If only the Earth could stop orbiting, that would have completed this grand pause that has been pressed on the world. Lockdown cities would have been so much material for Ray Bradbury to write stories on, I imagine. The non-fiction version of lockdown cities though is now emerging.
Alternative systems to serve lockdown cities are settling in place now. Bengaluru Police launched an app to issue passes to essential service providers and those who need to move around during the lockdown. Delhi has started issuing colour coded passes online. Identity documents are necessary for these passes. The state has stepped in, deep into our lives and taken control. The level of control is complete! It didn’t have to persuade or fight resistance from people. They have had no agency in this process. They do as the state directs them to via government orders and notifications, issued now on a daily basis. The balance between security and civil liberties is again tilting towards security as a priority. It may not be too stretched an idea to track movement of people using their mobile phone data if the pandemic explodes in India. Then, there is the use of medical data and health status of citizens and its use. All of it done in the name of public interest. It is a matter of curiosity for me than feeling ideologically validated one way or the other.
As I sit all day and trawl through information about pandemic response globally and in India, I am sure that this event, irrespective of how long it takes to end, will have a long afterlife. Covid-19 will lead to a re-organized world of work, travel, conduct, international relations,and of course lifestyle. It is early to identify what the future might look like because some of the biggest economies and population centers are just beginning to enter the zone of maximum impact from Covid-19. What do these changes appear like? The ideological battles about what might be a better response – to shut down and face rising economic costs vs business as usual and face difficult moral choices has begun to unfold. With business as usual, proponents argue that it will reduce economic costs that people and governments will have to bear. Reducing the economic costs can save a global slowdown and recession that is likely to last several years. What will governments do when faced with these choices will be a function of their collective value system as a society.
State and market seem to have gotten in a comfortable relationship with each other. Market fills up for lack of competencies of the state. In its turn, the state guarantees the market the necessary protection in this downturn. It is the society which gets kick. Silicon Valley companies have begun feeling even more important than they usually do, and perhaps rightfully so given that they are leveraging their technological prowess in helping pandemic response. Back here in Bengaluru, delivery platforms have become the de facto infrastructure in the city relied upon by the state. These are the same VC backed companies that have thrived on poorly paid gig workers. It is certainly required that in times of crisis all the aid that can be extended to facilitate the state’s work must be given. My worry is not about the role of the market. It is about the consequences of these relationships forged in this time of emergency. Will the market continue to compensate for state’s incompetence in certain core and essential areas of public service delivery? Will the state use companies to its own means like mass surveillance and control in the name of national security? These are plausible scenarios. Perhaps, these are the potentially undesirable ways that things are set to change post-pandemic.