A lockdown in Maharashtra is mooted to tackle the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state. With a spike in new infections, Maharashtra has topped India in the number of active COVID-19 cases. Night curfew restrictions are imposed in Pune from 6pm to 6am and non-essential businesses, under which most businesses are categorised, are facing a new lease of restrictions.
In Maharashtra, there were 23,306 new COVID-19 cases on April 2nd. The total number of active cases in Maharastra is now 391,203, with an active ratio of 13.47%. Out of a total of 741 deaths due to the COVID-19-related comorbidities on April 2nd in India, 481 died in Maharashtra. The inability of the crippled public healthcare system is blamed for the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra. Unable to tackle the menace by augmenting the public healthcare infrastructure, the state government is threatening people with a complete lockdown in Maharashtra.
Speaking to the press on Friday, April 2nd 2021, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said “I cannot rule out imposing a lockdown if the current COVID-19 situation prevails. People have become complacent.” The big question isn’t whether there will be a state-wide lockdown in Maharashtra, but how the common working class will survive if they face another onslaught when they are recovering from the shock of the 2020 lockdown?
Last year, the lockdown in Maharashtra, as part of the nationwide lockdown imposed arbitrarily by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 25th 2020, threw millions of workers, mostly from states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, out of work and left them in the mid of nowhere. The humanitarian crisis that followed the lockdown, especially the exodus of the working class on their foot from cities like Mumbai, Pune, etc, to their native villages, thousands of miles away, killed many.
Maharashtra also experienced the ghastly killing of several migrant workers and their family members on railway tracks, which shook India’s conscience, however, for a brief period. Millions of migrant workers remained stranded in Maharashtra during the 2020 lockdown as the Union government remained nonchalant regarding transporting them to their home states. Such a nightmare threatens to return in case Thackeray imposes a lockdown in Maharashtra now.
The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases and the crippled public healthcare system’s failure to handle cases raise doubts about the real driving force behind this development. The Government of India has given a green signal to the new phase of COVID-19 vaccination, which will target the 45+ age group. This will drive more sales of vaccines, whose efficacy and trial results are still debated, and contribute to the massive profiteering drive of the giant multinational pharma companies and their Indian lackeys.
However, as the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic has been waning, despite the government’s and corporate media’s propaganda since March 2020, due to the working class’s urge to survive by selling their labour disregarding the paranoia of the middle-class and the elites, the pharma companies fear fewer turnouts for non-mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the new phases. While the Government of India moots schemes to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for everyone to mop-up profiteering of pharma companies, it knows that this won’t be an easy task in a country of 1.3 billion people.
Hence, a new surge in cases in Maharashtra, an industry-rich state, becomes a pawn to refuel the COVID-19 paranoia among the middle-class and elites, who are the primary carriers and spreaders of the virus. Through this new paranoia, the pharma companies and the government want to increase participation in the vaccination drive, especially through the private sector healthcare industry.
This will add up the profits of the big pharma companies and their political allies in India, especially the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will also get crumbs from the profiteering. But, while the big pharma companies and their lackeys enjoy the spoils of the loot, what will happen to the working class in case there is a new series of lockdowns in target states, if not nationwide?
What will happen to millions of migrant workers and employees, who re-joined work or found one after hardships of the first lockdown in 2020, in case there is a new lockdown in Maharashtra?
While Modi’s BJP is flouting all social-distancing and other precautionary norms, which it had tom-tommed earlier as effective measures to arrest the rising cases of COVID-19 pandemic, during the ongoing campaigning for the assembly elections in states like Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the people of Maharashtra and non-poll-bound states are at the risk of facing curbs and restrictions.
In the case of Pune, cinema halls, malls and other public places face restrictions, which now puts to question how those employed in these places will make a living if there are wage cuts and retrenchment? Why the entire state’s poor should be held ransom for the failure of the state and Union governments? Why aren’t the Maharashtra government and the Modi regime augmenting the public healthcare infrastructure on a war footing to address the pandemic than destroying people’s lives and livelihoods?
The 2020 lockdown was enough to drive millions to the realm of extreme poverty and devastation. It didn’t affect the rich as people like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, the sponsors of Modi’s BJP, not just retained their wealth, but also grew it manifold. The unemployment caused by the COVID-19-related lockdown pushed 75m Indians into poverty and the middle-class shrunk by 32m, according to a Pew Research report. India’s wealth inequality also increased manifold during the same time. According to Oxfam research, India’s richest billionaires’ wealth increased by 35% during the lockdown. Therefore, it’s evident who will gain in case there is a new lockdown in Maharashtra or any other industrially developed state.
In case there is a new lockdown in Maharashtra or any other state with a huge number of migrant workers, millions will suffer, and India will revisit the humanitarian catastrophe that still haunts the memories of many, sans the government and the class-caste groups alienated from the masses. Only the people’s collective protest and resistance struggle against the attempt to destroy their livelihoods can thwart such a misadventure and prevent another catastrophe from taking place.