India struggles to pre-empt COVID-19

By K.N. Pandita

Under the headline ‘China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days’, Pakistan’s widely circulated newspaper Dawn published the deeply researched report of the Associated Press. The report gives an exceptional peep into the sordid story of China’s handling of the deadly pandemic, which put succinctly, has been a stinging concoction of cluelessness, hysterical secrecy, and punitive reprisal measures against the leakage of news. The report is too comprehensive to be condensed and succinctly reproduced in these columns. Only a couple of facts are picked up from the revelations made in the report with the explicit purpose of harking back the nation to the widespread ruin and devastation that would have overtaken us had not Prime Minister Modi foreseen the cataclysmic phenomenon and girded up his loins for a pre-emptive strike against the scourge. The Indian nation is fighting the battle with the intrepid commander in the lead. We are inching towards final victory over this deadly enemy of mankind.

Consider the following facts extracted from the AP report on China handling the pandemic:

  • (a) A couple of cases surfaced in a town 200 km away from Wuhan in late November 2019. Chinese authorities trivialized the reports and muzzled the doctors who had spoken about it;
  • (b) Till January 10, 2020, the virus had spread far and wide in Wuhan, but the disclosure was suppressed and reporting doctors were made disappeared;
  • (c) On Jan 10, Chinese Disease Control authority conceded the spread of the virus (d) on Jan 24, China began crisis control activity. She was dogged by a shortage of antivirus equipage and the civil supplies system verged on a collapse;
  • (e) at the peak of the virus almost a month later, 1,26000 people were dead and about 2 million were infected;
  • (f) National Centre for Disease Control of China did not report any case of infection despite the prevalence of chaos.

Now, compare this grubby Chinese phenomenon with the lightening speed with which Prime Minister Modi undertook to pre-empt the onslaught of the deadly virus. We have every reason to believe that he was regularly briefed on coronavirus depredations. Strictly adhering to Chanakiyan axiom, PM Modi never sleeps. In the video conference of SAARC leaders called by him on 15 March, he revealed that India had started screening of all foreign visitors as early as January 2020.

Modi understood the magnitude of the disaster if addressed in routine – the unpardonable negligence to which some developed countries in the west succumbed. He was also cognizant of the magnitude of effective preventive and remedial measures that will be needed to forestall the imminent danger. It was not an easy decision for the most popular leader in the world’s largest democracy. Putting everything to risk, hee summoned his legendry cool and sat down with his team of colleagues and then chartered his war strategy against the death-spreading butterfly. Put succinctly, the strategy was two-fold viz. (a) lockdown India, the one-fifth of the world’s population, and (b) provide for the sustenance of 130 million of Indians during the period of lockdown. Each factor was loaded with most fearful consequences. What if the nation of 130 million people – where the entire opposition has ganged up to bring down the Modi government -, did not accept his call for the lockdown? And secondly, if the nation responded favourably, what if the Modi government failed to provide sustenance to all sections of society, particularly the daily wage earners and toiling farmers, what would be the consequences. The world saw the power of Indian democracy and the type of leadership it has thrown up. Such has been the impact of leaders repeated connectivity with the masses over the last two months that at a recent meeting with the chief ministers of all states and lieutenant governors of Union Territories, the demand was to extend the lockdown to two more weeks after April 21. Not a single state leader, including those with a no-BJP government, made a single complaint of a shortage of any essential goods or medicines or inability of the government to reach each needy person and family.

The most significant facet of government’s effort of pre-empting the onslaught of the virus is that the entire administrative machinery at the centre or in the states, down to the minutest cog, came to be galvanized into action and the good governance was not only felt but also seen effective in times of travail. Entire Indian society irrespective of ideological and social distinctions hailed the historic decisions of the Prime Minister.

The government did not only take into account the responsibility of saving human lives but also went deep into the nitty-gritty of a mechanism designed to safeguard and promote the national economy. He squeezed the entire gamut of economic policy in one short sentence viz “Jan Bhi hai Jahan Bhi hai”, a marked shift from his earlier slogan “Jan hai to Jahan hai”. This huge and frightening responsibility is discharged with meticulously so much so that the Prime Minister in a tweet appreciated a 73-yar old pensioner in far off Reasi of Jammu region for making thousands of masks from his pension money and two young sisters in Kashmir who went entreating the people to observe the guidelines given by the government. Rarely do we find precedence in the history of world democracy where the most popular leader heading the government has reached his countrymen at the grassroots level either through electronic media or through an official interface or personal tweets or fraternizing with them in their social functions, feasts, and national festivals. He has endeared himself to his nation and humanity at large.

The tally till date (17 April, noon) is 424 dead and 12759 infected in a population of 130 million people. The losses would have been fewer but for a little carelessness of the visiting Tablighi missionaries and their local contacts. India is engaged in a pre-emptive strike on the COVID-19.

India will win the battle with minimum loss of life. India will recover fast her economy and bring prosperity to the nation. In Geeta, Lord Krishna says, ‘I am there where there is a sense of duty (dharma).” The sense of duty will make us emerge victorious from this dark and dismal happening. Prime Minister Modi has given a new definition to the concept of democracy which the world will have to acknowledge. The old order is collapsing and a new order will replace it.

Bipolarity is breaking and multi-polarity is the new mantra. The world economy will wriggle out of the clutches of monopolizes and a real commonwealth of nations will emerge. Congregational entreaty to divinity may be replaced by unaided communion between the man and his creator. And remember the bard sings, “Old order changeth yielding place to new/And God fulfils himself in many ways/ lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir).

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