Democracies in the dock

August 12, 2020

The handling of the Covid-19 crisis has put serious questions on the working of the democratic system, which is generally considered to be the most effective mechanism in dealing with difficult...

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The handling of the Covid-19 crisis has put serious questions on the working of the democratic system, which is generally considered to be the most effective mechanism in dealing with difficult situations.

Major democratic countries like India, the US, the UK, France, Brazil and Italy miserably failed to arrest the spread of the contagion and save precious human lives while so-called totalitarian states like China and Cuba stunned the world by dealing well with the pandemic. The contagion has so far claimed more than 733, 997 lives, and affected over 20,025,245 people globally with a large number belonging to democratic states.

The biggest champion of democracy – the US – witnessed the largest number of people falling prey to the merciless onslaught of contagion. The virus has hit more than five million people in the second largest democracy, decimating over 162,000 hapless souls. The ruling elite sitting in the power corridors of Washington has been hurling allegations at China instead of coming up with an effective mechanism to deal with the situation. The poorest sections of society appeared more vulnerable during the ongoing crisis.

The country of Bolsonaro, Brazil, saw the decimation of over 101,136 souls while the virus affected more than 3,035,582 people, including the erratic head of the state who mocked those urging him to take the pandemic seriously. Several other officials of his government also caught the virus but this did not prompt the righ- wing leader to come up with a quick mechanism to arrest the spread of the virus. His critics blame him for the loss of precious lives that could have been contained or minimized, had the ruling elite demonstrated even an iota of seriousness.

The largest democracy on the earth is also reeling under the corona attack. India has witnessed more than 43,379 deaths while the contagion affected over 2.15 million people, most of them from the bottom layer of social stratification. The situation in other democratic states does not offer any rosy picture either with the UK witnessing over 46,574 deaths because of the contagion that also affected over 310,825 souls. Italy witnessed the decimation of 35,205 besides seeing over 250,566 people falling prey to the virus. Over 30,324 French lost their lives during the pandemic while 197,921 people were affected by the virus whereas Spain and Germany lost 28,503 and 9,261 citizens respectively as of Monday. Over 500,000 people in the two states also caught the deadly virus. Compare this with the death toll of China which was 4,634 as of Monday and Cuba a paltry 88.

Now if we look at the trend in these all states with the highest number of deaths, we notice that all these countries are democratic with a firm belief in the free market economy. Even those that have a modicum of socialist outlook like the incumbent government in Spain seem to be subscribing to the gospel of laissez-faire. Most of these states commercialized their health system, turning this fundamental right into a commodity. Pharmaceutical companies and insurance firms greatly benefited from this commodification of health facilities but it was the general populace in these and other democratic states that suffered immensely because of the callousness of the system.

It seems that the system has been designed in a way that it prefers profit over human lives. For instance, the US spends more than $11,000 per person on health but even then the death toll of the second largest democracy is the biggest in the world. The corrupt health system of Brazil is also said to be responsible for the loss of precious lives that could have been easily prevented if the country had not been pushed into the fold of a ruthless market system. India with its story of market economy success also failed miserably to save the lives of its citizens.

The attitude of democratic leaders is also said to be one of the reasons leading to a phenomenal surge in the number of corona cases which ultimately caused more deaths. For instance from day one, President Trump dismissed the contagion as nothing. Later, he came up with bizarre solutions to tackle the situation. His botched attempts to tide over the crisis further complicated the situation. Disregarding social distancing, he organized political rallies besides allegedly instigating his supporters to come hard on those talking about caution and care. During one of the greatest crises of American history, the American president remained obsessed with his electoral preparations.

Modi’s lockdown appalled the world because it left millions of workers stranded in the major cities of India. Many of these hapless souls marched for days or weeks – in some cases even months – to reach their native towns, only to be told to go back. But even this highly risky approach could not prevent deaths. Superstitious attitude of his supporters and ideological mentors also complicated the matter with some mendicants coming up with ludicrous solutions to address the problem. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Bolsonaro also demonstrated a lack of seriousness in dealing with the problem.

Amidst this great crisis, leaders of democratic states chose to seek confrontation with China, Iran and Russia. Instead of admitting the gross incompetence of his administration, Trump laid all blame on Beijing for the spread of the contagion. Modi’s India promoted war frenzy at a time when people were dying of the virus while Boris Johnson was seeking to settle accounts with the red dragon by lambasting Huawei. Those that did not have external enemies like the Brazilian president came hard on internal opposition to divert the attention from the crisis.

This utter failure in mostly Western democracies in particular has raised many questions. People are questioning why the US administration that is trying to police the world failed in putting its own house in order. The loss of over 150,000 lives, larger than the number of people killed in all wars since the Vietnam War, has baffled Americans, making them wonder what led them to their miserable failure despite having the best technology and an ocean of wealth. They are also lambasting their government for allocating precious resources into conquering space at a time when they can see the corpses of their fellow citizens on the earth.

Similar questions are also being raised in the UK and India where their so-called democratic leaders demonstrated a callous attitude towards the loss of precious human lives. These questions will not end here. They have the potential to bring the entire democratic order into disrepute because when it comes to saving human lives, for ordinary people it is the protection of life that becomes profoundly more important than anything else. They do not care whether the US has captured several parts of the space or India is emerging as global military power or the UK is ascending on the world horizon with its ambitious plan of nuclear weapons’ modernization.

So, it seems democracies are in the dock. A system that firmly believes in accountability finds itself facing a people’s tribunal that want to question about the lives that were lost, the businesses that were destroyed and the peace that was shattered because of their gross incompetence during the pandemic.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: egalitarianism444

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