In April of 1970, Grace Slick of the psychedelic rock band “Jefferson Airplane” was invited to the White House for a tea party by Tricia Nixon, daughter of then American President Richard Nixon. Both Tricia and Grace were from Finch College, New York. Slick decided to attend the party with Abbie Hoffman, a well-known “anarchist” and counter culture proponent. Slick planned to slip LSD, a hallucinogenic drug, into President Nixon’s tea cup, hoping that the altered sense of reality would improve the President’s decision making; especially his views on the Vietnam War. They did not make it past the White House entrance since Hoffman was on the FBI watch list.
The reason I am relating this story is because the decisions and behaviour that we have been seeing during the Covid-19 crisis by the powers to be make me wonder if we are living in an altered reality, without having sipped the tea cup meant for Mr. Nixon.
Take the example of Mr. Tejasvi Surya, BJP MP from South Bengaluru, who claimed that the migrants wanting to return to their homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh will benefit by the cancelled trains as they can now “realise their dreams”. Dreams, that apparently Mr. Surya is privy to, but not the migrants he talks about!
Another example of this strange time is the genial face of the Joint Health Secretary, or guys at the Niti Aayog, telling us how we have been flattening the coronavirus curve despite all evidence to the contrary. I’m not sure if the fact of the numbers – over 80,000 positive cases compared to 692 cases when the joint secretary addressed his first Covid presser on March 26 – and the claims of flattening the curve can be reconciled, but if this makes sense to you, perhaps it’s time you have a job opportunity at the IT Cell of the world’s largest ‘missed call’ political party.
Another dose of strangeness came from the DGP of a southern state, who was seen on national television wearing an elegant mask with 3 stars emblazoned on it. Was this to remind us regular “no-star” mask wearers of our unutilized potential? Another bizarre site was police officers in Telangana wearing ‘Corona Helmets’ to scare people who were on the roads in defiance of the lockdown. Was the strange head gear, spikes jutting out, inspired by a popular TV news anchor, who triggered a meme-storm on social media some months ago when he donned a ‘space suit’ while anchoring a prime time on the Mangalyaan Mission?
And, what does one make of the Ministry of Jal Shakti asking the Indian Council of Medical Research to study the effect of Gangajal on Covid patients? Thankfully, the ICMR has rejected this suggestion, though the option of using the holy water – purer now because of the low effluent discharge in the Ganga during the lockdown, or so we have been told – to treat cancer is still wide open.
This trip keeps getting bizarre. Any explanation for why there were special trains for Bhopal from Delhi, but the Municipal Commissioner of “The Republic of Ghaziabad” issued an order preventing doctors from Ghaziabad, working in New Delhi, from returning home?
Then there is this endearing video of the man standing on the long liquor line saying he is ready to sacrifice his liver and life for the nation, comparing this honourable deed to his two brothers working for the Indian Army at the border; another video surfaced of a man showering flower petals on people waiting to buy their pint. Clearly, Corona Warriors come in all forms.
And how can we forget the Rs.20 lakh crore stimulus announced by the Prime Minister and elaborated on through the past week by the Finance Minister. The much-discredited WhatsApp University had a rather insightful perspective on the matter. As one ‘forward’ explained: the last time I heard about 20 followed by 12 zeroes was when I received an email from a Nigerian lady who wanted bequeath her inheritance to me after the death of her husband; it’s a different matter that she needed me to first send her USD 1,000 so that she had the means to transfer the bequest.
That mathematics was invented in India maybe a matter of debate but the expertise of our PM and FM in illustrating new principles that deflate all pre-existing theories of the subject is not. Several of this year’s provisions, already announced by the FM in her historically long budget speech, are now being added to get to the magical 20 lakh crore number. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few mega projects like the Narmada Dam will be rededicated by the government to reach this magic number. However, I would request the honourable FM to keep Bhakra Nangal Dam out of this exercise because then the 20 lakh crore mark would be substantially breached to everyone’s great embarrassment.
Now, if only the tea cup meant for Nixon had somehow reached us all, we could make sense of these strange times.
(The writer is a national spokesperson for Aam Aadmi Party and a former Lok Sabha MP. Views expressed are personal.)