“Act, don’t react.”
This is my one-line advice to the central government on their efforts to deal with the Coronavirus crisis.
Before I further my point, I know a substantial number of people will question the sheer act of me questioning the government at the time of a crisis like this. “It’s not the time to be political.”
But, if you ask me this is the perfect time to be political. It is the perfect time to assess the qualities of our leaders, analyse the health infrastructure and their effectiveness in crisis management. I will elaborate my point with two examples across the globe.
China, from where this virus is said to have originated, has a totalitarian form of government. The Communist Party of China is the only political party and there is no opposition and media to challenge their decisions. If the was some restraints on their power, I feel the information regarding the spread of the virus would have been out to the world sooner than it did right now. News reports talk about how China did not tell the world how contagious this virus is until about January 21.
The other example is of the United States, which took the problem casually. President Trump wanted to shift all the blame to China and was persistent in calling it the “Chinese virus” instead of dealing with the problem itself. He was in complete denial of the statistics related to the problem caused by COVID-19 virus and the warnings of the medical professional.
Trump, like many other evaders in the world, was more concerned with how the crisis reflected his public image ahead d of the elections instead of dealing with the crisis itself. The result is that as of 27th March, USA recorded more than 91,000 cases, more than China.
It is the perfect time to assess the political systems and leadership. The citizens must ask the relevant questions to their respective governments.
Coming back to India, I feel the response of the Modi government has been a little laidback. Instead of acting on the situation, they have been reacting to it. Their policies and announcements seem inspired by other nations and the state governments.
The party at the centre was very keen into coming into power in Madhya Pradesh that it, like Trump, was ignoring the warnings regarding the seriousness of the situation. The leader of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi, (in a tweet on February 12) and other medical professionals were warning the government.
The Corona Virus is an extremely serious threat to our people and our economy. My sense is the government is not taking this threat seriously.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 12, 2020
The Prime Minister finally addressed the nation on March 18, 2020, in an inspiring speech where he addressed the crisis in a very lucid manner, the way it can reach more and more people. He announced a Janata Curfew on 22 March. The first instance of Modi government being reactive rather than active can be traced to their idea of coming to the balconies and clapping and cheering for five minutes, an idea inspired by the people of Italy. A great gesture, but I think we all have enough evidence on how exactly that went wrong.
On this day itself and the next day, the Chief Minister’s of different states started announcing lockdowns until March 31. The Prime Minister called for a nationwide 21-day lockdown on 24 March. The speech came at 8 PM and again and led to panic buying as the leader-in-chief failed to clarify the point that essentials would be available in the half-an-hour address. I would personally criticise his use of the word “curfew” and his tone, which resulted in panic.
Nirmala Sitaraman, the finance minister announced 1,70,000 crores in economic reforms to assist the poor. This announcement again came as late as on 26th March, while many state governments had already announced their economic packages. The central government cheekily called this as the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan scheme. Alright, what’s there in the name?
All this while, the government hasn’t been able to work on the actual crisis of shortage of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). The amount of testing has been also awfully low due to lack of testing equipment.
The state governments, be it Kerala, Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal have been more proactive, I feel. The federal structure of India is fixing the gaps created by the ‘passiveness’ of the Central government. I hope India comes out strong from this. The spread of the disease be minimized and people can survive both COVID-19 and the lockdown.