- The lessons of the pandemic must not be lost
In the 20th century the following sentence was widely used by most open-minded progressive writers, “Hunger and famine outside will not allow feasting inside”. In order to reach an equitable balance there were three major revolutions ( Bolshevik, Chinese, Iranian ) and two world wars (WW I, WW II). The human toll was very heavy, it was a century of bloodshed and conflict.
Unfortunately the world started moving in a different direction before the advent of the 21st century. Concepts of free market, deregulation, globalization and privatization started to emerge. Uncontrolled capitalism started to dominate, and even elected governments failed to work for the common good which has now become uncommon. It was both the best and the worst of times. Those with capital could multiply it with ease but those without it were left behind to decay. Even the basics of life, like decent employment, education, health and food, slipped away from a vast majority of the world population.
Progressive thinkers were hoping for the bubble of this evil status-quo to burst. Finally before the start of the Twenties of the 21st century, the so called information age, the ‘coronavirus pandemic’ engulfed the world like wildfire. The entire world came to a grinding halt. The struggle for the basic needs of life became important. Health and food became the top priority for survival. Instead of missiles and armaments for survival and safety, soap became important. Globalized nations were the hardest hit due to the influx of people, the bounties of deregulation could not save lives. António Vieira Monteiro, the President of Santander Bank in Portugal, died of coronavirus, leaving behind all his wealth to his heirs. First it was Italy with over 32,000 deaths by Friday afternoon, now it is the USA with over 93,000 fatalities by the same time that leads the pack. China with its centralized controlled planning was able to contain the Coronavirus with around 4600 deaths.
Instead of wealth, the priority has to shift to humanity. Focus has to be on food for the many rather than feasting for the few as has been the case in the last few decades. Dr Iqbal talked about the day of judgement ( Roz-e-Mukafat ), he lived through the Russian Revolution, predicted the Chinese movement and influenced the Iranian uprising through scholars like Dr Ali Shariati. Pakistan was also his dream. The the land of the pure is also in a reset mode for the first time since July 1977 when democracy was disgraced by introduction of thugs into the political arena. Hopefully the party of the unscrupulous is finally coming to an end. The Prime Minister wants to reach out to the deprived and suffering segments of the society. In the 1960s Bhutto based his politics on Food, Clothing and Shelter (Roti, Kapra, Makan). After the passage of over half a century, the issues remain the same. ‘Coronavirus’ has brought the focus back where it belongs. It seems a breakthrough for change has happened, but at a heavy human toll.
Once the mess of borrowed money is cleansed, the nation must make a firm pledge never to borrow again as it was managed till October 1958. This fast-track development on borrowed resources has not worked. The term Human Race covers people from all walks of life, let us rise together. Fidel Castro was once asked, “Has Socialism failed?” He replied, “Where has Capitalism succeeded?” The future course for the welfare of mankind is between the two extremes, perhaps a Welfare State where every citizen counts
British PM Boris Johnson, the third most powerful leader of the world after the Presidents of the USA and China, had a close brush with death. After being diagnosed with coronavirus he first went into self-quarantine, but as his condition did not improve he was hospitalized and remained in the ICU where oxygen was pumped into his lungs for days. The doctors were not sure if he would make it, and necessary arrangements were made in case of his death. Short of the ventilator he came around. Now he is back in the saddle, full of praise for the National Health Service ( NHS ) which his Conservative Party does not support. Some lessons have been learnt. Healthcare has to be taken seriously at the national level. The job cannot be entrusted to the profit-driven private enterprises, and the same holds true for education. Recently a Karachi-based doctor lost his life as he could not reach a ventilator in time. He was in self-isolation but when he faced difficulty in breathing he called for an ambulance to be hospitalized. He was refused admission in several hospitals and eventually lost his life moving around in search of a ventilator.
The blind glitter of money has taken away the love for humanity. The skewed distribution of wealth has also become a pandemic. It has turned into an incurable disease to build financial empires hoping to dominate the world. Religious scholars believe that nature has struck back by sending a clear message that the status quo cannot continue. Chairman Mao said, “Revolution comes from the barrel of a gun” but this time it seems it has come by way of the virus. The Chinese miracle was achieved with a rag tag, ill-equipped ‘ People’s Liberation Army ‘. Fearing change the empires decided on massive build-up of armaments to ward off reprisals from the oppressed masses. Fighting the status quo and the state apparatus is no longer a workable option. The pandemic to a great extent has neutralized the advantage of brute force, giving equitable peace a chance.
During my student days in US there was a popular joke making rounds. It was termed ‘Jewish Dilemma’ the answer was ‘HAM ON SALE.
The Jews like the Muslims are only allowed to eat Kosher or Halal meat. However only in extreme life threatening situations the Muslims can eat Non-Kosher stuff. After the revolution, China has now emerged as the second largest economy of the world with surpluses running into trillions of dollars, I am sure they can now survive without the wet markets. Beef, chicken, mutton and ducks are now affordable. In discussion with my Chinese friends they still believe that with their size of population, they cannot be selective in their choice of meat. The current outbreak of coronavirus calls for a re-evaluation of this approach of eating everything that moves.
In Pakistan a reset has taken place. The poor segments of society are now being given relief both in cash and kind. The health sector has been revamped to deal with a possible overload of victims. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA ) has played an effective role in organizing this massive effort. But it must not end here, and the focus on common good should continue. Roti, Kapra, Makan cannot be overlooked. The country faces a massive burden of external debt ( $100 Billion ) which it cannot pay back as most of it has been misspent. Instead of temporary relief, the efforts should be for a total write-off. Once the mess of borrowed money is cleansed, the nation must make a firm pledge never to borrow again as it was managed till October 1958. This fast-track development on borrowed resources has not worked. The term Human Race covers people from all walks of life, let us rise together. Fidel Castro was once asked, “Has Socialism failed?” He replied, “Where has Capitalism succeeded?” The future course for the welfare of mankind is between the two extremes, perhaps a Welfare State where every citizen counts.
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science foundation
He can be reached at [email protected]