Will the cure be worse than the disease?
This is a fear that’s doing the rounds of WhatsApp messages, editorials and even the occasional presidential tweet. What will happen after 14 April? Talking to government officials it does seem as if the economic crisis is very much there on the Prime Minister’s mind as he walks the tightrope between the medical and the economic. The Cabinet Secretary recently indicated that there were no plans of extending the lockdown, but that was before the Tablighi cluster meet broke. During his meet with the Chief Ministers, the Prime Minister spoke about figuring out an exit plan. There is talk that while the lockdown will be lifted, it would be with restrictions, with the focus being on the vulnerable groups such as those in their seventies and above. Most schools have already been shut till 1 May. However, most industrialists are arguing against the lockdown, claiming (and quite rightly) that since India is not a welfare state, it is looking towards the corporate sector to tide over the crisis. But the industry too needs to make money. Rahul Bajaj is one of those who has spoken out in an interview where he says, “I see no logic in a sweeping lockdown in a country in which 94% are below 65. We should keep seniors at home, close public spaces and allow the rest of us to keep life moving forward.”
This is an argument that’s gaining ground. To sequester the vulnerable, and allow the rest to resume work, albeit keeping social distancing in mind, is one option. It would also allow herd immunity to kick in, but then this does lay one open to the charge of Social Darwinism, for this was one of the criticisms against the Britain’s early “Keep Calm & Carry On” approach to Covid-19.
It’s interesting to note that the Singapore Prime Minister did not call it a lockdown but a circuit breaker as he announced enhanced measures to deal with Covid-19. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, first called it a curfew, which was then extended to a lockdown, which, as he said, “ek tarah se curfew hee hai (it is like a curfew)”.
Back to TV
The Congress is now seriously mulling sending its spokespersons back on panel discussions—something which makes sense as otherwise it had outsourced all opposition to Pavan Varma and Derek O’Brien. But can it also do a rethink on its LOP? First there was Kharge and now Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Both may be making fantastic points but the message gets lost in the articulation, especially as neither is fluent in Hindi. Maybe it’s a good time to do a rethink on that as well.
Dialogue in the Digital Age
Necessity is the mother of invention and so in the days of lockdown India Foundation resorted to Zoom (video conferencing app) to organise a lecture by M.J. Akbar on his latest book, Gandhi’s Hinduism, The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam. During the talk—having first mastered the new technology, which he admitted was a feat by itself—Akbar narrated some interesting anecdotes, one of them being how the British dealt with Gandhi. Apparently, in May 1944, Gandhiji was in detention and suffering from a bout of malaria. Worried about his health the British officials persuaded then PM Winston Churchill to okay his early release, claiming that if he died in prison, then they wouldn’t be able to handle the fallout. Fortunately, once released, Gandhiji regained his good health, much to the disappointment of Churchill who kept enquiring after his demise. The despatches from India to Churchill, had the official quoting Lord Byron’s comments about his mother-in-law, where he had said, “My mother-in-law had been dangerously ill, she is now dangerously well”. Touché! But this was one of the few anecdotes that Akbar related about his book.
Meanwhile on Twitterverse
Stand-up comic Kunal Kamra recently took a dig at columnist and author Chetan Bhagat, coming into a conversation between Chetan and a twitteratti who responded to Chetan’s tweet: Scale of 1 to 10 how bored are you right now? The tweet got the riposte—11, but still won’t read your book. This exchange went viral on Twitter, with Kamra jumping in to say that “even I don’t get insulted so badly”. To which Chetan replied, “You have to be someone to get insulted bro”. Watch this space for more (well, after all, what else is there to do?).