Herald View: Both lives and livelihood lost in eight months due to COVID and mismanagement
If we have to assign one reason for our disastrous handling of the pandemic, it is clearly the government’s inability to take on board all the stakeholders and build public confidence and awareness
We wish we had been wrong. Almost eight months ago when a lockdown was imposed on the country by the Government, we had expressed our fear that the leaders in the Government seemed clueless on how to manage the pandemic. While appreciating the dilemma of the Government to choose between saving lives and livelihood, our fear was that we would lose both. As we feared the Government has been too busy in running down criticism and in fire-fighting to put up a coherent strategy in place. While there has been no dearth of delusional and self-serving statements to the effect that India has managed the pandemic best among the large countries, it must be clear to everyone, eight months later, that the country is in a mess of the Government’s own making.
Public memory is not so short that we will forget that the Prime Minister had made the grand promise that we would overcome the raging virus within three weeks of the lockdown. While we may choose to laugh away his prescriptions for calling upon people to bang pots and pans and to light lamps against the virus, we now must come to terms with the reality that our public health system, the education system, law and order and of course the economy have collapsed. And contrary to the claims made ad nauseum by the Government, countries in our immediate neighborhood seem to have done much better in dealing with the virus. In terms of ‘deaths per million’, India’s rate of 95 is much higher than Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan. The data around the pandemic are still suspect. While governments claim to have an abundance of beds and ventilators, every now and then the media reports cases of people being turned away by public hospitals. And while the Government focuses all its attention on COVID, people seem to be dying in droves because of other ailments. The knee-jerk reactions, accompanied every time by the assurance that the steps would keep people safe, have been far from effective. But while fancy plans for containment zones and contact tracing have remained largely on paper, the Government has whimsically toyed with restrictions on movement. Such restrictions have been arbitrary, abused largely as a tool to target political rivals but on the pretext of managing the pandemic.
If we have to assign one reason for our disastrous handling of the pandemic, it is clearly the government’s inability to take on board all the stakeholders and build public confidence and awareness. Despite the publicity blitz, number of addresses to the nation by the Prime Minister, a barrage of pre-recorded messages delivered through mobile phones and social media platforms, people remain either ignorant or careless or both.
While this is blamed on lockdown fatigue, it should be clear that India cold have done much better. We do have the experts and the ability to deal with a crisis of even such magnitude that we have not experienced in our lifetime. But for that, the Government needs to inspire confidence and take people into confidence. From initially trying to control the pandemic from Lutyen’s Delhi to the stage where the states are routinely blamed for the spike in positive cases and spirallingdeaths, the Union Government has displayed cynical distrust. Worse, it has used the pandemic to promote its partisan politics and policies, stifled Parliament, pushed legislation through ordinances and suppressed civil liberties. As 2020 draws to an end, we do seem to have had the worst of everything.