India

What if NYAY was in place now? As usual, Rahul Gandhi was ahead of his time

A few hours before Narendra Modi's last 8pm national telecast on a complete lockdown in the country, a friend from my school days called to ask if I had any clue or inkling about what he was likely to say or announce.

I said I had none; but he went on to say, “The first 8pm announcement was a complete disaster. The second one was absolute mismanagement – whoever told him that beating pots and pans would frighten the Coronavirus away? Far from social distancing, the people treated the occasion as a carnival. God alone knows how many would have been infected in those five minutes. I am really afraid nothing good will come out of 8pm tonight.”

In a way he was prescient. In our extended conversation, he mentioned while Modi was great at theatrics and optics, he was short on management and execution. Thinking about it, I tend to agree.

In many ways a nation-wide lockdown of 1.3 billion people might seem the only way to fight the rapid spread of the virus. But a lockdown does not quite work in such circumstances among such large populations, most of who are either rural or migrants, uneducated or even illiterate. As can be seen from the testimonies of many migrant workers walking home several hundred miles to their villages, a substantial number of them do not even know why their employers have shut down their factories. An equal number have not heard of the Coronavirus, far from being informed about its spread or social distancing.

Now what happens if these workers walking in clusters do reach their villages? Many villages in our country do not even have Primary Health Centres. If they do, they are short staffed. And do these rural health workers – doctors as well as paramedics - know enough about COVID-19 to tackle the disease properly? Do they have testing kits, when a huge metropolis like Bombay has only one testing centre at the Kasturba municipal hospital? When medics in large hospitals do not have protective gear, how are rural doctors expected to cope?

It was obvious from Modi's self-congratulatory announcement, that in the midst of catching eyeballs, he had not given a single thought to the practicalities. The scenes in Mumbai just after his announcement were identical to the ones we saw after the 8pm announcement of demonetisation (which affected demand). He gave just four hours then as now, before the policy came into effect. But while the surprise element could be justified as necessary during demonetisation to prevent black money hoarders from dodging the law, it seemed completely heedless and needless to force citizens into panic buying this time round – there was not a single mention of essential services being allowed to functìon during the lockdown (supply chains are already broken).

It took several chief ministers to reassure the people of their respective states that they had enough food stocks and medicines and should have no cause for worry.

While most chief ministers, barring some notable exceptions, are managing the crisis well, one must note the particular efforts of Maharashtra chief minister UddhavThackeray in coming to the aid of the poor and hungry. His pet project of the Shiv Bhojan Yojana has been extended from two to three hours every day. Introduced in December 2019 soon after he became chief minister, the mid-day meal for adults comprises a thali with two rotis, rice, dal, one vegetable and some accompaniments like pickles and papads for just Rs. 10. It was sold out from Day One and the government had to open many more centres in each town to cater to the hungry.

I am sure neither Uddhav Thackeray nor anyone had envisaged such a crisis when the scheme was first started, but today it is serving as a social security net to the poor, hungry and migrant workers who have nowhere else to go.

To that extent, the Congress’s NYAY scheme of paying Rs. 6000 into the accounts of poor people every month, had it been in place today, would have gone a long way in saving the people from dying of hunger, if not the dsease. I have to admit that Rahul Gandhi was once again ahead of everybody else including the BJP in envisaging the project with the help of some of the best brains in the world.

The BJP scoffed at him then but today even the United States has implemented a version of NYAY – by paying money directly into the accounts of Americans - to tide over the global crisis. The Modi government woke up rather late in the day to announce an economic package for the poor but as with everything else with the Modi regime, it is proving to be a case of too little too late.

I would like to see union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman buy her rations in Rs 500 for her entire family at a time when any dal in the market today is going over Rs 150 per kg, rice being equally expensive, not to talk of oil, salt, fruits and vegetables, the prices of which have gone through the roof.

The only silver lining I see coming out of this crisis is the complete exposure of quacks and charlatans in this country, including those of the likes of Ramdev who, before now, seemed to have a cure for everything including homosexuality. While he has wisely fallen silent after offering no solutions except some placebos on a television channel, gomutra has been exposed for what it always was - just cow's urine, not to mention the many diseases the cow could be having, including diabetes, passing those elements in her urine.

No wonder the man who volunteered to drink that urine at a gomutra party in the early days of the pandemic landed in hospital soon after and could have died of that infection even if he escaped the Coronavirus. I do not hear a peep out of the proponents of gomutra after the arrest of the man who threw that party.

The Coronavirus could be a blessing in disguise if it could accomplish two things – bring about the return of science to this country, pushing obscurantism into a dark corner and open the eyes of the Bhakts to the fact that the Modi regime has neither the brains nor the skills to manage anything in this country.

But that would have been accomplished on the graves and funeral pyres of several more people who might succumb to the disease between now and whenever it is brought under control.

That is not a price anyone should have to pay for the foolishness of a regime that has already driven the economy to the ground and has no clue on how to contain both the economic and social fallout of the pandemic.

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