The missing notes: On politics and the fight against COVID-19

Political India should put up a united front against the fast galloping virus

Updated - March 21, 2020 01:14 am IST

Published - March 21, 2020 12:02 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on March 19  on the coronavirus pandemic, rightly focused on what people should do in what is fast turning into a crisis situation. But there was very little by way of reassurance to the people about what the government was doing, or planning to do, to mitigate the developing crisis. Battling maladies of various kinds all the time, a large segment of the population has developed a detrimental fatalism, against which Mr. Modi had spoken earlier. That complacency has been evident in the social response to the creeping affliction, a nonchalance bordering on irresponsibility. Large gatherings of people at private, State and religious events have continued well after the nature of the disease became clear. The Prime Minister’s call for a lockdown on March 22 could prepare the country for stiffer measures if and when the situation so demands. The Prime Minister also held a conference call with Chief Ministers on March 20. To the extent that it communicated a sense of urgency and emergency, the Prime Minister’s address was timely. But beyond that it did not achieve much. The States are at the forefront of the fight against the virus, and their capacity is frustratingly uneven across the country. Marshalling all resources available, and launching a complete spectrum defence against the virus is the need of the hour. There are measures that the governments, at the Centre and the State levels, have been taking. For those who expected to hear some reassuring words from the Prime Minister on this, the address was a tad disappointing.

The most effective weapon in the fight against the coronavirus , evidence so far suggests, is social distancing. This requires people to disrupt their lives and livelihoods. The Prime Minister emphatically urged people to keep themselves at home, but did not adequately put them at ease on the looming questions of economic insecurity. There is a task force chaired by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and an early announcement of measures that will alleviate the economic pain will go a long way in seeing the populace through these tough times. It is one thing to instil a collective purpose among the people to meet a common challenge and quite another to do what the governments are supposed to do, and communicate that. While Mr. Modi’s address was very forceful on the first, instead of explaining the government’s plans to deal with the crisis, he exhorted people to clap for the frontline responders against the coronavirus, who are doing a splendid job, at a particular time. In most parts of the world, this threat to humanity has prompted leaders to put political differences aside, and opposing sides have joined hands. It will be a tragedy if India cannot do the same. To this end, the Opposition should play a more constructive role, and the government must send out a message that it is taking control of the situation.

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