PM’s address to the nation lacks much needed substance and direction
While the nation is thankful that the Prime Minister did not give further balcony tasks like lighting lamps and banging utensils, it also awaits the government to step up to the crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that the world is forced to confront. When developed nations with high standards of living and healthy hospital to people ratios are grappling with the crisis in spite of having tested several thousands per million of their populations, the predicament facing a populous and densely packed country like India should be self-evident. Not just the health emergency, the Indian economy is also at its most vulnerable moment since independence. In an economy where almost 50 per cent of the GDP is contributed by the unorganised sector which employs over 90 per cent of the country’s workforce, one would have expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the key aspect of the lack of social security of these workers and announcing concrete steps to redress the situation.
When agrarian prices have crashed in the rural areas, one would have expected announcements beyond measures like release of the first tranche of relief to farmers already provided for in the Budget. But for as many as 25 minutes on April 14, the Prime Minister made no announcement of any concrete measures, no bailout package and did not spell out any roadmap for the country while he went ahead and put the country on a further lockdown, possibly required to flatten the COVID-19 growth curve, extended till May 3. He again made lame appeals to people not to sack their employees, oblivious of the fact that hundreds of thousand of migrant workers, with no money, food and essentials, were looking forward to the lockdown to end on April 14 so that they could go home and avoid a situation where they would have to starve to death. While the government has made tall promises that food and essentials would be reached to every household, the pledges have not translated into anything concrete.
Also the Prime Minister’s claim that the lockdown has led to a major arrest in the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be statistically challenged. India’s testing rate at 177 per million is the lowest among all major countries when most nations’ test counts have run into several thousands per million. If one is to even believe that all those showing symptoms of Coronavirus infection are getting identified, low testing risks not identifying the asymptomatic carriers, 80 per cent of those infected according to the World Health Organization. They won’t need hospitalisation but will very well spread the virus in the community once the lockdown is lifted. Also, the government seems to be oblivious of the lack of efficacy of social distancing in a country where over 80 per cent of families live in a room and tens of migrant labourers share a room and common toilets.
Since the lockdown can’t be indefinite unless the government wants to kill whatever is left of the economy, low testing is a surefire recipe for disaster. Also, the Prime Minister did not utter a word about the communalising campaign currently on, trying to project a minority community as being solely responsible for spread of the virus. At a time when the nation needs to be come together in this unprecedented situation, divisive campaigns will only sow mistrust and worsen the scenario. While the nation is thankful that the Prime Minister did not give further balcony tasks like lighting lamps and banging utensils, it also awaits the government to step up to the crisis. Mere lip service will not benefit anyone, including those in power.