Will India learn?
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 05 Apr 2020 2 Comments

With each passing day, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) scare has become a nightmare for Indians. No one seems to be sure about its origin, and where it will all end: how many Indian lives will be lost. At a time when Anglo-Saxons are changing the world order, an incontrovertible proof of which is Britain taking control of the Red sea entrance with able support from the US command, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)  engineering an assault on the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia, here comes a single stranded RNA (Ribo Nucleic Acid) protein particle, unlike all the double stranded universal life forms or DNA (Deoxy Ribo Nucleic Acid), which is causing hell to humanity.  


Fact Sheet


Though there are a number of theories on the origin of the coronavirus, including conspiracy theories, a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States confirms that COVID-19, which emerged from Wuhan, China, is a product of natural evolution. Coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of single stranded RNA protein particle that typically cause mild respiratory disease in humans. However, the 2003 emergence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) demonstrated that CoVs are also capable of causing outbreaks of severe infections in humans. A second severe CoV, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) emerged in 2011 in Saudi Arabia.


The name COVID-19 is given by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number 19 referring to the year of the first emergence in Wuhan (November 2019). COVID-19 is not the formal name of the virus. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses calls it “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2” or SARS-COV-2 because it is related to the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, to avoid confusion with SARS, WHO calls it Covid-19. On March 11, the WHO announced that the outbreak should be considered pandemic, a term that has no universally accepted definition, but means that multiple countries are seeing sustained transmission between people causing disease or death.


Formal prescriptions to contain CoVid-19


A number of practices, like hand washing, wearing a mask, self-quarantine, self-distancing, or the central government prescribed “locked down”, followed by all state governments, where every Indian is advised to be within the confines of one’s home etc. are advocated. This piece is not about the merits or demerits of these prescriptions. It asks a fundamental question: “Why is India in the situation it is with this pandemic?” Is there something intrinsically wrong with the manner in which this country marched forward since August 15, 1947?


Starting from the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the “planning” thrust was to catch up with the West; hence, the immediate urge to industrialize India. Mahatma Gandhi saw the inherent danger in this model and said, in no uncertain terms, that India should follow the model of “production by the masses but not mass production by a few”. None listened to his sane advice, and the march towards industrialization began and continued until about the early 1960s by when the country faced terrible food shortage.

By the time Nehru died in May 1964, India was on the verge of a severe famine. The Chinese backstabbed India, notwithstanding the India- China “Bhai-Bhai” slogan launched by Nehru and Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai. With Nehru gone, Lal Bahadur Shastri, an incredibly honest, simple, frugal-minded and patriotic person became Prime Minister and coined the phrase “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”. Shastri died on January 11, 1966, in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), where he had gone to negotiate a peace plan to settle the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Many Indians have been unable to come to terms with his death.


Shastri’s successor Prime Ministers, such as Gulzarilal Nanda, Morarji Desai, Chandrasekhar, Rajiv Gandhi, IK Gujral, Deve Gowda, did not make any notable contributions to India’s development. But, two names stand out, first Indira Gandhi and second PV Narasimha Rao, the former for dismembering Pakistan and the latter for the initiation of “Liberalization and Globalization”.


Having inherited a vulnerable India, especially on the food front, Indira Gandhi went to US President Richard Nixon for help on the food front. What followed was an American model, patterned on the US “Land Grant Pattern”, followed by adoption of the high intensity agriculture euphemistically known as the “green revolution”. Indira Gandhi also coined the slogan “garibi hatao(Banish Poverty). Almost four decades later, it remains a catchy slogan, even as poor and jobless migrants crowd Delhi, Mumbai and even remote Kerala. The COVID-19 scare has launched a reverse migration of these economic refugees back to the home States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There are fears that as many as 30 per cent of these reverse migrants could carry COVID-19 infection.


Era of selfishness and self-aggrandizement


In 1978, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping said “To get rich is glorious”. India decided to jump on to this bandwagon in the mid-1980s under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh (Globalization and Liberalization). That path has only made the already rich Indian richer and the already corrupt more corrupt, leaving the real garib (poor) poorer and starving. The spate of financial scams during 2004-2014 is ample testimony to what globalization and liberalization did to India. Those involved in these scams are still at large.


There is now incontrovertible proof that globalization causes profound, at times unpredictable, changes in the ecological, biological and social conditions that shape the burden of infectious diseases in certain populations. There is growing evidence that changes in these conditions have led to alterations in the prevalence, spread, geographical range and control of many infections, particularly those transmitted by viral vectors. The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic example (Ref: UNICEF /UNDP /WORLD BANK /WHO Special Programme For Research and Training in Tropical Diseases).


The globalization onslaught has not left even soils untouched. The work of Stammer (1992, Study finds serious harm to 10 percent of world’s best soil: Los Angeles Times, quotations from World Resources Institute of U.N. Environmental Program) clearly shows how globalization has ruined the world’s best soil resources. Over 10 million hectares of the best soils have been ruined by man’s activities. Over 1.2 billion hectares are very seriously damaged and can only be restored at great cost. The loss of soil capability could mean that there would be enormous food shortages in the next 20-30 years. And, as is natural, the citizens of disadvantaged nations like India will suffer most. Imagine the social consequences.


In India, alone, of the 328.73 million hectares of geographical area, 120.40 million hectares, almost one-third, have now degraded soils, thanks to the green revolution, where not even a blade of grass will grow. The soils are degraded, unfit for agriculture, the ground water is loaded with excessive nitrate residues owing to unbridled use of urea fertilizers to boost wheat and rice yields. Consequently, in places like Punjab, the ground water is no longer potable (safe for drinking). The nitrate residues also contribute to global warming as nitrous oxide, a by-product of urea hydrolysis in soil, releases this gas which captures radiated heat in the stratosphere and contributes to global warming by as much 35 per cent.


The damages caused by the “green revolution” can be corrected through a revolutionary soil management technique, developed by this author, over more than three decades of intense research in African, Asian and Latin American continents, now globally known as “The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept”. These results have been written as an invitational chapter published in ADVANCES IN AGRONOMY, the magnum opus of agricultural science, popularly known as the “Bible of Agricultural Science” (Ref: Nair, K.P.P. 2013. The  Buffer Power Concept and its relevance in African and Asian Soils, Advances in Agronomy, Vol. 121, pages 447- 516). Sadly, the concept has been given short shrift in India, though it has received global recognition.




Sadly, despite over seven decades of Indian democracy, there is really no “effective planning for the really poor”. Be it “Planning Commission” or “Niti Ayog”, it there was planning for the poor, we would not see the daily agonies of millions of homeless Indians, migrant workers, over-crowded hospitals, in fact, despair writ large in the air. Man is pulling earth and himself out of equilibrium by applying only one test to everything he does: money, profits, and therefore gigantic operations.


We need to ask: what about the cost in human terms, in happiness, health, beauty and conserving the planet? Mahatma Gandhi once said “There is everything on this planet to meet man’s need, but not man’s greed”. Alas, greed has consumed India, and along with it the soul of India. As the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana famously warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

The views expressed are personal


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