Bill Gates would not find it much of an inconvenience to be confined to one of his mansions for any length of time. There would be gardens to stroll about it, a variety of alternative methods of amusement available, and money enough in the bank to ensure a millennium of zero income. Both Melinda and Bill are known throughout the world for their generosity in gifting funds to useful causes, with the development of vaccines taking centrestage. Indeed, his interest in the prevention of disease through universal vaccination has ensured that the former founder of Microsoft knows more about several aspects of modern medicine than many medical professionals. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in numerous interviews with Bill Gates that have resulted in the dissemination of his longstanding view that the best remedy for the novel coronavirus pandemic is to lock down the citizenry until the disease disappears. This is a remedy that may be easy for the wealthy but which is impracticable for long amongst those who have low or subsistence incomes, or even the middle class, dependent as the latter are on salaries. Gates was among the first international personages to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his record-breaking demonetization on 8 November 2016 of 86% of India’s currency giving just a few hours’ notice and he has likewise made history with the 24 March 2020 lockdown. The credibility and goodwill that is enjoyed by the Prime Minister among the people was clear from the manner in which they endured the effects of the bold and globally unprecedented move, which was designed to eliminate corruption and black money. Unlike other countries, where lockdowns were only 30-70%, PM Modi declared a complete lockdown of a country of 1.29 billion, cutting across all sectors and people, that has lasted to the present, and is likely to continue into the future in some form or the other. Only the immense faith of the population in the sincerity, honesty and competence of the Prime Minister has kept almost all the population confining themselves to their homes. In the process, businesses have been affected, as well as livelihoods on a scale difficult to compute. Just as people were confident that their lives after DeMo would be better, they are certain that life after the lockdown, no matter what its length, will soon get better. Such is the credibility among the people as a whole of Narendra Modi, a level of trust that is closer than that enjoyed by any other Prime Minister’s influence to the belief of the people in the methods used during the freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi.
Prime Minister Modi has set a target of GDP crossing $5 trillion by the time the next Lok Sabha poll comes by in 2024, and this can easily be achieved by an annual growth rate well in excess of what has been achieved in the immediate pre-pandemic period. Modi is an intensely practical leader, and he would have factored in the difficulties that would arise during the course of the path towards $5 trillion and made provision for policy measures designed to ensure sufficient growth. The three points on which the hopes of the voter were pinned in Modi not only in 2014 but in 2019 was confidence in his integrity and his ability to steer growth through reform of a system that has been underperforming for decades in terms of the delivery of effective governance. The government during the first three decades of Independence wanted the “commanding heights” of the economy to be firmly in the hands of the government, and ensured that the private sector in India overall did not get the level of state support that South Korea or Japan, for instance, provided their private companies. The Industries Development & Regulation Act penalised companies for going beyond their licensed capacity. Crony capitalists ensured that policies got framed in a manner designed to protect their inefficient and shoddy produce. The flow of cash to overseas accounts grew even while “Garibi Hatao” redounded as a slogan cruel in its unreality. Prime Minister Modi has correctly stated that a new beginning is required, including in systemic change. The people of India are looking forward to that happening, confident as they are that this is a Prime Minister who says what he means and who implements what he says. While elements of the 24/7 100% lockdown may be present in some ways in a few sectors and locations, overall by the close of the month there needs to be an easing of restrictions so that the economy revives. Vulnerable citizens should be protected, but others need to be put to work once again. The different sectors of the economy need to revive. There will certainly be cases of the disease but continuing the lockdown in the manner it has been enforced thus far cannot be an option unless Bill Gates is able to persuade other billionaires to donate their riches towards the mounting expense of keeping 1.29 billion people healthy and the economy from free fall despite the population remaining confined in their homes; As the poor in India can testify, lives are difficult to sustain in the absence of livelihoods.