Wanted, a collective national endeavour
COVID-19 calls for a largeness of political vision that will bring all of India together to get the better of the virus
- The Central government claims that if we had not locked down, we would have 800,000 infections by April 15, not the 8,000-plus at present. We are not told how these projections have been made; they seem to have been conjured out of thin air to justify the lockdown.
Who must give the cue?
- We are all in it together and representatives of all political parties should work together to deal with what we are told is the severest crisis since Independence.
- This is not the time to seek political gain, but a time when everyone will be more than willing to put aside their differences to tackle the crisis.
- Centre must have the State Governments as equal partners while taking decisions. The most productive effort will be an equal partnership between the Centre and the States.
- The Prime Minister unilaterally decided to impose the three-week lockdown and it is now said that it is the States that wanted an extension.
Shun the centralisation
- Centralisation of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office is the worst thing in a country-wide crisis. So far everything has been centred around the Prime Minister.
- The Health Minister is nowhere to be seen. A small group of hand-picked bureaucrats is taking all the major decisions and directing the response.
Open the fund tap
- Centre has been so far with its relief measures, it should also be giving the States more resources for their health services and expanded welfare programmes. But it is unbelievable that even today the Centre is refusing to release the States’ share in Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenues.
- Uncertainty and fear among the people calls for assurance from the highest levels on a regular basis, indeed every day, about what is being done. This would also signal that the Centre is sensitive to the difficulties that citizens are experiencing.
- Compare this attitude with that of the Chief Minister of Kerala. Detailed daily press briefings have built confidence in the State Government’s efforts, so much so that the residents of Kerala have now shed their fear. In the process, a Chief Minister who was earlier seen as a polarising figure has united the State in this crisis, and he has come to be universally admired.
Quell social tensions
- India must be unique in the world for increasing social tensions in such times. After many members of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi were found infected, an intense wave of Islamophobia has swept the TV channels and social media. The Muslim community is blamed for waging a “corona jihad”.
- An extended lockdown may make sense in an advanced economy where organised activity is the norm, but in India where there is so much of day-to-day survival and so little social security.
Unite for the reconstruction
- The economy cannot be operated with an off-on switch. It is going to be a long and hard process to rebuild the economy and rescue the livelihoods of millions of people in rural and urban India that have been weakened, if not destroyed altogether.
- The propaganda machine tells us that we have been doing well. Let us not be fooled. We are in the middle of a humanitarian disaster that would have been worse but for the efforts of the State governments.
- If we want to, we can still rise to meet the crisis. For that, we need a largeness of political vision that would enable a true collective effort at all levels of government and by all sections of society.