The current global crisis is multi-layered. The Covid-19 pandemic, economic recession and climate crisis are compounded by the lack of political and moral leadership. What would Mahatma Gandhi do had he been faced with this crisis?
This thought experiment yields a nine-point action programme. One, far deadlier than the virus is the fear pandemic that has paralysed the world. Gandhi would ask us to first shed this fear, as he asked the Indians to shed the fear of the British.
Two, caring for the sick was his natural instinct. People with Covid-19 need physical care and nursing. Gandhi would have nursed them. He would be fastidious about hygiene and mask usage. Gandhi's emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, empowerment for self-care, and care in the community would make perfect sense.
Three, Gandhi gave us his famous talisman to guide us to our duty towards "the most helpless and wretched human being that you ever saw". The displaced urban migrant workers, hungry and humiliated, would unquestionably be his talisman. Gandhi would rush to them. He would help preserve their dignity and hope and join the walking bands of migrants as a symbol of unity and protest against the government's apathy and irresponsibility. That would be his New Dandi march.
Four, communal unity was the last but incomplete cause of Gandhi's life. When the virus had arrived, some leaders were busy stoking communal hatred. Uniting against communal divisions would be Gandhi's foremost cause, even risking assassination. He would try to unite people of all religions and castes and send them as volunteers to serve in each other's areas.
Five, the fear of infection and strict lockdown has forced people to shut their doors and shun social contact. Gandhi would question — how can there be neighbourhood and community without contact? I suspect Gandhi would go to the extent of launching a satyagraha by challenging the ghettos created by the lockdown. When the veil is suddenly removed, one sees clearly the depth of alienation the pandemic and fear has led to. It has made everybody "an untouchable".
Six, faced with Covid-19, the global and national leadership have committed blunders and changed the goalposts. Armed with little knowledge about it, judgement errors are natural, but where is the honest admission of failure? Gandhi would admit to his errors. And, surprisingly, that would make people trust him even more.
Seven, in the past 12 years, we have seen that a globalised economy crumbles in the face of faraway tremors such as the financial crisis in the United States or the emergence of a new virus. Gandhi would remind us of the stability of local production and local consumption (gram swaraj).
Eight, consumers will ask, "What about our needs?' Gandhi would explain that this unlimited desire to consume is not a need. If we limit our greed, we can happily live without several excesses of modern society.
Nine, Gandhi's final piece of advice to us would be to pray. At the end of each day, sit quietly, reflect, and submit yourself to god, to life, to nature, to truth, to history. You have done all you could have. Now do not continue to carry the burden on your back. Realise the limits of your efforts in this infinite cosmos. Submit and say: "Thy will be done". "Inshallah". "Hey Ram". We should not be waiting for Gandhi. We should be acting on what he would have done.
Dr Abhay Bang was awarded the Padma Shri for his work in public health. He has been running SEARCH, a non-profit in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra since 1985
The views expressed are personal
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Hindustan Times, and is published by special syndication arrangement.