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Challenges in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a rethinking of the contours of state intervention, especially in social sectors like health. The argument for rolling back the state has become questionable even among mainstream commentators. Kerala’s experience shows how public investment in healthcare and a participatory mode of governance with empowered local governments can help in pandemic mitigation. A truly federal set-up with shared responsibilities between the centre and states is better suited to deal with situations like the present one rather than a centralised system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great divide in history. The glo­bal capitalist system has been thoroughly shaken by the pandemic. This is not the first time in its history that capitalism has faced such a crisis. The Great Depression of the 1930s was a classic demonstration of the systemic crisis-proneness of capitalism and the consequences of the domination of speculative finance capital over production. To save the capitalist system from coll­apse, the Keynesian concept of comprehensive socialisation of investment was sought to be undertaken in the developed world. Nation states intervened with massive public investment, raised levels of employment and evaded the ­recession. After World War II, Keynesian ­demand management and the provision of a host of welfare measures—by the state—were central to the economic ­policies in the developed world. Government spending in the social sectors rose and taxation became more progressive. Such a conjuncture was highly favourable to growth and employment generation. This period was also marked by a shift in the balance of class forces in ­favour of the working class, which wrested major concessions from the ­ruling class by making use of their stronger bargaining position.

In India, however, the post-war chall­enges as a newly independent nation were more fundamental. It needed, at the least, land reform, major public ­investments in infrastructure, education and health as well as the institution of a comprehensive social security system. Unfortunately, the political nature of ruling classes in India ensured that these measures were stymied. This is where states like Kerala stood apart and succeeded. Land reforms in Kerala weakened upper-caste landlordism in a way no other state could. The state also invested in its people by instituting a universal schooling system and a comprehensive public health system. It also set up a social security net for the poor, including providing social security pensions for informal workers.

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Updated On : 15th Jun, 2020

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