Let us visit the future – a suitable point of time located in one of the many tomorrows ahead of us, a tomorrow far enough to have left The Time behind. What do we see? We see, among other things, that many people spoke up. Many people did not. Many people who spoke up did not say what we wanted them to say. They said what others wanted them to say. A few even spoke words of their own.
What happens after a fascist regime ends? Will we want to remember who spoke up and who did not? Will we want to remember and punish those who did not say what we wanted them to say? Some of those who spoke up said all the wrong things, we say, and that was wrong because they were in power. They could have done something by doing the right thing.
I wrote this in January 2020, in a post reflecting on whether there exist reasonable grounds on which we could excuse someone for not speaking up against evil, in a time of evil, and whether, just as we are quick to identify and dismiss the more passive people in power, we also shrink the set of actions we accept as good or desirable. Since then a pandemic and many other disasters have visited the country, and most have yet to leave. In that post, I invoked the examples of three people, calling them K, H and L (there should have been no doubt who they really were, even if L refered to more than one person). This is what I had written of K:
… K was a member of the government. He was a reasonable man and a smart man. He did not speak up at The Time. I imagine he did not want to upset his vengeful masters. I remember K as a good man because even though he did not speak up, he did a lot of good work when he was in the government. He advanced a variety of causes that people of my political persuasion would have appreciated if it weren’t for The Time being what it was.
Looking back from now, his name clearly belongs on the list of people who did not speak up.
But I know that if he had spoken up, he would have been removed from office and wouldn’t have been able to do all the other things that he did – things that continue to reap rewards to this day. These things probably did not make The Time end but then should they be discarded for this reason? To play the devil’s advocate: if K had spoken up against the government (assuming those were his views), the anti-fascist movement – such as it is – would have gained a prominent supporter, but his absence within government would have affected the prospects of those his department laboured for.
In fact, consider whether the policies he and his colleagues drew out to help whom they were paid to help in turn empowered those people to speak out with less risk to their jobs and lives.
Would it be unreasonable to expect resistance to work like we expect fundamental science to work: like trees, like the movement of continents, slowly but surely leading up to something great, which does not signal its value in flashing green lights as much as invites us take as much as we possibly can from it, in as many forms as we can imagine, in as much time as we need?
Between January 2020 and now, my impression of K has changed entirely. It seems extremely difficult for me to believe today that their actions – including their passivity in the face of a great abuse of power – could have been or are in good faith. Dr Balram Bhargava, the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is not K, but a report published by the New York Times yesterday called Dr Bhargava out for crawling, after being asked to crawl, and modifying the ICMR’s communiqués on COVID-19 matters to suit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s play-acted optimism that made his government’s response look effective, instead of the disaster that it was. The ICMR could have called the prime minister’s lies out – it knew his government was lying – but chose not to, and dismissed expert disagreement both within and without the body.
By failing in exactly this fashion, the ICMR is not a scientific body, and if it claims to be, it will be peddling pseudoscience, no different from the Ministry of AYUSH. It is a PR agency specialised in the modification of press releases and media statements related to health research and care. There is a particularly egregious line from the New York Times‘s report, quoted thus in The Wire Science:
Bhargava also directed scientists in late July 2020 to withhold data from the country’s first seroprevalence survey, which showed that infection rates were high in many cities. In a July 25 email that the New York Times said it had reviewed, Bhargava said “I have not got approval” to publish the data. “You are sitting in an ivory tower and not understanding the sensitivity… I am sincerely disappointed.”
Here is a man who has the gall to express disappointment that someone else did the right thing – in normal circumstances, the perfectly banal right thing – by choosing to not have observational data ‘reviewed’ (whatever that means) by someone who has no need to ‘review’ it. Under Dr Bhargava’s leadership, the ICMR has actively misled people about India’s COVID-19 epidemic, by failing to present scientific data because that was politically inconvenient, by endorsing drugs and therapies because that was politically convenient, by lying to itself and others – and now, who knows what else it has lied about. (Let’s use Bhargava’s name along with the ‘Dr’ honorific to reiterate that him being highly educated didn’t prevent him from being corrupt.)
Since “early 2020”, when the newspaper said political pressure on the ICMR’s offices increased, and today, the ICMR has been the PMO’s press office. And if K – or anyone else like him – continues to stay in this government hoping to “do good”, it will mean that their efforts thus far have seemingly amounted to squat (thousands have died not by the disease but by the state’s complacency), and that they can no longer claim any ignorance in abetting the malignant narcissism of the Supreme Leader.