During the testing times of COVID-19, India has become a symbol of resilience and hope in the world. India has shown that despite a relatively low literacy rate and poverty, its unique diversity is its strength. The nation’s collective resolve to fight this disease is visible in the efforts of the million-plus real-life heroes clad in white coats and khaki uniforms: The world has witnessed the power of a billion-plus people working with single-minded determination to defeat the coronavirus. To be sure, it is no mean feat that with a population that is approximately four times the size of the US, the number of reported cases in India is only two per cent that of the US.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on April 14, as the guardian-in-chief of the country and his address had a powerful underlying message of unity and optimism. His indomitable spirit was evident when he decided to extend the lockdown till May 3 and shared a set of seven guidelines with citizens, including urging them to take care of the elderly, wear protective face masks and strengthen immunity. He sounded optimistic that as a country, we will prevail.
It is Modi’s ability to take bold and timely decisions that has ensured India is far better prepared than most other countries to fight this dreadful pandemic. From his address, it was clear that though the lockdown has an economic cost, saving human lives and ensuring the welfare of the poor and farmers remains his top priority.
He reminded India that this fight against the pandemic is not about religion. It will never be about being Hindu or Muslim. It is also not about being a BJP supporter or a non-BJP supporter. This fight is about “oneness”. The only way India can defeat and eradicate COVID-19 is by being united.
India is lucky to have a strong, decisive leader like Modi at the helm. He could foresee the ramifications of not implementing a complete lockdown in time and took the extraordinary decision to call for a nationwide lockdown on March 24, when there were reportedly only 550 COVID-19 positive patients in the country. A leader is one who inspires his team, and Modi has done just that. To the credit of the central government, it has been proactive rather than reactive in curbing the menace of COVID-19.
Home Minister Amit Shah is micro-managing the deployment of the security forces to ensure there is no problem pertaining to public order and safety. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is also leading from the front and has been instrumental in ensuring that decisions taken by the government are effectively implemented. He is to be credited for ensuring that state governments are made equal participants in any government initiative and that their demands are effectively met.
The resources of the government during this challenging time are limited, but the will to reach the poor and marginalised is not: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ensured — through a timely package of Rs 1,70,000 crore — that farmers get their Kisan Samman Nidhi instalment early, women get three free gas cylinders under the Ujjwala Yojana and Rs 500 in their Jan Dhan accounts. The poor are getting free ration so that no one sleeps without food. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal was quick to implement the novel idea of converting railway coaches into isolation wards, thus adding to the much-needed capacity by 80,000.
When the government felt that there might be a shortage of PPE kits, the very efficient and persevering Smriti Irani, Union minister for textiles and Women & Child Development, worked tirelessly to ensure that we have enough stock of the required PPE kits by encouraging Indian companies to manufacture the same.
Bearing in mind the need for a higher rate of testing, the government has accelerated its pace and has conducted tests for over three lakh patients. Some critics blame the government for a low level of per capita testing as compared to other countries, but the naysayers ignore the low per capita fatality rate in India. In India, deaths per one million of the population reportedly stands at a very low 0.2 as compared to much higher rates of death in the US, Spain, Italy, France and the UK. The government is also encouraging Indian companies to produce testing kits indigenously, and the results have been encouraging so far.
An appeal earlier made by the prime minister for the “janata curfew” and the taali bajao-thali bajao (clap your hands-plates) event was also well-received — it gave citizens a sense of purpose in this fight against COVID-19.
Modi is providing succour and relief not just to India but also to developed nations like the US by providing them with the much-needed drug, Hydroxychloroquine. As a global leader, the PM took the initiative and gave direction to the discussions on fighting the pandemic on forums like SAARC and G20.
India is well-positioned to overcome this pandemic, and the only way we can win the COVID-19 war is by strictly adhering to Lockdown 2.0. It is imperative that every citizen comes forward to fulfil his/her duty under the Constitution of India. With our collective effort, “we, the People” of India will surely set an example for the world to emulate.
This article first appeared in the print edition under the title ‘Setting an example in a crisis’. The writer is a senior advocate and national spokesperson of the BJP.