Transcending geographical boundaries — and every socio-economic and political demarcation — the COVID-19 outbreak has caused huge disruptions globally. It has substantially punctured mankind’s vanity.
However, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, was wide off the mark when he termed the pandemic as the greatest test we have faced since World War II. The scourge of nature is far more serious a threat than man-made wars. It is in this context that I see India’s role as exemplary. Among the world leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be particularly perspicacious — not only did he ascertain the real nature of the crisis, but he helped to prepare a graded response to it.
A timely response mitigates the effects of a disaster and India has been spot-on in this regard. As Modi pointed out in his message to the nation on April 14, India took “quick and decisive action” and adopted a “holistic and integrated approach” in the absence of which the country’s situation could have been drastically different from what it is now.
India has shown remarkable perceptiveness and alacrity in tackling the pandemic: From conducting screenings at airports to visa restrictions, India has been scaling up its response well ahead of time. India, under the leadership of PM Modi, has moved with a meticulously planned roadmap in its fight against coronavirus.
Finally, there also came the most difficult decision: Shutting down all movement to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This was an extraordinary decision in many ways. From persuading people to stay at home, to planning for the economic impact of such an unprecedented lockdown — and also implementing it humanely and sensitively. The decision could not have been taken without exceptional leadership skills.
In an appreciable display of democratic ethos, PM Modi directly reached out to the 1.3 billion citizens to seek their mandate. They supported the move and the lockdown has now been extended, again, with full popular support. Further, he also spoke with all the state chief ministers who reciprocated in equal measure, highlighting the cooperative nature of Indian federalism.
Acting in tandem with the Union government, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar displayed his remarkable aptitude for governance and foresight in educating people about the merits of social distancing. Unlike industrialised states, Bihar is a predominantly rural state with pockets that have some of the highest population density in the world. One misstep could have led to havoc. As of now, the state bears the maximum pressure of migrant labourers from across India and is a veritable communal cauldron. Yet, the behaviour of the people of the state is highly disciplined and admirable. That is an obvious reflection of the people’s trust in the leadership of Nitish Kumar.
I would not hesitate to say that Bihar, with its limited resources and other constraints, is indeed an “outlier state” on most parameters of performance in containing the spread of COVID-19. The recovery rate of patients diagnosed positive is arguably better than many others in the world. The community spread has been effectively contained there, so far. In rural Bihar, a sustained campaign to promote cleanliness and social distancing has made people acutely aware of the pathogen’s insidious ways of attacking the human body.
Besides Bihar, other states too have been evolving their response models. We are proud of how the political executive, bureaucracy, medical professionals, health workers, the police and ASHA workers in villages, have combined to do their best in checking the spread of the contagion. The media deserves unreserved appreciation for making people aware of the dangers of the pandemic.
Contrast this with the onslaught of the Spanish flu in 1917-1919 — and the number of deaths then — and you will know the difference. Unlike in the past, India seems to be better placed now and ahead of the curve — not only in evolving a response to the corona menace but to mitigate the plight of its people as compared to Europe, the US, and China. This crisis has foregrounded a unique aspect of PM Modi’s humanist approach. His persuading people to remain in sustained lockdown is guided by his impulse of not making human life subservient to economics.
This strategy has been successful so far. The health ministry has estimated that without the timely imposition of the lockdown, COVID-19 cases could have registered a 41 per cent cumulative increase, reaching up to 8.2 lakh cases, by April 15.
The leadership role that India has assumed in dealing with this crisis is now being appreciated across the globe. India has shown the world that it can not only handle this crisis upfront but also provide aid and support to the marginalised sections of society. The government is making all possible efforts to provide relief to the poor and the migrant workers. A relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore, aimed at providing a safety net along with insurance cover for frontline medical personnel, is something that is being acknowledged as a template in the collective fight against the virus.
In the true spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means “the world is one family”, India has taken the lead in helping the world at this hour of need. India, the largest producer of the drug hydroxychloroquine, has been generously helping many countries with the supplies of this potential cure of COVID-19.
The war against the virus is still raging. But the country has gained great confidence from the exceptional patience of its people, the quick response of public authorities and, above all, from its trust in the leadership. As partial relaxations begin soon, I hope the people embrace more positivity. Amidst all the gloom the world over, this will also not be a small achievement.
The article was first published in the print under the tile ‘Leading from the front’ on April 24. The writer is former deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha and JD (U) MP-elect from RS