A Tale of Two States in India During Coronavirus Pandemic

coronavirus kerala kitchens

The coronavirus pandemic has aggravated existing economic, and social crisis in India. The country is witnessing incomprehensible distress among the migrant workers, farmers, and poor masses both in urban and rural areas. In such a situation of utter crisis, Mr Narendra Modi; the Prime Minister of India is busy in manipulating Indian public by false propaganda to hide all his failures. And the Government of India is busy in satisfying the needs of capitalist class while poor suffer. Modi led government in center and BJP led state governments are busy in destroying all rules and regulations that protect the workers. It surrendered itself before the capitalist classes in India. It did not provide any relief to the poor and migrant workers. Modi government has failed miserably to face and manage the crisis. Its inherent inabilities are products of false confidence, arrogance of power and ignorance of understanding the crisis. But the state governments in Kerala and Odisha tell two different successful stories of humanism and became the beacon of hope for the masses during this unprecedented public health crisis in India.

The communist parties under the leadership of Chief Minister; Mr Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja proved that Kerala is no more a communist utopia. The political conscious ness, effective government policies, and committed leadership helped to manage and contain the spread of Coronavirus with lowest casualty (four deaths) in a population of thirty-five million. The state has not only quarantined 170,000 people but also provided accommodation and three times food to 150,000 migrant workers. The state is ready with further emergency plans to face the challenges in future by requisitioning of hotels, hostels and conference centres to provide 165,000 more beds. It shows proactive leadership, participatory planning and speedy implementation of policies with scientific spirit, that helped the state in combating Coronavirus crisis. The Kerala’s success story is neither a miracle nor an accident. It is a product of systematic long-term decentralised planning of development and democratic investment in public health and educational infrastructure.  The politics of the poor and their partnership with the state through decentralised local self-governments have led to the success of Kerala in its fight against Coronavirus.

The state of Odisha under the progressive, secular, and committed leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik managed successfully to contain the spread of Coronavirus. The Chief Minister personally appealed to the people to cooperate with the government’s initiatives to fight the Coronavirus. He developed an effective partnership with the local self-governments by directly engaging with the heads of 6798 villages in the state. He made them to take oath to keep their areas free from the COVID-19. The pledge reads as follows; “I take pledge to sincerely work towards containing the spread of novel Coronavirus in my panchayat for the public good. I will ensure keeping the people coming from other States in quarantine and look after their stay, food and treatment”. Such progressive steps by the head of the state gave a sense of ownership to the citizens in fighting the pandemic. As a result, there are only five deaths due to COVID-19 in a population of nearly forty-seven million. The swift planning, immediate implementation of policies, clear communication of risks, regular updates, devolution of power to the local bodies and proactive bureaucracy helped Odisha to deal with the pandemic. The state capital Bhubaneswar is declared as Coronavirus free zone.

Odisha as state is truly the best kept secret of India. The national media continue to misrepresent, and ignore the state of Odisha, and its potentials. The state is making progressive policy interventions in shaping its development destinations, and claim its rightful place in national discourse. Odisha is leading by example when it comes to combating Coronavirus pandemic. Odisha has established thirty-four dedicated hospitals to deal with the COVID-19. The Government of Odisha provides around 1.52 crore meals to the people in the affected districts. The Government of Odisha has provided free bus services to all migrant labours to return to their homes in the neighbouring states. While the central government is cancelling the dearness allowances, the Government of Odisha has raised the dearness allowance by 10% for state government employees. The Government Odisha’s experience of disaster management during natural calamities became very helpful while dealing with the Coronavirus inflicted public health crisis.

Kerala and Odisha are different from each other but similar in many ways. The state of Kerala is ruled by the communist parties whereas Odisha is ruled by a regional party called Biju Janata Dal. Political consciousness is higher in Kerala than Odisha. Therefore, the political systems and their ideological trends in the making of public policies are different in these two states. The unflinching commitment to secularism is the similarity between the two Chief Ministers. Both states are inclusive, secular and progressive coastal states in India. Odisha is relatively larger both in terms of geography and population. Odisha has thirty-four dedicated COVID-19 hospitals whereas Kerala has twenty-seven. Kerala has higher health budget to deal with the pandemic than Odisha. Both the states are leading examples for India and international communities to deal with pandemic.

Kerala and Odisha proved that only state interventions can work efficiently during crisis. The state can only ensure the welfare of the masses. These two states are debunking the neoliberal market myth that state is inefficient in dealing with crisis. The people centric state can only bring development by providing right to public health. It is not profit but public welfare determines the nature and sustainability of the state and its relationship with the citizens. Kerala and Odisha are two Indian states setting international standard to test, track, trace, treat, isolate, and contain the spread of Coronavirus. The political will combined with reason, science, and mass support, Pinarayi Vijayan led Kerala and Naveen Patnaik led Odisha are doing remarkable work and emerging as hopes for the people during this public health disaster. The political will, and commitment for public health and welfare by both the state governments led to effective management of this unprecedented public health crisis. Let these two states, and their experiences in dealing with COVID-19 guide the future of public policy for health and development in India.

Bhabani Shankar Nayak, Coventry University, UK.



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