We are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and, therefore, a more detailed analysis of all the factors at play in real-time may have to wait. However, several aspects of this pandemic — what it will mean for the world — are already visible.
At the global scale, the system of governance is itself at test. This is not a minor happenstance, as history shows that such global crises have often led to major upheavals in the globally accepted forms of governments. In the present context, the question being posed is this: Is the autocratic model of China, which claims to have stopped the virus in its tracks, better? Or is the democratic model better? Considering the way the virus has been handled in some large democracies, an enterprising partisan could make a case for the Chinese model. The partisan could argue that South Korea or Singapore are not really models since they are very small states, and in terms of scale, China has fared better than the US or Britain in first managing the pandemic, and then later, in restarting the economy. India is the only spoilsport in this narrative. It is a large, chaotic and diverse democracy. Yet, from enforcing strict and early lockdowns to providing economic relief to almost half a billion people, and then to a gradual opening up, India — under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — stands as a shining democratic counter to the artificial glitz of the autocratic Chinese model.
Closer home, an unstated contest between the various states is also playing out. Which state leadership has proved its mettle in this time of unprecedented crisis? While an answer to this question may have multiple views, what cannot be contested is the emergence of Yogi Adityanath as the state leader with the most enhanced stature. He had already built a reputation for administrative dexterity by the simultaneous and flawless execution of the mega-scale Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and the 2019 Prayagraj Kumbh Mela. But in a sense, they were minor challenges. The real mettle is tested when one needs to react to unforeseen challenges — like COVID-19 — Adityanath and his COVID-19 “Team 11” management team have, so far, performed in a stellar fashion in managing all the dimensions of this challenge.
First, in establishing a protocol for contact tracing, testing and quarantining, Uttar Pradesh has set a good example. The successful Agra cluster containment model, for example, has already attracted a lot of attention. In dealing with the violators of guidelines, be it the Tablighis or others, the state has displayed requisite tact and firmness. So far, more than 2.52 crore people in over 50 lakh homes have been reached by over 60,000 surveillance teams.
Second, health infrastructure has been scaled up in record time. Seventy-eight hospitals of Level-1, 64 government hospitals of Level-2 and six hospitals of Level-3 — with a combined bed capacity of 52,000 — have been set up, covering every district of the state. Fifty-three units manufacturing PPEs, 99 units making sanitisers and 412 units making medical equipment and medicines have been made functional in the state in the last two months.
Third, Adityanath is the only state leader to have understood the importance of providing early economic relief. It was the first state government to provide Rs 1,000 each to 5.97 lakh construction workers on March 24. Since then, in April, Rs, 1,000 each was transferred to an additional almost 30 lakh workers, and Rs 611 crore was transferred to over 27 lakh MGNREGA workers. On May 1, labour day, over 30 lakh workers were again given Rs 1,000 each. All this is over and above the central government relief packages.
Fourth, the state has been the most humane and proactive in managing the migrants’ movement. Apart from immediate travel, food and financial assistance, the state has also started preparing for the future. The unskilled labour that once left the state is now returning as a skilled and trained workforce. Utilising the opportunity, a Migrants Commission is being set up which, among other things, will prepare a district-wise human-skills map for use by industries in a bid to retain talent.
Fifth, realising the inherent opportunity in the crisis, aggressive reforms carried out at the state level — especially in labour laws — have already attracted global attention. Coupled with an already massive push towards creating connectivity, easier land acquisition processes and responsive state machinery, the state is putting its best foot forward. Von Wellx became the first company to shift its manufacturing from China to India post the COVID-19 crisis. Coincidentally, it chose UP as its base.
It will be fascinating to watch how UP fares in general, and Adityanath in particular, in the coming months and years. If the response to the COVID-19 crisis is any barometer, we are in for exciting times.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 27, 2020 under the title ‘Crisis and leadership’.
The writer is CEO, Bluekraft Digital Foundation and was earlier director (content) MyGov
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