The Scientific Advisor to the Government of India warned the nation that a third wave of SARS2 will come, only that the timing of this is uncertain. Unlike in the case of the second wave, that did not appear to have been predicted, this time the government has been prompt in warning of the new wave. What is needed is to ensure that the country is fully prepared to face the full fury of SARS2 when next it hits. The second wave is still a problem in several states, and the suffering of the people is immense. The urban poor are suffering the most, particularly daily wage workers. Many have been without jobs for nearly a year, beginning with the Great Indian Lockdown that was imposed on March 24, 2020. This was the biggest such exercise in the world. No other leader in history has attempted to shut down transportation and much else in a country at such short notice. It was because of the credibility and respect that people had for Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the lockdown (as well as others that followed) was obeyed by almost the entire population. The Prime Minister called for citizens to make sacrifices to defeat Covid-19, and citizens responded with stoic calm. It was Prime Minister Modi who began what is now the worldwide practice of folks standing on their balconies and lighting candles or bringing palms together in a tribute to the bravery of the frontline workers of what was correctly described as a war by the Prime Minister. In every road, in every village, people saw their friends, neighbours and strangers lighting lamps and bringing their palms together in a heartening volley of sound. The symbolism was immense. There was a sense of community, a sense that the entire country must unite to fight the scourge that arrived on the shores of India from Wuhan. This stiffened the resolve of people and enabled them to bear the hardship that has been caused by the pandemic. Lives and livelihoods have been lost in numbers too big to count. As PM Modi said, the world is now BC and AC. Before Covid-19, after Covid-19. At the same time, efforts were initiated to ensure that PPEs began to be produced in profusion, as also masks designed to protect against the virus.
While much was done last year to gear up for the pandemic, much more needs to happen. The Prime Minister saw to it in 2020 that the silos between government departments were dismantled and an All of Government approach was adopted while tackling the pandemic. What is needed is to expand the boundaries of such cooperation and make it All of People. There still exist too many bottlenecks to innovation and achievement that were erected by British administrators to hobble the capacity of the population to actualise the immense potential of the people. There is no doubt that India has several brilliant and dedicated administrators, but there are people like that not just in the civil service but in civil society as well. Whether it be in the US or even in the UK (the country whose model of governance of the 1940s has been retained in India), known achievers and innovators from society are recruited to fill high posts in the administration. A small start has been made in this regard but much more is called for. Just as in the case of the Pokhran nuclear explosion of 1974, after a bold step is taken, very often there is not enough follow up, largely as a consequence of leaving the matter to the bureaucracy. Caution is the watchword within the bureaucracy, and to an extent, this is understandable in a country where the CBI can come knocking at the door of a senior civil servant who has been retired for decades and question him about decisions about which not the foggiest memory remains in their minds. In several sensational scams, retired civil servants who had almost no responsibility for the actions taken paid a very stiff price while those higher up the chain of command got away, sometimes after a gap. Such are the vagaries involved in the gathering of evidence and in the absence of a jury trial in India. Now that China has taken full control of Hong Kong, trial by jury has been abolished in Hong Kong. The Nehru government did the same in India soon after freedom was secured. Trust in the people of India was not at too high a level. That needs to change. The heroes of the battle against Covid-19 are the people, and measures need to be taken to ensure that they get involved in the designing of solutions in a much more comprehensive manner than has been the situation in India, a country filled with the best of talent alas often utilised hardly at all.