The extension of the ongoing lockdown period from 21 to 40 days was along expected lines. Only those overly optimistic and ignorant of the manner in which the coronavirus pandemic is spreading across the world would have thought that a 21-day lockdown would be enough to ensure that the contagion disappeared from India. After all, in the UK, doctors are insisting on a year’s lockdown, the US is talking about practising social distancing for two years unless a vaccine is found, and even a city state such as Singapore has had to go for a month’s lockdown when all the other measures it took to counter the spread of the virus proved to be insufficient. At a time when India is yet to flatten the curve and the virus is raging in several hotspots, it was understandable that Prime Minister Modi had to extend the lockdown. Most state governments, in spite of doing a reasonably good job of handling the situation, are finding themselves stretched to the limits. In fact, they were the ones who insisted on the extension of a blanket lockdown during their second video conference with the Prime Minister. In this context the Prime Minister has to be commended for the way he has been taking everyone along with him, at every step, clarifying to different groups, be it the media or senior government officials and state representatives, about the decisions that need to be taken in India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Apart from regularly appearing on television to speak to the country directly. In this context, the daily press briefings by the Central government on the prevailing situation are proving to be a boon, apart from the minute-by-minute updating of the statistics on the Health Ministry website. Communication has not been the strong point of this government, neither in its first term nor in its second, which is ironic considering it is headed by one of the best communicators in the world, Narendra Modi! For the lack of timely and accurate communication the government allowed the narrative about the Citizenship Amendment Act to be hijacked by vested interests, who wreaked havoc in the country for months, making a whole community come out on the streets and making India’s name mud internationally. It appears that the government has learned its lessons the hard way and, hence, the present openness is more than welcome. India is a vibrant democracy. It’s not China, whose culture of secrecy has resulted in this pandemic being unleashed across the world. Information is an important component of the fight against Covid-19, so the openness on the part of the government should go a long way in dispelling the misinformation swirling on social media in these extremely dangerous times. The nation welcomes the words of hope said to them by the Prime Minister.
In fact, this openness should be the cornerstone of the policy every state adopts until the time the country stays in lockdown. This is not the case currently, with at least one state in the eastern part of the country grossly under-reporting coronavirus cases and thus endangering the lives of millions of citizens. In fact, states need to realise that this is not the time to play politics and responsible governance demands transparency, as else the whole effort being put in by other states and the Central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be jeopardised.
The coming few days are crucial, as, from 20 April the Centre allows the opening up of certain sectors to get the wheels of the economy moving. The states need to remember that if under pressure from different lobbies, they project statistics that do not match the reality on the ground, then they will defeat the fight that Prime Minister Modi has launched against this deadly infection. As it is India is facing severe threats from inimical interests that are trying to use the virus as a means of bio-terrorism. This is the time that India must put up a united face. Beyond the clearances given by the government, any attempts to violate the lockdown in the name of saving the economy must be dealt with strongly. The fact is, if there wasn’t a lockdown, millions would have died and there wouldn’t be much left of the economy to save. That India has managed keep its numbers “down”, is because PM Modi has imposed a strict lockdown on the country and because people have followed his instructions with all seriousness. The current numbers have been achieved at great cost and because of immense sacrifices made by Indians. It cannot be allowed to go waste. The economy can be saved only if people are saved. There cannot be an economy without the people. This is the Prime Minister’s message and his forty-day quarantine—literal meaning “forty days”— of India must be followed if the nation has to come out of the crisis more or less intact.