Rhetoric is Not the Answer! 

Yet this is the tool indulged in most extensively politically, diplomatically as well as at other levels. Notwithstanding all medical perils linked with it, Covid-phase has certainly served as an eye-opener bringing majority face to face with grim side of this bitter truth. Who is not aware of claims made by major leaders in most countries as well as key powers of their “authority,” “commitment,” “decision” and of course “power” to resolve socio-economic problems at large. Unfortunately, one small vicious virus has exposed the limitations most have in taking care of even basic needs of their own populace when/if affected by such a crisis.

The explanation that respected leaders and governments were not prepared for this is not the answer. Discrimination faced by Covid-patients on account of their economic as well as social (race, religion and so forth) background even in so-called democratic countries remains a stark indicator of helplessness faced by people when their own leaders are at a loss for what to do. It is paradoxical indeed, leaders and key power-holders supposed to be in command of all “services” have been cornered by socio-economic distress led to by impact of a virus. Perhaps, more pathetic is almost dead silence maintained by most leaders regarding discrimination displayed in medical services provided to affected people. Letting discrimination take place and/or failing to check the same seems to be a gross indicator of power-holders’ apparent apathy towards such a “crime”.

The preceding point is probably just a mild indicator of social illness still prevalent in most countries, including the ones hailed as most progressive as well as developed, expecting rest of the world to toe their line.  What also cannot be explained is failure to take timely action against this virus in its initial phase. Importance began being given to lockdown, etc after the virus had already struck in its first phase. Ironically, though reports suggest that its third phase is soon expected, practically the whole world is applying a reverse gear to tackle this. What else is suggested by lifting of lockdowns, re-opening of national and international travel? And pray what has happened to key government heads no longer giving the same importance to holding virtual meetings? The noise made earlier about social distancing appears to have been thrown to winds. What else can one understand by Indian Prime Minister Modi trying to use his “hug-diplomacy” at the recently held summit in Glasgow? “Not all leaders wore masks. The same “diplomacy” was displayed by Modi during his meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Lapses displayed by leaders in taking adequate precaution against Covid-19 are hardly suggestive of their have actually come to terms with severe impact that this virus has spelt and can come in coming days. Attempts made to blame China and use of similar diplomatic cards against those viewed as permanent enemies cannot be expected to help handle intra-national problems.  Rather frequent usage of such cards, apparently turned to in desperation, may also be viewed as attempt to turn people’s attention away from leaders’ limited success (or failure) in handling Covid-crisis and similar situations. While United States has begun using anti-China card recently, India has seldom refrained from using anti-Pakistan card. But as mentioned earlier, how can these diplomatic ploys help in bringing Covid-phase to an end?

Covid-phase is here to stay for some time. What stands out is that it has struck a strong blow to masks donned as great humanitarians by practically most leaders. What else is suggested by lines of polarization having been exposed more strongly by its impact? People are not to be blamed for such fault lines. Handling of the same without due measures being paid attention need to be taken more strongly note of.

Unfortunately, communication-boom is playing a major role in spreading and propagating what is desired by various leaders. The impression created of leaders’ “success” is quite often nothing but equivalent to spreading “fake news” and also rhetoric indulged in by them. Tall claims made about spreading peace, taking measures to tackle climate crisis, handling Covid-phase and so on bear little relevance when viewed against spread as well as use of weapons.

Yes, a new impetus has certainly been gained by vaccination drive to check Covid. However, vaccinations can only increase immunity to a certain degree and not prevent vaccinated persons from being affected by it. The world has to learn to live with it and how without being burdened by socio-economic woes. More importance needs to be given to exercising measures to resolve these problems than impression being created of helplessness against agony spelt by Covid-19.

No virus differentiates its targets by their color, race, religion, nationality or any such factor, including political/diplomatic/social/economic power. Nor can any be checked by any discrimination along these lines. Covid-phase has unveiled masks worn practically by most leaders in commitments made by them while contesting polls. The same may be said about speeches delivered at multi-lateral summits in so-called quest for peace, security and tackling of various problems. Nothing bears relevance when viewed against background of major powers’ limited success in checking Covid-19 in their own terrains. Decrease in news-coverage of the same doesn’t imply that cases have registered a decline with the same alacrity and/or that vaccination-drive has succeeded at all levels.

Rhetoric cannot fill empty stomachs of food-starved, hungry people. Nor can it spell solace for thousands being pushed towards homelessness, hospitals or death for no fault of theirs on being targeted by weapons from “unknown” directions. “Democratic” rhetoric has yet to end bias suffered by most across the world. Rhetoric is not the answer or solution to any such problem. But most leaders have not yet apparently understood the message harshly delivered by this coronavirus!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. Her latest book is Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019). Others include:– Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).