If India has to win the war against the currently raging novel coronavirus pandemic, it will require cooperation from all segments of society. It is not just the government’s job to try and control the situation. It is the people’s job too. And for that the least that the citizens of this country can do is to obey the rules. Without this, it will become increasingly difficult for the government to relax the lockdown and bring the country back to a path of normalcy or at least a semblance of it. What the whole country witnessed after the second phase of the lockdown was relaxed, and liquor shops were allowed to open, was a matter of shame. The long queues, the jostling and the pushing, made a mockery of social distancing and negated all the benefits achieved in the past one month of the lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. If the aim of the country is to flatten the curve of the pandemic, that target got postponed by several days just because of one or two days’ bad behaviour by a section of the public. And all for a bottle of liquor! If liquor is one of the biggest revenue generators for most states, that is because drinking is part of everyday life for a large section of the people—and there is nothing wrong in it. It is only states that are cut off from the reality, are those who try to impose prohibition in their fiefdoms, but fail miserably in the process, as bootlegging becomes thriving business. It is someone’s personal choice how much one wants to drink. As long as drinking does not cause law and order problems, including misbehaviour and domestic violence, it is a matter that rests squarely in the private domain. However, it does not say much of India’s national character when even a whiff of alcohol makes citizens behave so recklessly—and that too at the time of a global pandemic, which is wreaking havoc in country after country and has already claimed lakhs of lives and has stalled the economy of almost the whole world. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said ahead of the start of the first phase of the lockdown in March, this is a time for resolve and restraint. But where is that restraint? Surely Indians have better restraint than what was on display this past week in front of liquor shops.
In fact, in certain parts of the country even the resolve to follow the lockdown in the strictest possible manner is missing. Why should a situation arise that the lockdown has to be enforced by a state’s law and order machinery? Why shouldn’t it be followed spontaneously? After all the virus is a serious threat with no cure in sight. Why should it always be the government’s job to protect the country? Why shouldn’t it be the citizens’ too?
There is another major problem here and that is of the economy. At a time when India’s economy has sputtered to a stop, it is of extreme importance that it be brought back to life—sooner the better. But will the public be as reckless as it was this past week, when markets and restaurants, for instance, are opened, perhaps in the near future? For that may result in the further spread of the virus. And a blanket lockdown may again have to be imposed. What happens to the economy then? Without an economy nothing much will be left of the country and its citizens. So if there are rules, they have to be followed. That is the mark of a civilized country. It is time Indians proved that they are a civilized people, who believe in following the rule of law. And they must do this so as to ensure that the lockdown is gradually relaxed.