Almost every television channel in the major democracies is filled with scary reports about Covid-19, about how the future, at least for 2022, is likely to be bleak. This despite the South African experts who isolated the Omicron mutation (which present data suggest probably came from Europe rather than originating in South Africa) give statistics after statistics showing that in almost all cases, the effect is so mild that hospitalization is not called for. There is no question that an individual with a cold should put on a mask (preferably N95) and avoid snuggling up to people till better, but if those with colds are asked to stay away from work until at least a week has past, especially in the winter or the rainy season, services would break down because of the manpower gaps such a policy would cause. There is a theory floating around in Europe that the scary reports in the media about “likely” deaths and “likely” hospitalization related to the undoubted Omicron surge have been deliberately presented to prevent large numbers of people from venturing out of their homes for year-end celebrations. Ted Turner’s creation, the Cable News Network (CNN) needs to be renamed the Covid News Network, as most of the coverage is about the pandemic. Of course, no figures are given about how many of those who caught the Omicron mutation are either dead or in hospitalization. Since he recovered from Covid-19 last year, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is no longer the jaunty self he was pre-Covid-19. He seems trembly and fearful, although the Conservative Party seems to have prevented him this far from going ahead with the lockdowns, the mask and vaccine mandates, and other measures urged on by the Usual Experts every hour of the day somewhere. Even President Joe Biden, who after the August 2021 Afghanistan pullout that repeated Bill Clinton’s 1996 error of handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban, seems to have recovered some of his nerve. He has during past weeks refused the more extreme measures being urged on him by his reliance on the Usual Experts to see the US through 2022. They have done so the way they did (despite some groaning from President Trump) in 2020. This is by seeking to scare the American people and getting imposed measures that are not just intrusive but have been shown to be unworkable. In Europe, where more than a few governments are delighted that they can finally act the part of a nanny and policeman rolled into one, protests against Covid-19 restrictions are multiplying. The two World Wars of the previous century each lasted five years. Intoxicated by their media prominence and their ability to dictate the agenda of Presidents and Prime Ministers, the Usual Experts of the Covid-19 pandemic must be looking at extending the dystopian world that has resulted from the virus and the measures taken to deal with it for at least five years.
Among the democracies, what a difference is there in the attitudes of those in government concerning the festive spirit. In contrast to Germany, the UK and the US, where strenuous efforts appear to being made to ensure that citizens remain indoors, masked or unmasked, Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to tread that dismal path. When there was an announcement that the PM would address the nation on 25 December, Christmas Day, there was anxiety in some that restrictions such as the WHO-recommended steps taken in 2020 would get repeated. Instead, the PM was reassuring, confining his address to less than 15 minutes while he announced not a lockdown but steps to vaccinate those seen as most vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. Every citizen should ensure that she or he step outdoors masked and observe hygiene. Those who have a vested interest in making money through channels that have made them wealthy in the past deny the obvious, that the world has entered into Cold War 2.0 after Cold War 1.0 ended in 1992 with the collapse of the USSR. Had the UK had Lord Halifax as Prime Minister in place of Winston Churchill, it is likely that the Luftwaffe Blitz of 1940-41 would have so shattered his nerve that he would have gone to Hitler and sued for peace. Perhaps aware that he was destined for an unpleasant end were the Germans to triumph, Winston Churchill was uncompromising in his opposition to doing a deal with the Nazis. That steel in the spine was transferred to the British people, who faced the Blitz and the likelihood of defeat in war with a fortitude matching that of the man who finally led them to victory in 1945. Should citizens in the US, Indonesia, Italy, the UK, Germany and other key democracies lose their confidence and determination to soldier on despite adversity, in just a few years a loss of confidence would get created in the collective mindspace of such countries that would ensure that they permit a walkover to the authoritarian superpower that is seeking to reshape the world in its own image and under its shadow. There are periods that are crucial to the way the future will be determined, and 2022 is among them. Together with necessary self-imposed precautions, the festive spirit needs to show itself rather than skulk away. The most important requirement for the regeneration of a country and its people is the will to overcome hardship and make the best use of the opportunities available for success. For those committed to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, for those committed to democracy, justice and tolerance in place of hate and exclusion, for those committed to an empowered civil society, 2022 will be the year that could determine future direction of not just India but its fellow democracies as they enter into the geopolitical currents of the present.