LOCKDOWN IMPACT FITS INTO A PATTERN OF FAILURES
Amit Shah’s is known to be his master’s voice. So when he admitted the other day that there may have been lapses on the part of the government in dealing with the Covid pandemic, he must have done it on authority.
“We may have made a mistake, we may have fallen short; we may not have been able to do something. But what did you do?” he said turning the question to the Congress. Asking the Opposition to do what the government is unable to do is, of course, weird thinking, but that is beside the point.
What is important is that there is realisation within the party and the government that there have been problems with the government’s response to the pandemic, particularly in terms of the national lockdown. Narendra Modi, who is supposed to make no mistake, never owns up any wrongdoing. He did not do it in the case of demonetisation. And he is not doing it this time either.
At the time of demonetisation, Modi had asked people for 50 days’ time to exorcise the country of the evil of black money and told them to ‘hang’ him if he failed. But as soon as it became known that the monetary misadventure had done more harm than good, he kept a studied silence and failed to mention demonetisation even once.
It is ditto with lockdown too. In fact, Modi was celebrating the lockdown in its first phase, when people took his advice to heart and did whatever he asked for, including ringing of bells and tapping of plates and tins to create solidarity noise. He came on air repeatedly to address the nation and praise the people for India’s unique achievement, despite its huge population. He used his videoconference address to SAARC members to assert India’s global leadership in the fight against the virus. Similarly, he announced a Rs 20 lakh crore Covid package with much fanfare, but no substance, promising to redraw the 21st century industrial map of the world, with India at its centre.
His national lockdown, which was declared with the express intention of safeguarding lives and livelihoods, achieved neither of its objectives. As the full impact of the lockdown begins to be felt, Modi is now keeping mum on his promises, leaving the defence in the hands of his trusted lieutenants, who have failed to make a good job of it. There is no point in blaming them, because they have been given the task of defending the indefensible.
GlobalData Healthcare, which provides a Risk of Transmission Forecast Model using the most recent historical Covid-19 data from the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 Database and the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Covid-19 situation reports, says that based on the current trajectory of daily confirmed cases, India will be the fourth most heavily affected country in the world behind the US, Brazil, and Russia in the next two weeks.
According to GlobalData, India appears nowhere near the peak, as more than 50% of all confirmed cases were reported in the last two weeks. The outlook for the future remains uncertain as the average daily new cases in the past week were around 9,000, compared to around 1,500 cases higher than the week before and almost 3,500 cases higher than two weeks before.
A record rise in the caseload for the sixth consecutive day pushed the tally to over 2.7 lakh. The latest death toll due to the coronavirus infection is 7,745 while the number of cases is inching towards the 3-lakh figure. With Unlock.1 already on, a surge in cases is expected to begin soon. Already several states like Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Haryana, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Tripura are showing a big spike. So much for protecting lives.
All rating agencies have forecast a 5 percent contraction in the Indian economy on account of the slump in economic activities. According to one report, the pandemic is expected to hit the economy with about $320 billion in terms of daily gross domestic product (GDP) loss. The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector, fondly called the backbone of the Indian economy, is down in the dumps, leading to the biggest migration of workers from the urban centres to the rural.
The lack of planning for the lockdown has created a human tragedy of unprecedented proportions, which is what prompted Amit Shah to admit the mistake. Although it lacks sincerity and feeling for the millions of distressed people, it betrays a lurking fear in the mind of the ruling party about the political implications of this huge failure. Modi should feel relieved that the tragedy occurred in the first year of his second tenure and not its last, which means that the time is still on his side.