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India: In the business of meaning business

Bikram Vohra
Filed on April 15, 2020

For the past three weeks even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's diehard detractors have had to admit that his lockdown gambit has paid off in keeping the Covid-19 spread contained.
In fact by taking the incredible logistics of confining 1.4 billion people head on and mobilising a whole nation to do his bidding literally set the gold standard for the world in terms of lockdown in order to slow and flatten the curve.
There was a sense of togetherness and even if the novelty of the stay home concept had something to do with it, by and large this lumbering, highly disparate population rolled with the punch.
It wasn't an easy decision and because of that fault-finding became an nonissue. There were enough elements who thought the economic collapse was being undervalued. As the wheels of commerce both figuratively and literally came to a halt the pressure to temper the lockdown with organised and controlled re-ignition of industry intensified there was also a growing feeling that Modi would concede space. With the economy in free fall, the GDP into a crawl and the $26-billion sop offered pretty much a band aid the cornering effort to get Modi to capitulate was in full gear. By Monday night rumours had begun to spread that the powerful farmer lobby had twisted his arm and were demanding avenues of interstate distribution, not least of all for the mango crop. But it is the saving of the rabi crops that is now harvested including wheat, barley, sesame, and peas that is paramount.
But against all this very real pressure and despite all the pointless nastiness targeting him, Modi took the scientific view as against the heartbreak of tribulation. He listened to facts not fables. In fact, it is rumoured he factored in scenarios of what would happen if the lockdown was eased. It was after he was briefed by cruel truths and projections that he rightly concluded that the nation largely came together in a heartwarming show of unity and the snaking graph of Covid-19 stayed sluggish and controllable these past three weeks. The lockdown had kept India relatively stable.
This Tuesday morning Modi bit down hard on the bullet and extended the lockdown by three weeks. It was ironic that this harsh but valid announcement coincided with multiple festivals in the land when gaiety and laughter should have coloured the spirit.
After praising the public for their sacrifice and calling them soldiers in the war against Covid-19 he invoked India's hall of fame, its season of celebrations, and the advent of the harvest even as the suspense mounted on what he would say for the tomorrows.
After showing the steepness of relative graphs in the first world he came to grips with the stay home, social distancing syndrome, announcing unequivocally that Indian life mattered.
Then he extended the lockdown spurred by eight states who have already imposed it to May 3 with tight protocols for the first week.
Good for him. There was fear last night that caught between a rock and a hard place ergo the harvests and the economic freeze Modi might soften the deliberate incarceration.
He resisted it and allowed for the first week of the second phase to be even stricter and become more restrictive with no exceptions. He himself used the Hindi equivalent of the word draconian, indicating a veritable police initiated crackdown on violators. In week two after assessing the situation certain essential individuals might be allowed out but if there is any negative impact the courtesies will be rescinded in full.
Over 75 areas have been blocked out nationwide, marked as red zones and quarantined. More are added by the day. The cordon sanitaires are expected to have a salutary impact over the coming days ostensibly adding to the flattening of the curve.  
India has 160,000 beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients and increasing by the hour.
To put it bluntly the second round of 'stay home, stay safe' will be more 'draconian' in its imposition. Yes, there will be extreme discomfort but that the nation will have to bear it is not up for debate. It has been a long time since any leader in India has put a premium on Indian lives.
Striking a positive note he expressed hope that India will find a vaccine. It is not a cain hope. Indian research is on the cutting edge, her medical crews par excellence, the resilience admirable.
In the interim Modi tried to soften his severity with some gentle, avuncular advice:

  • Care for the elderly
  • Follow lockdown procedures
  • Increase your immunity, heed medical advice
  • Use the Aarogya Setu app to know the latest info
  • Feed the hungry
  • Do not sack staff
  • Thank and salute the medical fraternity
  • There was no choice really but to take these decisions and he took them head on.

The next three weeks are going to be tough. Very hard. Where the majority work with their hands and sinews the stay home order is like a prison sentence. The need for migrant labour to harvest crops is a vital and pressing need. Getting the crops to dealers and wholesalers and to the mandis (markets) across state lines is unavoidable. Making sure food and water for the people is top priority.Yes, the economy needs to be jumpstarted but against all these realities and justifications for them is the one big monster...can India lower her guard and let Covid 19 run rampant? And without these restrictions it would.
For now the answer is no.
Stay home, stay safe. 
-bikram@khaleejtimes.com





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