What, in the name of the Father and the Son, is COVID-19 cess? Et tu, Government of Nagaland? Come on, this is the last thing the people of Nagaland need. Here we were hoping and believing that our Government will stand by us at this horrible, horrible time of the Coronavirus pandemic and the consequent economic and other hardship but no, our Government adds salt to the wound and insult to injury. If it was a matter of just a few paisas, perhaps we would have said, ok, we understand the impoverished situation of our Government ~ what with its unaccounted spendthrift and squandering ways and its insatiable need to keep up with the Jones and the Kardashians ~ but Rs 5 for Diesel and Rs. 6 for petrol? Come on, this must be a prank our Government is playing on us ~ and a very brutal prank at that. Escalation of fuel prices creates distressing rippling effects on all other prices and adversely affects the quality and quantity of food on the family table. In the process, some companies and corporates may laugh all the way to the bank but Governments aren’t supposed to do that. Governments are supposed to be on the side of the small guys. But, alas, clearly our Government has decided to side with the big guys and rake in the moolah from the people through this most unreasonable and uncalled for COVID-19 cess. Yes, India is reported to have paid the pre-reduced price for oil but couldn’t our Government wait for a while ~ till our economy picked up somewhat?
As it is prices had already doubled after the lockdown began but now prices will treble ~ even more ~ after our Government announced this highly objectionable cess. Our Government may cite the example of other states but that still doesn’t justify the unreasonable amount of cess levied. Oh, our Government may come up with all kinds of economics gobbledygook to explain and justify its action but that still wouldn’t ease the pain of the public when reduced portions on the plate stare at us ~ when a family of 6 will have to share 1 miserable potato for 2 meals. In any given crises, profiteers and black-marketers inevitably rule the roost ~ this we will see pretty soon in Nagaland too. And the reason why our profiteers and black-marketers will have the sun shining on them to make hay for a long time is because our Government has shown marked inability and unwillingness to upset the apple cart of these racketeers. In any other place, the Government’s unreasonable and anti-people decisions would be met with protests but no, not in Nagaland. At the most, some of our business and commerce associations and unions, and perhaps some public-spirited organizations, will write a nice and polite memorandum to the Government “begging to state to your honour” to reconsider its decisions. Meanwhile, apologists of the Government will double their efforts on social media to justify the Government’s decisions by academically explaining the global, national, regional and local economic scenarios and request the public to understand the “constraints’, under which the Government is performing~ and yet so “commendably”. And then, they will list the Government’s “achievements”, particularly in the fields of fun and festivals since it’s the “youth”, who are most active on social media. These very same apologists of the Government will also remind us of our cultural, traditional and religious ethos and request us to forgive and forget and sing the refrain of “let’s all work together” lalalala.
There are numerous reasons why we never take the Government to task ~ primary amongst them is the fact that right from the village level upwards, almost every class of citizens is beholden to the Government one way or the other. Those who are not, are alienated and rendered voiceless and toothless. In Nagaland, it’s always been a matter of: “you are either with us or against us”. And you know, majoritarianism asphyxiates independent thoughts, words and deeds and gives rise to powerful oligarchies. The combination of powerful oligarchies feeding on and fed by crony capitalism is a dangerous threat to democracies and extremely difficult to resist and defy, especially when majority of the people are economically marginalized and crippled because of oligarchy and crony capitalism. In Nagaland, we are yet to understand the nature of oligarchies and crony capitalism that dehumanize us every which way. Besides, we also never knew our rights, so we never questioned and resisted. So now we bow, bend and break before the might of political, economic, cultural, traditional and religious oligarchic forces that must silence defiant voices to continue in positions of power. So, we will wear Che Guevara t-shirts and rave and rant on social media but we will not move an inch out of our comfortable chairs. We will make revolutions with our fingers on keyboards for a while but soon move on to the next trending issue on social media.
We love talking about the price of onions bringing down Governments but we will not go beyond that ~ and no, I’m not talking about bringing down our Government because of its recent COVID-19 cess, unduly hiking fuel prices. For one, it will come down on its own by and by; secondly, it will be Tweedle Dee replacing Tweedle Dum; thirdly, it still needs more time to be caught up tighter in its own web. As for fourthy and fifty, etc., I will leave them aside for another time. What might help is if the Government of India declares an Economic Emergency across the country or specifically in Nagaland. We badly need to shape up our economy and our Government, as also the public, is incapable of doing that. If our economy is not shaped up fast, we will have our Government hiking up taxes and cess of more items. Our profiteers, black-marketers, smugglers and other racketeers will cause more mayhem in our market ~ consequently on our dining tables, which would adversely impact all other aspects of our lives. Poverty will increase ~ simultaneously, so will crimes, leading to turmoil. Life, in short, would become “short, nasty and brutish”. Before this comes to pass, we will have to renegotiate a new social contract based on our constitutional values and cultural ethos.
Senior photojournalist Ronojoy (Ronny) Roy is the first working journalist in India to have died due to suspected novel Coronavirus complications. You will recall that in the last count nearly 75 media persons have tested positive for the deadly virus across India. Reports state that the Assam Government has announced life insurance coverage of Rs 50 lakh each for all journalists, who have been tirelessly reporting the pandemic in that State. It’s so nice when Governments remember the relentlessly working choto-moto manu ~ pandemic or no pandemic ~ isn’t it? Now, don’t get me wrong ~ I am not saying that Our Government should do all that the Assam or any other Government does. Why would any Government need to be told what it knows it ought to do?