Lockdown flattened wrong curve as it decimated economy: Rajiv Bajaj

In a conversation with Rahul Gandhi, the industrialist says country ended up with ‘worst of both worlds’

June 04, 2020 12:39 pm | Updated 05:33 pm IST - New Delhi

Rajiv Bajaj. File.

Rajiv Bajaj. File.

A draconian lockdown flattened the wrong curve as it decimated the GDP and economy, industrialist Rajiv Bajaj has said.

In a conversation with former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, edited video of which was released online on Thursday, Mr. Bajaj also claimed a friend of his suggested that he should avoid speaking to Mr. Gandhi to avoid 'trouble'.

Also read |PM’s handling of economy a step above ‘junk’ as per Moody’s: Rahul Gandhi

On exiting the lockdown, the head of Bajaj Auto, the country’s leading two-wheeler manufacturer, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should allay the fears of people if the government wanted the ‘living with the virus’ strategy to succeed.

Talking about the lockdown, he said India ended up with the “worst of both worlds” as it followed western nations such as Italy, France, Spain, UK and the U.S.

“On one hand, a porous lockdown makes sure that the virus will still exist and as you said, it is still waiting to hit you when you will unlock. So you have not solved that problem. But you have definitely decimated the economy. You flattened the wrong curve. It is not the infection curve, it is the GDP curve,” he observed.

Mr. Bajaj strongly urged the government to offer stimulus to generate demand and cited the examples of Japan and the U.S., where each person was offered $1,000.

A failed lockdown: Rahul

Mr. Gandhi said the world had not seen such lockdowns even during World War II. He once again termed India’s lockdown strategy a ‘failed’ one and noted that the country was opening up when infections were rising. He once again asked why the government was not going in for massive injection of cash, and claimed that he tried to understand the ‘logic’ of government’s reluctance of not doing so.

Mr. Gandhi said the government didn’t want to ‘spoil’ the labourers by giving handouts as that would make them stay in villages and that would affect India’s pitch as an alternative investment destination and send a wrong message.

“Later we might consider giving money to these labourers and SM businesses,” he quoted government sources as telling him.

Creation of scare

Both Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Bajaj agreed that the government’s messaging seemed created a scare about a high mortality from the pandemic.

Mr. Bajaj noted, “I think we have fallen very short of disclosing facts, logic and the truth. And this has then got amplified and instilled such an enormous fear in people that people seem to think that the contagion is equal to a contagious cancer or something”.

He said, “ I think that the first problem is to get this fear out of the minds of people. There has to be a very clear aligned narrative, I would say from the PM because, right or wrong, when he says something people seem to follow”.

Asked about an ‘atmopshere of fear’ in the country by Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Bajaj claimed a friend advised him not to have a public conversation with the Congress leader.

“I shared with someone yesterday that tomorrow 12 p.m., I’m speaking with Rahul and this thing. And the first reaction was, don’t do it. I said but ‘why not?’ Mat karna [don't do it], this can get you into trouble”, he said.

Bajaj senior’s comment

Last year, at an awards function where Home Minister Amit Shah was present, the industrialist’s father, Rahul Bajaj, talked about an ‘atmosphere of fear’ prevailing among the business community.

Mr. Bajaj junior, however, asserted that he never faced any ‘repercussion’ for speaking out. “So, you know one hears a lot about this mahaul [atmosphere of fear], but I try to ask people why this should be so because at least so far I have not faced any repercussion, so to speak, of this. But yes, what you say is true; this seems to be the general impression, which is sad because I think this openness is our strength and we must not lose it”, he said.

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