Wijith DeChickera looks into the voids of scarcity, sociopolitical instability and sovereign debt default – and finds monsters gazing back

A country on the brink of disaster cannot afford the luxury of reflection. Or so its citizens and governors may feel or think. Yet, there is a sense that the unexamined life isn’t worth living for individuals as much as the 21 million souls who collectively comprise a commonwealth that’s facing arguably its toughest challenges.

These range from the everyday to the emergent.

Today, we face a virus that has brought the world to its knees with a greater degree of confidence because of a comprehensive vaccination protocol. Tomorrow, a Damocles’ sword that’s been suspended over our sovereignty, stability and independence may drop sharply if we fail to service our external debt… queues (flashback central), hoarding and rationing (already happening), hyperinflation (dreaded eventuality) – in short, the works.

On the one hand, the rock of a compromised national immunity due to delays and dilly-dallying with superstitious nonsense at best… at worst, were there more sinister reasons in early failures to secure adequate stocks of the then readily available Covishield jab from India’s Serum Institute before its own tryst with the Delta variant?

The findings of the Attorney General’s Department – that deletion of files in the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) database signals criminal intent – leaves a malodorous impression. A ‘medical mafia’ not only rules the pharmaceutical industry roost but makes hay while the sun shines at the expense of their sick and dying compatriots.

On the other hand, the hard place of an insolvency crisis hovers over our horizon like a cumulonimbus that has not yet precipitated. But the powers that be remain sanguine and silent (at the time of writing) on what remedial measures may be taken to keep the ship of state afloat on a treacherous undercurrent anchored by a mere US$ 2.8 billion in reserves.

So it behoves the Central Bank’s returning pundits to share their plan… quite apart from the schedule of restricted imports!

Our gamut of woes runs from ballooning prices and double digit food inflation, through severely depleted state coffers to eke out salaries and service interest payments, to a fertiliser shortage that could add an increasingly unbearable burden on the Treasury if our sterling tea crops fail… to top off the tourism industry’s tragic plight – and losses analogous to an annual 3.5 billion dollars (2019’s benchmark, itself a 21 percent slump).

The government’s responses to a plethora of issues have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous while the political opposition has not hesitated to make cheap capital out of gubernatorial lapses.

Rather than majoring on mistakes made without taking a more charitable view of even the lamentably avoidable errors such as attempting an overnight conversion to an organic farming ethos, the latter has weaponised protests to cripple the state.

While an accelerated immunisation drive conceived by the executive in tandem with healthcare authorities and spearheaded by the military has placed the target of herd immunity in the discernible middle distance (say by end of the year, given the tendency of new variants to reset the clock), the administration’s lockdown protocols and laissez-faire approach to enforcing travel restrictions have inspired little confidence.

However little the mass of middle-class people are compelled to make sacrifices in order to survive, it’s still the country’s poor daily wage earning populace that continues to have injury added to the insult of the hand-to-mouth existence they led even before the advent of COVID-19.

A nation that feeds it rich – literally and metaphorically – at the expense of the downtrodden masses must consider itself on the verge of failed statehood.

The injury is that quarantine curfews limit lower socioeconomic demographics’ agency in their own wellbeing. The insult is when a regime that finds its reserves so strapped for cash – such that their much publicised most recent dole out is a meagre Rs. 2,000 – passes through parliament a reprehensibly named ‘Finance Bill’ that will empower crooks and charlatans through what is seemingly a money-laundering mechanism.

In the spirit of equity, how about such an amnesty – or a parallel parole of sorts – for the poor who are in debt, political prisoners, and those who languish in the land of darkness otherwise known as slums and shanties while a battle to stave off bankruptcy rages above their heads?

The ignorance of the vast majority of islanders who lead lives of quiet desperation may be their anti-salvation or sole consolation.

Not many who scrabble about under ‘lockdowns at large’ to eke out a living or forage for a single daily meal for their families have the liberty to ruminate on what impact the profligate printing of money may or may not have on inflation, a stable currency etc.

Yes, we’re in a war for our very survival – fighting battles on many fronts. But as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche cautioned: “Who-ever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster.”

And that father of nihilism left us with another warning: “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Go ahead – gaze…