ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Numbers and the Anxiety of the State


It is needless to mention that numbers as countable entities play an important role in different spheres of the economy, polity and society. But they also play a rather decisive role in institutional politics and policy regimes. Although numbers are vital, particularly in the conditions of political uncertainty, in the moment prevailing in Rajasthan right now, they also set the limits on the capacity of the state to debate about and distribute opportunities, such as reservation quotas and distributing compensatory benefits. The state in accordance with regulatory mechanisms, such as the legal system, sets limits on its own power of distribution. Thus, numbers in turn work as a cap on their own proliferation manifested, for example, in the multiplication of demands for reservations made by different castes. Arguably, in the case where the numbers enjoy constitutional legitimacy, they tend to enjoy more credibility as they are ratified from time to time. These numbers could be inadequate in terms of their capacity to embody in them the total problem, but they cannot be fake.

Numbers, thus, enjoy credibility inasmuch as they flow from constitutional provisions and through their legal ratification by the court system. They become more powerful as they tend to impose definite limits on the ruling government’s politics of extravagant populism. Put differently, politics of such populism makes the numbers and statistics lose their credibility as they get infused with fakery and deception. Numbers floated during the election campaigns are more vulnerable to such a loss. Numbers have such a quality that they can raise dust rather than raising level. Politicians use numbers just to raise dust or illusion rather than the level of the people.

However, there are number sets that are reflexive of the falling standards of governance and, thereby, tend to expose the deficiency of the government in power. Such sets are likely to be treated as ungovernable since such “difficult” numbers, which are swelling in excess, do create moral discomfort if the government were to make them public. In this regard, we can talk about the government refusing to accept the growing numbers of COVID-19 patients, numbers that are seen to have become “ungovernable;” ungovernability, which is evident in the “community” spread of the pandemic. Arguably, central and some of the state governments seem to be keen to exclude these numbers from the official calculation, as it would help these governments make a claim that such governments have been efficiently proactive in their governance to control the spread of the virus. The studied reluctance to conduct more COVID-19 tests may help such states save themselves from possible public criticism. However, such a safety move is just temporary; temporary on account of it getting discredited due to the growing real numbers of COVID-19 patients whose identification can no longer be concealed. This rather fragile sense of complacency was evident with regard to those states that were in the forefront of making claims of success in controlling the virus. Ungovernability of numbers thus makes the government acutely anxious about its own ability to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The current pandemic has also led to the extension of this sense of anxiety encapsulating, in its morally corrosive logic, the members from the general public. As has been evident on many occasions erupting through the outbreak of the pandemic, the presence of health workers in the midst of COVID-19 infected/affected localities has been treated by the residents of such locations as the source of social stigma. The sense of stigma was evident in many states, and most recently in Maharashtra, village people were seen opposing the entry of health workers and government officials. But this sense of stigma, which probably is at the root of the reported resistance to health workers, is likely to remain only temporary in terms of its impact. But the social stigma inflicted by caste practice, particularly during the pandemic, is so entrenched that upper-caste patients who face imminent danger of death are reported to be observing caste distinctions in some of the Covid-19 centres in the country.

Arguably, the fear of the village being branded as an object of social stigma is constitutive of a hidden anxiety that can explain certain state governments’ reluctance to conduct more Covid-19 tests on the one hand and the opposition of the village community and urban localities to both the health workers and the local government officials on the other hand. The pandemic that has led to the under-reporting of numbers has thus given rise to two kinds of anxiety: official, involving the government, and social, involving the village community. It is needless to say that those states and members of civil society that frontally confront the pandemic are less likely to suffer a sense of anxiety.


Updated On : 29th Jul, 2020


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