RIGHT Foot Forward

Covid-19 second wave: We need action. Not reaction

As the Covid rampage continues, people want to see more of the Prime Minister leading the battle from the front.

 |  RIGHT Foot Forward  |  6-minute read |   30-04-2021
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The Covid-19 virus has kept us guessing, but so has the government. The Prime Minister spoke to the nation briefly last week. He did provide some reassurances and make a few suggestions. But, it fell short of expectations. There was no communication of strategy and a roadmap. Perhaps, because there is no visibility on what lies ahead. As a result, it did not inspire much confidence in the government being in charge and on top of the crisis. Meanwhile, the carnage continued unabated. Drone images of funeral pyres and bodies lying in queues for cremation beamed across the world bordering on macabre.

main_covid-funeral-p_043021012632.jpgThe carnage continued unabated. Funeral pyres and bodies lying in queues for cremation beamed across the world bordering on macabre. (Photo: Reuters)

It is not as if there has been no action. A lot of work has gone into delivering oxygen to cities where the demand exceeds supplies. The railways provided Oxygen Express rakes for trans-region transfers. The private sector stepped in to augment oxygen supplies. Airlifting oxygen in cryogenic containers from overseas is underway. But there is no respite, and to use a cliché, the nation is gasping for breath. At places, the armed forces have been mobilised to set up makeshift Covid Care centres. Individuals and civic organisations have jumped in to help citizens in distress to find hospital beds, medicines and oxygen cylinders. There are many tales of heroism and philanthropy from across the country.

The biggest breakthrough was with the USA where the Indian government persuaded the Biden administration to unfreeze essential raw materials for the manufacture of vaccines in India and surplus stock of vaccine. Russia has offered its vaccine, Sputnik V, to India. Many other countries have come forward to help India in its hour of distress. This is a major testimony to India’s enhanced standing on the global stage and an outcome of its investment in bilateral and multilateral relations in recent years. 

However, many of these have been SOS measures. Fire-fighting efforts. Scrambling to cope with a million crises across the country. Dystopian visuals of an apocalypse in progress. With all of that is the deafening surround sound of chaos all over. Adding to the cacophony is political parties and opposition-ruled states trading charges with the Centre. There is a constant stream of “Tu tu, mein mein” — at one level a turf war and at another passing the envelope to the other.

Critics of the present regime, sensing that he is on the back foot, are baying for the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his de-facto deputy, Home Minister Amit Shah. This is being amplified by the media, both domestic and international, making India look like a nation on the brink.

It is easy to find faults in retrospect — though contrary to the popular belief hindsight is not always 20/20, it is often distorted by perception, a lapse of memory and sometimes, lies or half-truths. Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that the government was taken by surprise. Lead indicators from many states that were showing spikes in infection were ignored. Early warning systems were either not operational or overlooked. There was vacillation about the vaccine policy. There was an embarrassing nonchalance in allowing some potential super-spreaders events like the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar and election rallies. Overall, harsh and unfair as it may sound, one cannot fault detractors if they take this opportunity to accuse the government of sleeping at the wheels.

But it is intriguing that even now, the Centre is displaying a reluctance to take charge. Although it is ‘reactive to criticism, it appears shy to act. There are many theories doing the rounds on this. Some say that the government is so overwhelmed with the problem and at a loss for solutions that it has gone into a state of paralysis. Uncharitable hashtags like #ModiSeNahinHoPayega are trending on social media. Though these are clearly engineered by the opposition parties through their “IT Cells” and ought not to be taken seriously, there are no strong signals from the government to show that it is seized of the situation. There are occasional tweets about the Prime Minister’s meeting with officials like the Armed Forces Chiefs to review Covid Response Plans and meetings with Chief Ministers. But, those hardly inspire confidence.

As I write this piece, the Prime Minister is meeting the Council of Ministers today to discuss the Covid-19 situation. Media reports say this is the first meeting of its kind since the outbreak of the second wave. That does seem a little odd and reinforces the impression of over-centralisation at the top.

Narendra Modi’s persona has been built on his ability to take hard decisions even by staking his political capital. His second-in-command — Amit Shah — too is known for his penchant for action. Hence, this diffidence is hard to understand. One possible explanation is that they are being sensitive to criticism about the over-centralisation of decision making that goes against the spirit of the federal system. Therefore, they are allowing the events to play out before making any concerted central intervention. But, that is a difficult logic to buy when thousands of lives are on the line and the nation is in a state of collective trauma.

main_modi_twitter_043021012757.jpgPeople want to see more of the Prime Minister leading the battle from the front, as he does so masterfully in election rallies. (Photo: Twitter/ @narendramodi)

Another conjecture in the air is that the government realises that if the present trend continues, then some radical steps have to be taken that can have major political fallout. That will require massive preparation and homework on multiple fronts like logistics, economic, law and order enforcement, in addition to the medical support systems. This will also need building political consensus inside the country and taking the international community into confidence. But any further drift can easily lead to a veritable apocalypse. What is today a public health emergency could manifest itself into a more complex scenario tomorrow including one of national security.

Meanwhile, life cannot appear to be at a standstill. Like justice, the action also has to be seen and heard. The role of the Centre in coordination (from vaccines to oxygen and medicines) has to be felt. Daily communication by medical experts and the ministries in charge must happen to put doubts and concerns to rest. One of the best safeguards against the infection is keeping the spirits high, as endorsed by psychologists and physicians. A continuous dialogue with people is one way of boosting morale.

As the head of the family, like he projects himself to be, people want to see more of the Prime Minister leading the battle from the front, as he does so masterfully in election rallies.

Also read: When PM Modi might speak up on battling the second wave

Writer

Sandip Ghose Sandip Ghose @sandipghose

Sandip Ghose is a writer and blogger on current affairs. Views expressed are personal and does not reflect those of his employer

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