India’s (mis)handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is now under global scrutiny. The US has asked its citizens in India to return home post-haste. Australia has stopped flights to and from India. The US has hurriedly assured ‘help’ to India. International experts have opined that India unlocked herself too soon. Further, a new variant of the virus has been discovered in Vidarbha. Questions are being asked whether the presently available vaccines being administered to Indians will take care of the Vidarbha variant. Overall, despite her low per cent rate of Covid-19 deaths, India is being painted as a dangerous place.
Remember the same months last year? Then it was China and Wuhan! All blame was placed at the doors of China and the Chinese. Historically infamous for cunning and scheming, they had exported the virus to the unsuspecting developed West. We Indians were exalted that our back-stabbing neighbor was at the receiving end for once: anti-China propagandist trash flooded the TV channels!
Tables have turned now; China is not in news. Wuhan has been cleaned up and life is normal there. The Chinese vaccination drive has gone well ahead if figures on the internet be trusted. China continues to recoup her economic losses and pays no heed to what is said about her in the international community. We feel slightly better that the US has agreed to help us to contain the menace.
My readers will kindly remember that the second wave was not unexpected even to a layperson like me and I had predicted that India would be at the top of the table by the end of last year; the peak would be followed by a flat and then the decline would start. This guesswork was simple because, at the time of writing last year, testing in India was not in full swing. We are a country of big numbers and hence all numbers would be big-patients detected, treated, discharged; medical staff, hospitals etc. I had also urged to look at the percentage and not raw numbers.
Suffice it to say that India’s handling of the pandemic both by the centre and states has been far from perfect and has left more questions than answers to those who think. First, there was panic; followed by bold lock down all over the country. This created more panic and tragic deaths as migration from big cities went out of hands. The economy came to a halt and the better placed enjoyed undeserved holidays while the labour and service sectors slid down continuously till they could not take it anymore.
Our prime minister has taken a U-turn. A great champion of total lockdown this time last year he is now advising the states to look at this as the last step. He did not say why then and he does explain why now. We know from experience that the first and last resorts are generally for scoundrels who are in plenty among our politicians. True to form the PM and his coterie were busy trying to oust Mamata from Bengal and make a dent in Kerala. The Election Commission turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the blatant electioneering while restrictions went out of practice. UP had a very low death rate but the Kumbha helped it to catch up. Even RSS stalwarts have started questioning the BJP for its absence in Delhi during the last three months. The Madras High Court has come down heavily on the EC but the questions need to be asked why all courts in the country kept mum so long.
Manufacturing and trading have been disrupted again as states like Maharashtra, Karnataka have enforced total/partial lockdowns again. HRD sector has lost a full year since little was taught in a haphazard manner and exams have no meaning. Tourism, hospitality, transport, entertainment, construction sectors have lost a lot. Sports continue mostly on sponsorship. The culture was always the backbone of Indian society; it has slid low down in priority-the Kumbha is a negatively glaring exception. Economic prospects are grim and the talk of even a single-digit growth rate is superfluous.
In politics, the blame game continues. Soniya Gandhi has cried foul of the centre’s policies and urged that the containment (my word) of the pandemic should be above party politics. Nice words; but one wonders whether this wisdom is rooted in the political reality that her party is almost insignificant in the four states where assembly elections were held!
Despite the rudderless performance of those in power, we should look at the comment over early unlocking cautiously. Generally, international experts are either ignorant or ill-informed about Indian realities. This is not to reject their positive interest in India but they just fail to understand that western solutions do not work here. This is a crowded place. Especially the lowest wage earners live in impossible conditions where confinement would help the virus spread faster. Sectors like construction, domestic help, garbage collection provide substantial employment. There are millions who earn their livelihood by daily toil which does not register in official records. This country’s poor survive mostly on unrecorded sub-economies. Agricultural or industrial, Rural or Urban, India has millions toiling without record.
Such advice always comes India’s way since China care two hoots for it and goes her way despite talk of sanctions; making inroads into economies of developed countries. If this pandemic had not struck both China and would threaten the domination of world trade by the European Community and the US. Our western advisors have greater stakes in India with her economy in disarray and eradication of poverty and disease her only agenda! They want the India of 50 years back looking at western Humanitarian Aid with doting eyes. Like the colonisers of the 19th century told us that India would fall apart if they left these advisors to want us to teach how to take care of ourselves. Only a few years back a US president had blabbered that world food shortage was a consequence of more Indians eating more!
I remember a cartoon by R K Laxman when India went nuclear in the 1970s. It showed the then nuclear club-US, USSR, UK et al sitting around a table when a determined lady(Indiraji)barged in. She is clad in a sari with patches and has a pigeon on her shoulder. A gruff looking member says to his identical companion,’ There is no telling who will walk in now.’
But we walked in and stayed there! Similarly, we shall contain this pandemic too if we make a determined effort to inject a reality vaccine into our policymakers! More about that later.
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)