Yes We Can! - April 02, 2020

The unity of India is being best demonstrated at the time of a crisis caused by outsiders. This time the outsider is neither humans nor nations but a virus. The way common people, health professionals, sanitation workers, police and essential service providers are responding to the crisis is exemplary. All have responded affirmatively to Prime Minister’s call for a drill of a shutdown on 22nd March and to the actual shutdown of 21 days from 25th March onward. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown statesmanship in the shutdown announcement wherein he has not given consideration for the Indian new year festivities neither for the celebration of Ramnavami nor for the birth-anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. His hand-folded appeal to the people for cooperation is a sign of gravity of the situation that the country has taken in a right stride so far. The Prime Minister has made three simple appeals to all countrymen. One, stay indoor; two, take care of elderly family members; three, not to take any medicine without advice from doctor. His clarification that there are no medicines certified by science so far was necessary to put on hold desi experiments to cure coronavirus infections.

It is also heartening to see that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was the whistleblower to alarm the government and people about the unavoidable pandemic and its economic fallouts. He perfectly played a role of the opposition leader when he kept on asking the government to prepare the country to embrace the impact of pandemic. Rahul Gandhi also showed the way by donating thermal testing kits to his constituency in Kerala, which the other members of parliament should follow in right earnest.

The real heroes emerged out of the coronavirus situation are several state governments. Much before the central government plunge into action, many state governments had undertaken various preventive measures to halt the spread of virus. The states of Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi needs special mention for their early efforts to curb the virus spread and preparation of health service machinery. Kerala is once again leading the fight against imported virus after its successes in dealing with bird flu and H1N1 viruses in recent past. The left front government’s announcement to spend Rs. 20,000 crore funds to deal with the crisis and improve health services infrastructure has rightly placed its priorities in governance of the state. Delhi Chief Minister Aravind Kejariwal has pushed the communal tensions in the city under the carpet and pressed in service his well-oiled health and service delivery machinery. The admirable work of Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala or Kejariwal in Delhi is not surprising though! It is Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra Chief Minister, who has surprised his friends and foes by showing the stealth of mind and command over administration. He locked down the state step by step without creating space for panic and shortages. The central government only followed what has already been implemented in Maharashtra under the stewardship of Uddhav Thackeray. His no non-sense yet calm and composed style of functioning is impressive and effective.

With the 21-days shutdown, the capacities of municipalities and Gram-panchayats have become crucial to keep the cities, towns and villages clean, healthy and feed with proper food. At no point of time the principles of decentralized administration were tested so rigourously. Whether we stand this test or fail, the decentralization is going to be the buzz in the future to tackle enormous emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. Even when India has geared up from top to bottom to face the wrath of coronavirus, news are coming from few corners of poor starving off food and migrant workers left with no choice but to walk down their native places several miles away. These are avoidable instances and must be avoided henceforth if we think we care for the poor and vulnerable. This is the first major lesson that we must learn. Think of the poorest and most vulnerable while taking any emergency decision. Create infrastructure and system to take care of vulnerable and poor sections.

The second most important lesson is to massively prepare ourselves for health emergencies in the near future. The coronavirus scare has already made many experts of international relations and defence studies to re-examine concept of national security. Human security is at the core of national security. If health hazards are threatening the human security, we must reconsider our focus with regard to national security. In the past, India had learnt from many calamities and had effectively taken steps to mitigate the damages. The work on containing human loss due to cyclones as been undertaken by state governments of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in last two decades are exemplary in this regard. Similarly, India has the capability to reboot itself through the current coronavirus crisis. Let’s do it. We can!

- Prof. Parimal Maya Sudhakar