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A mandate for compassionate governance

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. File   | Photo Credit: AP

Many surmise that the reason why Kerala is a developed State is that there is regime change following every election, either from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) or vice versa. This time, though, the LDF has broken the decades-old trend of the incumbent government being ousted from power (the last time this happened was in 1977). Its emphatic win coincided with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing the only seat it held (Nemom) in the State.

Tackling calamities, disease outbreaks

Pre-poll surveys showed that the LDF might return to power and there were large turnouts at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s election rallies despite the COVID-19 threat. Mr. Vijayan spearheaded the State through the turbulent years of two catastrophic floods, Cyclone Ockhi, the Nipah outbreak and more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The LDF’s effective tackling of these calamities and outbreaks not just reinforced the confidence of the people in the regime, but also helped voters re-imagine the notion of ‘development’. The citizens took note of the government’s timely efforts in organising relief during the natural calamities.

Last year, the government was able to significantly minimise the death rate and human suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is pertinent to note that in India, at least in the initial stages of the pandemic, suffering and deaths were not due to financial, medicinal or foodgrains shortages or even COVID-19 itself, but poor governance and wrong prioritisation of options.

Having already dealt with the experience of preventing the spread of Nipah, Kerala had started taking effective containment and prevention measures against COVID-19 by the end of January 2020. COVID-19 desks were set up in all the four airports in Kerala by early February 2020. The details of those who landed from foreign countries were collected. These travellers were sent to quarantine facilities. Gatherings were banned by the second week of March and educational institutions were closed. The ‘Break the Chain’ campaign and sanitation campaigns reached large sections of the public within a short span of time. Contact-tracing of those who had tested positive was done and the details were published. The State ensured free but high-quality treatment to all those who tested positive. There was strict screening at the State border and at railway stations with every team comprising one paramedical staff member, a police officer and a local volunteer. In this election, the Health Minister, K.K. Shailaja, has won her constituency (Mattannur) with the highest margin ever seen in the State, an emphatic reaffirmation of her efforts during these times.

A multidimensional approach

The LDF’s success lies in the Pinarayi government’s tackling of the disease with a multidimensional approach. Kerala also has a well-established public healthcare system. The State adopted a compassionate and sustainable model. Free foodgrain kits were provided, irrespective of the family’s income, to prevent hunger. Community kitchens were opened for those who were not able to cook. Mr. Vijayan and Ms. Shailaja addressed the people every day via mass media, to alleviate the agonies related to the pandemic. In addition, the government made arrangements to take care of the emotional needs of schoolchildren and Mr. Vijayan appealed to men to ‘help’ women in household work.

Migrant workers were termed ‘guest workers’ and camps were set up for them. They were provided with the food of their choice. Each camp had a multilingual guard besides health and recreational facilities. The State also provided for the safe return of those guest workers who wanted to join their families in their respective native places. Social security pensions were not stalled and elderly and vulnerable individuals were given special care. Even stray animals and birds were provided with food and water.

Gradually and systematically, the government changed the development paradigm and promoted a compassionate, reliable and sustainable development plan to the public. The gradual opening up of the State after the lockdown resulted in an increase in the number of cases, but despite having the highest proportion of elderly people (12.6%), with a significant number of them affected by co-morbidities, the case fatality rate in Kerala was the lowest among major States in November 2020. It is no wonder that the LDF regime has been rewarded for its idea of compassionate governance.

Resmitha R. Chandran is Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court of India


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 3:42:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-mandate-for-compassionate-governance/article34466478.ece

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