The lockdown that the government put in place was “draconian” and the “hard” shutdown ended up decimating the economy and flattening the GDP growth curve instead of the coronavirus curve, industrialist Rajiv Bajaj said on Thursday during a conversation with senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Bajaj said some “mood elevators” are required now to reignite demand and wondered why a strong initiative for that is not being taken.
Bajaj said the government has fallen “very short of disclosing facts, logic and the truth” regarding the pandemic, which he felt “got amplified and installed such an enormous fear in people that people seem to think that the contagion is equal to a contagious cancer or something”.
“I think that the first problem is to get this fear out of the minds of the 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. I think he needs to stand up and say to everyone that this is how we are going to move forward, it’s all under control, do not fear infections, almost nobody is dying, you know and we have to move forward now,” said Bajaj, managing director at Bajaj Auto.
Rahul said he was told by an expert in the initial days of the lockdown that by applying a “full lockdown you are changing the nature of the disease… you are making this non-fatal disease to a fatal disease in the minds of the people. Once you’ve done that, then to reverse that, that is going to take a significant amount of time and it is going to take a lot of effort.”
Bajaj said every country was trying to find a middle path between an impervious lockdown and a business-as-usual approach. “I think, unfortunately, India not only looked west, it went to the Wild West. I think we stayed more towards the impervious side. We tried to implement a hard lockdown which was still porous. So, I think we have ended up with the worst of both worlds.”
“On one hand a porous lockdown makes sure that the virus will still exist… 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. This is what we have ended (up) with, the worst of both worlds,” he said.
When Rahul said that the central government has now backed off and left it to the states to deal with the pandemic, Bajaj said it is more like “passing of the buck and not passing of the strategy”. He said an aligned approach to unlocking is missing.
“I’m not seeing that smooth, concerted, rhythmic movement towards unlocking. Yes… we are moving in that direction, but I think, a kind of aligned approach that is required. That one person will say one thing… This is not happening and I think the blame for this rests again with the kind of fear we created in the first place that infection is equal to death.”
Bajaj claimed that an acquaintance of his had suggested that he should avoid speaking to Rahul to avoid getting into ‘trouble’. He said “that is the general mahaul” in the country and mentioned how his father Rahul Bajaj had expressed concern over the lack of confidence among corporates to criticise the central government at an event last year in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah and some of his Cabinet colleagues.
“So, you know, one hears a lot about this (mahaul), 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.