We are in the midst of a Covid-19 tidal wave; a very rough storm that is rocking our lives in a shockingly disastrous manner. It is a tempest we didn’t anticipate. It is a cyclone that threatens our existence. These are extraordinary times. This is a time of profound crisis of a magnitude and complexity that has not been experienced in the last one hundred years. Such moments require a radical departure from a complacent, business-as-usual approach. We have to fight this tough battle together. All hands have to be on deck.
The focus should be clear and we must work towards the common goal of overcoming the gargantuan crisis that the wily virus has brought into our lives. Failure is not an option.
Any nation’s capacity to deal with a crisis is contingent on its ability to pool its physical and psychological resources to maximise its energy to win the battle. We need steely determination in the face of the crisis. We had weathered the first phase of the battle quite well. We quickly got down to ramping up the production of PPE kits, ventilators, sanitisers and, even more significantly, the production of vaccines. We tapped into our latent capabilities and resources and, as Team India, we forged ahead. We demonstrated to the world that we care for people all over the globe in keeping with our traditional world view of the entire world as one big family encapsulated in the ancient Indian saying of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. We shared vaccines with those countries in need as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. It is this spirit of working together and caring for each other that has suffused our actions. It is heartening that this small but significant action of our country is being reciprocated now by many countries that are supporting us in this second phase of our war.
We must retain this spirit as we combat the virus, which is deeply disrupting our lives in its deadlier form in the second phase. This is not the time for despondency. This is not the time to quibble or bicker or dither, to blame or rant, to lose hope or our sense of balance.
The enemy we are pitted against is invisible, inscrutable, rapidly mutating and distressingly debilitating. We must devise strategies to counter it effectively as the government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is consistently doing. Marshalling resources to augment oxygen supplies, expanding the capacity of hospitals to handle the unprecedented surge, seeking partnerships with state governments, public sector enterprises, industry leaders, corporate houses and civil society organisations, the government is working relentlessly to provide medical attention to those who need it most.
The dark night we are passing through will certainly pass. The question is: How do we maintain a steady course despite the tidal waves lashing us on all sides. As the adage goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Are we tough enough? Do we allow negative emotions to overwhelm us or do we bravely push forward together as a team doing whatever is feasible in this difficult situation?
It is the indomitable Indian spirit that must come to the fore. It is our resilient attitude that has seen us through the first phase. It is the same spirit, but with redoubled vigour, which should see us through in this infinitely more challenging phase. We should applaud our front-line warriors — doctors, nurses and all the paramedical staff — who continue to wage a war with tenacity and single-minded devotion. We should harness our considerable collective strength to ramp up the production and distribution of medical oxygen and essential drugs.
It is remarkable how the country is gearing up unitedly. For example, the Steel Authority of India has reportedly increased production of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) from 500 metric tonnes in the second week of April to about 1,100 metric tonnes per day and the Indian Railways has transported 1,585 metric tonnes of LMO on 27 Oxygen Express trains.
However, we are faced with a challenge that is riddled with unimaginable complexity. We have to navigate this turbulent environment with grit and alacrity. We must steer clear of dysfunctional, distracting discourses and exaggerated or distorted narratives.
We have the arsenal to overcome the present challenge in the form of vaccines, dedicated medical and scientific personnel and the resilience to tide over the logistical issues. Let’s not get cowed down by the enormity of the challenge. The damage can be minimised and precious human lives can be saved if we don’t fall into the “diffidence” syndrome. I am sure the Union government under the leadership of the PM and the state governments under the leadership of their respective chief ministers are constantly reviewing the evolving situation and calibrating their responses. We must recognise that this is a national health emergency that requires a truly national response, with governments and other organs of the state coming together to mitigate the hardship and havoc that the pandemic is unleashing.
This is the time to build on our core strengths rather than recount our deficiencies. We should avoid finger-pointing and engaging in a blame game. We should pool our wisdom and expertise, listen to the experts and the people on the ground bravely grappling with harsh realities. We must recognise that the governments both at the Centre and the states are sincerely trying to measure up to the task at hand. Let each one of us put our shoulder to the wheel like many organisations are doing already.
It is natural for each one of us to become emotionally upset when our friends and relatives suffer or pass away. But, then, let us not be gripped by fear and anger, be swamped by images that breed pessimism and frustration. We should realise that we have in our collective consciousness an indomitable ability to overcome extreme hardships. We have recent memories of successfully “flattening” and “bending” the curve a few months ago. That should embolden us. The experience of other countries that have weathered a similar upsurge can give us the inspiration to look for a light at the end of the tunnel.
These are testing times. As per the Telugu calendar, we had just bid farewell to “shaarvari” (the dark night) on April 13 and welcomed the new year, “plava” (boat). We should continue to row the boat through the dark passage we are currently sailing in and reach the shore safely soon.
When the darkness seems to be enveloping us, let us remember Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s famous song, Jibon Jokhon Shukaye Jay from the Geetanjali and pray that: “When the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy/ When grace is lost from life, come with a burst of song/When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond, come to me, my lord of silence, with thy peace and rest”.
When the journey seems exhausting, please recall our ancient Indian exhortation, echoed by Swami Vivekananda, “Arise, awake and stop not till your goal is reached”.
We have to be prepared for further waves of the pandemic. We should be alert, agile and on our guard. Each citizen must follow the precautionary measures of masking, physical distance of two metres and implementing sanitary and hygienic practices. We must vaccinate ourselves so that we and all around us are safe.
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 7, 2021 under the title ‘All hands on deck’. The writer is Vice President of India.