism, it is also meaningless from a governance standpoint. Migrant workers don’t carry their ration cards and so haven’t been able to avail of government rations in the states where they are stranded. The employers, contractors mostly, have largely abandoned them without paying them wages. Consequently, they are left to scrounge for food and are left without money. In many cases, they are stranded without knowing the local language. In this situation, it is the poorer state governments of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, etc. that have attempted to seek out “their people” stranded in richer states such as Maharashtra or Haryana and make cash transfers to their account. The economies of these richer states have benefited from the labour of migrants from the poorer states. However, the richer states have neither extended any financial support nor forced employers to pay wages to the workers. Worse still, on May 5, Chief Minister of Karnataka, B S Yediyurappa, cancelled trains for migrant workers from Bengaluru to their home states. The decision was taken after a meeting between the chief minister and the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (CREDAI). Neither migrant workers nor trade unions representing them were consulted. This was not only insensitive but a violation of the right to live with dignity (Article 21), right to freedom of movement (Article 19) and prohibition of forced labour (Article 23). The government decided to restore the train services only after protests.
- Barring examples from Kerala and Telangana, most host states have demonstrated disregard for migrant workers. It behooves the host states to care about the migrant workers not only from a humanitarian standpoint but also from the perspective of the health of the economy. On its part, the central government has maintained a calibrated silence regarding this. Monopolising decisions and socialising losses are not what federalism is supposed to mean. Therefore, it is time that the poorer states realise that the unilateral lockdown is not just an assault on the dignity of the poor, but also an economic assault on the poorer state governments. Further, there has been a concerted effort by the central government and some host states to hold the labour captive in the richer states by making transportation procedures unreasonable.
- The approach of the Indian state to citizen participation has always been based on arrogance. It is also informed by overemphasis on the rhetoric of law and order. The former leads the state to believe that citizens are not, and should not be, active agents. This means that citizens must wait for leaders to mobilise them and guide and supervise their actions. Similarly, citizens must depend on the largesse of the state in deciding what is good for them. This gives rise to the syndrome of government as caretaker/parent and leaders as political chaperons. The Indian state also privileges the idea of law and order. If a parental state negates the idea that people have agency, the emphasis on law and order legitimises that negation. Thus, the discourse of rights and individual dignity becomes permissible only if it is subservient to the statist idea of "order". Legislative imagination, judicial interpretation and public perception are all stacked against the idea of the citizen as protestor. In contrast to the legacy of the freedom movement, democracy and popular participation are seen, both theoretically and legally, as inconsistent with, and often even opposed to, an orderly society.
- The emphasis has been twofold: That the state knows, the state is right, the state must be privileged, and that citizen action is suspect, potentially disruptive and liable to punishment. It is in the backdrop of this subdued rights discourse and de-legitimised agency of the people that the current moment has unfolded wherein criticism is almost seditious, claiming rights for marginalised sections can be termed as waging war against the state and empathising with victims of social injustice is ridiculed or forbidden. The current regime has converted the penchant for sub-democratic state action into a fearsome art.