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Politics Of Life…

Human beings have learnt about the term Pandemic mainly from novels and movies. One can mention Albert Camus’ The Plague (1947) or Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) by Gabriel García Márquez, or even the 2011 thriller film Contagion in this context. It is through those novels and movies that human beings get to feel the Pandemic from a distance… a distance of time or geographical location. However, people have been experiencing Pandemic from close for the last one year. The COVID-19 Pandemic has started controlling every human action, such as breathing, heartbeats, movements, speech, et al, thus, in a way, an epistemology of Pandemic is being created based on our own experiences and feelings. It influences the Society, State, Individuals, Groups and human activities, as well. With this, Biology, Medical Science, Politics, Economics and other subjects are getting new interpretations every day. Newer forms of imagery are also being created on a regular basis.

Now, the question arises here: Is there any particular pattern in this narrative, explanation and imagery? Human beings usually follow a Natural or Sociological Pattern to analyse Pandemic or Epidemic or other Natural Disasters. Many have expressed doubt over the fact whether one could analyse the Present through that pattern. Ranabir Samaddar has tried to find an answer to this in his latest publication ‘A Pandemic and the Politics of Life’. Samaddar, a leading Social Scientist and Director of the Calcutta Research Group who is known for his work on issues of Migration, Peace and Human Rights, belongs to the School of Critical Thinking. He penned the book when the first wave of COVID-19 Pandemic rocked India and other parts of the Globe in the second quarter of 2020.

In the first of three chapters, the author has shown how the Pandemic creates new boundaries around the world. Apart from influencing concepts of War, Race, Caste, State, Society and Ideologies, the Pandemic has given birth to new ideas of boundaries, thus, leaving an impact on human psychology. Samaddar has stressed on changing boundaries of a State in the privacy and freedom-loving Western countries at the time of Pandemic. While discussing about East, he has mainly concentrated on the boundary between indisciplined Migrant Workers and the disciplined Middle Class families living in Housing Complexes, and also between permanent residents in urban areas and temporary workers in major cities. With such examples, the author has illustrated the process of demarcation in an attempt to make the masses outsiders in the pretext of Public Health. The story of the migrant worker returning home is particularly noteworthy in this context. According to Samaddar, the State has not only made the masses outsiders, but also made the candle-burning Middle Class invisible in the Indian society.

During the first wave of COVID-19 Pandemic, the Global Community (especially India) faced crises from four fronts: Public Health crisis, Migrant Workers crisis, Economic crisis and Institutional crisis. In fact, any Pandemic usually challenges the Public Health system, economy and the normal state of life… that is its nature. How the State and Society will deal with it depends on the nature and depth of the crisis. Why and how did the Institutional System, which had successfully eradicated smallpox, cholera, malaria and polio in its first 15 years of existence, collapse? The author has made an attempt to understand this issue from various perspectives in the second chapter of the book. He has shown how Neo-Liberalism, the cruel economy, the weak social structure and the borrowed model of Public Health system failed India’s efforts to fight the Pandemic.

Ranabir Samaddar

Migrant workers are at the centre of this narrative. Samaddar has mentioned that the Police had not only beaten the migrant workers, but also sprayed DDT on them and stopped them from returning to their homes. The Government of India, too, declared that there was no migrant worker in the country. Even the Apex Court claimed that if food was being served to them, then there was no need of giving them money! At the same time, the Government had advised people to stay at home, and not in hospital, and to maintain social distance, apart from blaming migrant workers for spreading COVID-19. The author claimed that Neo-Liberalism and Social Darwinism triggered the Institutional Crisis in India during the Pandemic.

In the third chapter, Samaddar has tried to find a way out of all these crises. It seems there lies a problem in the very root of Representative Democracy (especially in Developing Nations, like India), where People’s Politics is made in the thought process and behaviours of the parliamentarians, and also in the Government’s decisions and policies! It is such a system where faces of the representatives become the alternative to the faces of the people and Politics is surrendered to the hands of the representatives. The author believes that representatives create images of people according to their own perceptions. He has called this image of people created by representatives Bio-Politics imposed from Above. It is different from the Western concept of the people. Under the influence of Neo-Liberalism and Bio-Politics imposed from above, people are now chained and humble. They have lost their inherent traditional qualities. Therefore, people have started looking for their own Politics. According to Samaddar, it is the Bio-Politics rising from Below or the Politics of Life. Instead of finding the purpose of Politics in a Representative Institutional System, a section of people is trying to build its own Politics in a collective manner. A clear form of this sort of Politics is visible in Public Health sector, and it is based on sympathy and co-operation. The success of this Bio-Politics cannot be measured by budget allocation, statistics regarding the Pandemic or power-point representations. It can only be measured by the number of people who have come forward to find the meaning of life in empathy.

Samaddar’s publication is mainly for the Theorists, as there is a great need for a new Political Theory of Life that should not be influenced by the concepts of Neo-Liberalism, Social Darwinism, and traditional ideas of Economics and Sociology created by the representatives. This issue has become an important one during the second wave of COVID-19 Pandemic. Now, people are not at all worried about a Neo-Liberal State, but about a Criminal State, the main character of which is people’s representations. Vaccines, oxygen and medicines have redrawn the international boundaries during the second wave.

New institutional arrangements are the main character of the new Politics at the local and non-local levels… and, much of them are autonomous. People’s Capital is much more Liberal, Humane, Benevolent, Efficient and Secular than the State Capital. This is a new Reality or new Normal. The author has pointed out that the Leftist thinkers have done little to analyse this reality. He is correct, but it is an old issue. The task of directly influencing the State through the Politics of Life from outside the periphery of Representative Parliamentary Democracy is not new. In India alone, a number of mass movements have taken place in the last three decades. Movements in the field of Public Health, Agriculture, Land Rights, Women’s Rights, Slum Dwellers’ Rights, and Sex Workers’ Rights have given birth to new ideas about the Institutional System. All these have come from the people’s own Intellectual and Social Capital, and not from the State’s Bureaucratic and Monetary Capital. The Global Community should start discussions on: which Capital needs more investment and how it could be done…

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