modi

The coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world in 2020 is possibly the biggest medical crisis to hit mankind. It has forced a large section of the world’s population in an unprecedented lockdown.

Countries across the globe are making efforts to counter the rising problem. Some responses have yielded positive results, like Singapore’s rigorous testing and prompt quarantining of positive cases, while in other places situation has escalated beyond repair.

The threat of the virus was established in early January 2020 with China being forced to shut down Wuhan completely. India’s response to the early signs of threat was rather meek, even though Kerela had reported India’s first coronavirus case on January 30th 2020. It was only on 14th March that COVID-19 was officially notified as a national disaster by the Government of India.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has left no stone unturned to impose his persona and extract maximum public response in these times. The Janata Curfew call was a huge success, while the clapping and banging utensils drill to express our gratitude to the frontline heroes of this war was met with great response. As the cases kept on increasing, PM Modi called for switching off lights for 9 minutes and to light a Diya or a torch. This was an attempt to galvanize the nation in a display of solidarity and unity. The kind of mass appeal that Prime Minister enjoys ensured that the 9-minute stunt was also a success. This was at a time when doctors and police officers were being attacked on duty. Prime Minister had turned into a spiritual guru with the house already on fire.

There is no problem in engaging the mass population of our country, especially when the Prime Minister enjoys such command and appeal. But, PM Modi must realize, that our country needs more from him than just being a galvanizing force. The news of doctors and nurses harassed, and police officers attacked every day, deflate the morale of the frontline warriors. The apathy of the migrant laborers walking thousands of kilometers to reach their homes questions the very preparedness of the authorities imposing lockdown. The creation of PM-CARES fund even with around Rs.3,800 Crores lying idle in Prime Minister National Relief Fund has only given fresh ammunition to the opposition voices.

Despite the nation in lockdown for 21 days, there has been no let-up in cases. Mumbai and Delhi have become the epicenters of the pandemic. The Tablighi Jamaat fiasco right under the nose of Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi has put almost every state in danger. Suspension of economic activity has hit the poor hard. The stimulus package offered by the finance minister is merely adequate. The poor are faced with a dilemma – They step out, the virus kills them, they stay in, hunger does. In times of such crisis, the Central Government needs to formulate a robust plan with the State Governments to ensure nobody dies of hunger, especially with the lockdown being extended in most states. The symbolic victories of PM’s tasks cannot overcome the grave challenges that lie ahead. Symbolism must give way for realism.

Dear PM, you cannot mess this up like demonetization. If Demon took away livelihoods, this is taking away lives. As we enter the last day of the first installment of lockdown, staring at another two-week extension,  concrete plans must be made; first to contain the spread and second and more importantly, devising an exit strategy.

Imposing lockdown in a country of 1.3 billion people is a tough ask, but the tougher part is to put together an exit strategy in place. The Thali – Diya brigade of spirituality should be replaced by meticulous planning and rationality at all levels. No amount of lockdown would suffice in the absence of a well thought out exit strategy. And no exit strategy would work without absolute co-ordination between the Centre and the States. It is beyond vital that a Centre-State combined task force is set up to ensure the economic activities are slowly put back on track. There is a need to cut across political lines and PM Modi should take a lead in ensuring harmony.

India has always responded in times of distress. The 1991 economic crisis paved the way for a new India. With India and the world pushed back to walls, this is Modi’s moment of reckoning. The medical community will eventually find a cure to the disease. But, the after-effects of this pandemic are to be tackled by the people in charge. The way PM Modi navigates the ship through these troubled waters would define India’s destiny for the next decade. In the face of grave challenges, also lie great opportunities. Dear PM, the photo-ops can wait, India needs more from you!!

Anup Rege  is a Chartered Accountant, working in Mumbai. Hi blog is  https://nationalistliberal.blogspot.com


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