It did not surprise that habitual Modi critics ridiculed his address to the nation on prime time last week. They can be excused their churlishness. At a time when all Indians irrespective of their political, ideological, religious, ethnic, economic and social differences need to get behind the governmental effort to fight the global menace of COVID-19, sick minds don’t give up. The threat is bigger than any humankind has known so far. If the Prime Minister can have Pakistan on the video-conference along with other SAARC leaders, why can’t we unite behind him for the limited purpose of overcoming the corona pandemic. Fortunately, thus far the number of those infected is in a couple of hundreds. Yet, before it is contained, it is likely to spread － and spread at a fast speed once the community transmission begins. There is no one hotspot for the virus, unlike Wuhan in China, or in the north of Italy. Several western countries have run up cases in their thousands, even ten thousands. Given that we are 1.3-billion strong, we cannot be complacent. Whether or not the onset of summer would help check the virus, everything that can be done must be done to ensure that it is contained. The number of people tested is very small. Constraints of equipment, manpower ought to be overcome. Self-isolation and quarantine is largely voluntary and depends on the cooperation of ordinary men and women. We cannot enforce it the way China did with an iron fist. Therefore, instead of picking holes in the Prime Minster’s call to the nation, at this critical juncture it would behove his critics, including television channels and YouTube warriors, to suspend their vicious game for the larger public good. Virus does not distinguish between human beings － in that sense it is truly secular. Given the number of self-employed daily-wagers, it will be a yeoman’s effort to ensure personal hygiene and proper sanitation. A package like the one announced by the UP Government to pay every daily wage worker Rs 1,000 per month needs to be taken by all State governments. Media, on its part, can help spread awareness about the universal dos and don’ts. Voodoo medicine touted in some quarters should be given short shrift. The US, the UK and the European countries alike are all in the grip of COVID-19 in its various stages, but one thing is common in that all governments are relying on the good sense and cooperation of citizens to isolate themselves, to keep away from public places, to suspend all outdoor activity, including virtually all sporting events. Modi in his statesman-like broadcast appealed to the people too, seeking voluntary observance of protective steps. Rahul Gandhi can be excused for criticizing Modi for not offering a concrete antidote to COVID-19, but had he cared to check with western nations, from Italy to Spain to France and the UK, he would have found that the drill being commended there too, to counter the devilish genome is almost identical. We shudder to think if the worst were to happen. In that case, the public health system will be overwhelmed because we don’t have adequate number of hospital rooms, ventilators, medical caregivers, etc.
With a little over one per cent of GDP earmarked for public health over the decades, the woeful state of our health care system is not surprising. At least the urban areas are relatively better served but the bulk of the population lacks proper hospitals, doctors, medical workers. Since Independence we have neglected the public health system. The private hospitals, concentrated in big cities, are driven by greed barring an honourable exception or two. Leaders at this critical time need to muster their moral power to inspire people to join the fight against this threat. There is no knowing when it will recede from the country and, alarmingly, even if it does, it can recur with an equal fury after a lapse of time. Every Indian must cooperate to ensure that we all remain uninfected. Containment should be name of the game. Meanwhile, it does not cost anyone, cocooned in one’s home during the Janata curfew, to show appreciation to the people working 24x7 to mitigate the threat to register appreciation by cheering. Hatred has so spread in the public sphere that even this innocuous gesture － first practiced in Spain － is being seen through jaundiced eyes. In a matter of life and death too, Modi-haters wouldn’t let up. This is pathetic.