The real heroes emerging out of the coronavirus situation are several state governments. Long before the central government plunged into action, many state governments had undertaken various preventive measures to halt the spread of the virus. The states of Kerala, Maharashtra, and Delhi need a special mention for their early efforts to curb the virus spread and preparation of the health service machinery.
The unity of India is being best demonstrated at the time of a crisis caused by outsiders. This time the outsider is neither humans nor nations but a virus. The way common people, health professionals, sanitation workers, police, and essential service providers are responding to the crisis is exemplary. All have responded affirmatively to the Prime Minister’s call for a drill of a shutdown on 22nd March and to the actual shutdown of 21 days from 25th March onward. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown statesmanship in the shutdown announcement wherein he has not considered the Indian New Year festivities, neither for the celebration of Ramnavami nor for the birth anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. His hand-folded appeal to the people for cooperation is a sign of the gravity of the situation that the country has taken in the right stride so far. The Prime Minister has made three simple appeals to all countrymen. One, stay indoors; two, take care of elderly family members; three, don’t take any medicine without the doctor’s advice. His clarification that there are no medicines certified by science so far to cure the virus was necessary to put on hold desi experiments to cure coronavirus infections.
It is also heartening to see that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was the whistleblower to alarm the government and the people about the unavoidable pandemic and its economic fallouts. He perfectly played the role of a responsible opposition leader when he kept asking the government to prepare the country to embrace the impact of a pandemic. Rahul Gandhi also showed the way by donating thermal testing kits to his constituency in Kerala, which the other members of parliament should follow in right earnest. Most importantly, Rahul Gandhi and other leaders in the opposition are not asking difficult questions to the Prime Minister except pressurizing the government to undertake relief measures for the poor and workers in unorganized sectors. There are questions that the government may find difficult to answer, but the opposition is not fielding them at this moment as they recognize that the government has its hands full at the moment. They should be asked and they will be asked when we return to normalcy. In the meantime, everyone should continue to cooperate with the lockdown decision while we all keep our fingers crossed that we may yet avoid mass human casualties and economic devastation.
With the 21-days shutdown, the capacities of municipalities and Gram-panchayats have become crucial to keep the cities, towns, and villages clean and healthy and its citizens fed with proper nourishing food. At no point in time have the principles of decentralized administration been tested so rigorously. Whether we stand this test or fail, the decentralization is going to be the buzz in the future to tackle enormous emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. Even when India has geared up from top to bottom to face the wrath of the coronavirus, the news is coming from a few corners of the country about poor starving migrant workers who are left with no choice but to walk back to their native places that are often several miles away. These are avoidable instances and must be avoided henceforth if we are to truly care for the poor and the vulnerable. This is the first major lesson that we must learn. Think of the poorest and most vulnerable while taking any emergency decision. Create infrastructures and systems to take care of them. The second most important lesson is to massively prepare ourselves for health emergencies shortly. The coronavirus scare has already made many experts in international relations and defence studies to re-examine the concept of national security. Human security is at the core of national security. If health hazards are threatening human security, we must reconsider our focus concerning national security.
These are the things that are not hard to do if our hearts are in the right place. However, we must think big. Let’s plan for an annual lockdown of 21 days. We humans need to halt our hectic activities and greed for a minimum of 21 days each year. It must be a lockdown for rest and without needing to work from home. This has become essential for us and for the earth. Resting will rejuvenate our earth and our lives. Think of all our transportations, big factories, all entertainment facilities, social, religious, political activities as well as conflicts being halted for 21 days across the globe and the effect it would have on nature and the ecosystem. Forget about nature, it would be good for the personal health of millions of people and the health of their families. There will be ifs and buts to such grand designs, which can be addressed with meticulous planning. Not all nations will be convinced to participate, but they can follow us if we show them the benefits of retreating once every year. Let it be our social contract with nature and with the world for co-existence and co-prosperity of everyone on this earth. Can we do this? I am convinced that we can!
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
27th March 2020