India’s strategy in dealing with the deadly COVID-19 has been a mixed bag. The total number of cases reported from across the country has crossed 1.5 lakh, making India the ninth most affected country in the world. Yet, considering that India is the second most populous country in the world and is of mammoth size while some countries in Europe are at best the size of small and medium Indian states, the country has not done badly so far. Particularly in terms of casualties this country has had a record that reminds us that we could have been much worse but for the four rounds of lockdowns and other administrative measures. What is also encouraging is that the percentage of recoveries among cases is over 40 per cent which compares well with most countries. Yet, it would be wrong to rest on our laurels. The management of the pandemic leaves a lot to be desired considering that while we are on the threshold of a fifth lockdown, which is an indicator that the lockdowns have been successful in some states but in some others the authorities have failed to rein in the numbers.
Somewhere along the way, there is lack of accountability with the way Maharashtra has been breaking records in the numbers afflicted and West Bengal has been cocking a snook at the Centre, defying instructions with impunity while failing to step up substantially its extent of testing. The Muslim sect Tablighi Jamaat played a major part in the spread of the pandemic in the initial stage by organising a congregation composed of delegates from many countries in which the norms of each one maintaining a safe distance from other participants was grossly disregarded. That after the Delhi meeting the Tablighis fanned out within the country, many of them carrying the virus worsened matters. At this stage, while the Tablighi woes have subsided and faded from public forums, there are other reasons why the pandemic is still far from being controlled. In Mumbai, which is a hotbed of coronavirus cases, the density of population is so high that there is a huge number of ‘containment’ zones which are continuing to rain misery on the afflicted. The Maharashtra government has been of little held with the inexperienced Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena holding fort while groping for solutions. In the normal course, it was a fit case for the Centre to impose President’s rule but the BJP is wary of acting against an Opposition-ruled state government while not taking parallel action in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Sadly, each lockdown is costing the Centre and the states crores upon crores but the rate of growth of numbers of corona-afflicted is failing to go down much in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and even in Madhya Pradesh. The states can hardly go on imposing more lockdowns groping in the dark on what to do even as Coronavirus continues to extract a heavy toll. It is time the Uddhav Thackeray government is given an ultimatum to pack up if it is unequal to the task of controlling the pandemic. The economy has to be put back on the rails. It cannot wait any longer. If we do not approach the recovery issue on a war footing, foreign investors who are looking at re-locating to India from China may drift to other countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh. That would be a lost opportunity that we will regret much. There is bound to be an acute problem on the migrants issue. Tens of thousands of migrant labour has been uprooted by the virus and has moved to their homes where there are not enough jobs. While some states are promising them jobs in their home states, there would not be that many jobs going around. Government schemes like MNREGA could absorb some but the Central and State governments have their own limitations given the crippling blow that coronavirus has dealt to their economies. Our productivity is low in various areas of activity. It is time now for raising this in line with world standards. While India is in the race for finding a vaccine to cure coronavirus, it would be futile to pin too much hope on an early cure. What is sorely needed is to look to manage the present.