By Sushil Kutty
Every man has a certain fixed pattern. Narendra Modi is fixated on four hours. The time he gives from announcement to implementation of snap decisions. Demonetization left us crowding ATMs for four hours, from 8pm to 12am. Came coronavirus, and deja vu! Modi stuck to his habitual 4-hour deadline.
Frustrating! But that’s lesson No.1 from the pandemic lockdown. A lesson only for Modi. Enough of his 4-hour deadlines. A majority does not mean he can spring surprises on we the people. He did it with demonetization. He did it with the lockdown. One more time, and it’ll be mayat, for the Modi rule.
That’s no joke. People were caught with their pants down when Modi announced the lockdown on March 24, 2020. It wasn’t wise to catch people on the wrong foot. It’s murder on small dreams and wishes and the wants of the millions of average Joes and their families.
There were only around 600 coronavirus positive cases on March 24, 2020. But the number picked up momentum and there was panic. Getting exponential because the lockdown was like prison time. Cut off and shut up in cubicles, people went crazy. More so the migrant worker. Those who eked out a living in the unorganised sector. Small folks, small incomes.
Covid-19, the social distancing and the fear that the virus could maybe travel airborne put the fear of death in ordinary people. The fact that you were stranded where you were stranded and the fear that back home your parents and wives and children could be dying of the coronavirus or hunger pangs was masala for rebellion.
Worldwide there were lockdowns. The United Kingdom went into lockdown on March 23, 2020. In the United States it was called shutdown. But essentially the same: Imprison and throw the keys away! It was only the lucid fear of the death-dealing coronavirus that kept people shackled to home and hearth. Otherwise they would have flown the coop!
Only, the migrant worker had no chance or choice. He had to get out, and start walking. Factories had shut down. Small businesses had pulled down shutters. Tenants faced heat from house owners. The neighbourhood mom and pop shops refused to sell on credit. Tightening the belt was option, but for how long, and how many notches?
Thus began the marathon. Cross-country! People hiked and people trekked. From Chennai to Patna. Bengaluru to West Bengal. On foot with backpacks. Many became roadkill! Others died on railway tracks. There were no trains. No buses. There was only the never-ending one foot after the other foot. Monotonous.
Some people cycled. By the time the government arranged trains, the misery was total. Lesson No.2 for Modi. Don’t lockdown unprepared. You cannot expect people to give up and die of hunger. Man is born with an undying spirit. That spirit cannot be killed. Not by Modi, not by Modi’s harsh lockdown.
But let’s not lose ourselves in degrees. The lockdown also helped. It kept the coronavirus under lockdown, in degrees, depending upon place and particulars. Certain states managed the lockdown better than other states. Super-spreaders and certain community rebels notwithstanding.
Then, again, if the government hadn’t taken some very harsh steps, the number of Covid-19 cases would have been far higher. Like in the USA, and in Brazil, in the United Kingdom, and Italy, Spain. Covid-19 could not overwhelm the Indian healthcare system. We owe the utmost gratitude to the frontline healthcare workers, the corona warriors. The gravediggers and the ambulance jockeys.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown taught us many lessons, but none so important than that if mankind stands firm and together, there’s no virus or pandemic that can lay low the human spirit, and the human body. The lockdown brought out the best and worst in us. Many of us emerged heroes, lots of us turned out to be puny primates. To the former goes the glory, to the latter, well…
On the micro, individual level, the lockdown was killing to millions. People were left to scrounge. Tens of thousands lost jobs. India’s unorganised sector coupled with Modi’s pakaranomics took their toll. People’s meagre savings were wiped out. The poor got poorer. The government tried to cover up with MGNREGA, basically chain-gang slavery!
Did the lockdown/lockdowns break the chain of transmission of Covid-19? The answer is nope. It just slowed it down. The coronavirus kept returning with differences in appearance, and intent. The mutations were chilling variants of what could be? India is so far holding up, but for how long? Another sustained lockdown will be depressing.
The only people who benefited from the lockdown were the authors of dystopian novels set in the future with or without the pandemic, some of them graphic novels with nothing comical about them. Come to think about it, each one of us has a Covid-19 and lockdown story to tell. Galvanizing stories and gallivanting stories! Sad stories and enervating stories. Slamming the Tablighi Jamaat for super-spreading was a hyperventilating story!
There is a realisation that India’s COVID-19 management record is pretty good. But there’s also the sneaking feeling that Modi is covering up setbacks by giving away free vaccines to other countries. In fact, there are accusations that the Modi Government is giving away more free vaccines than Indians are getting inoculated. That India’s ‘vaccine maitri’ is geared to make Modi popular worldwide! Vivian Richards said ‘Thank you Modi!’
Nevertheless, India’s vaccine story is a success story. The lesson here is that India has done well in addressing health challenges posed by the pandemic. With its capacities in manufacturing vaccines, India has contributed to the prevention and even cure of Covid-19. Earlier, India helped with supplies of HCQ. The big lesson is that military might alone does not make a superpower!
Looked at from another angle, there is the future to reckon with. The future of the coronavirus. To begin with very less was known about the dead inanimate. But now a lot is known. Let’s hope the Government has learnt some lessons. Let’s hope the coronavirus has forgotten some! The fact that there’s a spike again in coronavirus positive cases is worrying.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with the Chief Ministers on March 17, and spoke of the “more than 150 percent increase in positive cases in 70 districts of the country.” That’s the biggest lesson of them all: You do not sit on your laurels. Nor do you squat on your mistakes. The eggs will break and there will be no omlette. The second return has to be thwarted. The nation cannot afford to get careless.
The challenge is to fight COVID-19 fatigue, and tirelessly work for the death of the pandemic. People have to be serious. No let up, no slack; wear the mask, wash the hands and keep the social distance. Another lockdown will be very hard to undertake and stomach. The last one cost billions in rupees, and millions in livelihoods. Hope politicians, bureaucrats and social scientists have learned from the way the migrant workers reacted to the lockdown. The initial government apathy and even disdain was egregious. Among the many lessons learned was the one that human dignity cannot be sacrificed at the altar of expediency. (IPA Service)