PM Narendra Modi
PM Narendra Modi

Not with standing a few cheap shots from the usual suspects in the Opposition against the Prime Minister’s call to switch off home lights and switch on cell phone torches, or light candles and diyas elicited a huge response from an anxious nation on Sunday evening. Despite differences of caste or class, region or religion, India seemed to have melded into one singular entity to register its solidarity in the on-going war againstthe killer coronavirus.

Aside from cheering the tens of thousands in the frontlines against this invisible devil of a novel virus, actions like chiming bells and lighting candles serve as reminders to a nation under lockdown of the huge challenge facing it to combat the killer pathogen. If nothing else, people like the always glib Shashi Tharoor, ought to realise the need to provide welcome diversion to a country feeling cooped up for fear of contracting the virus. That young and old, strong and infirm, poor and rich responded enthusiastically to the PM’s appeal also helped to underline the strength of leadership. A crisis tests the best of leaders. Modi has led from the front and the nation has wholeheartedly endorsed the fact. Meanwhile, on Day 13 of the lockdown, there was further confirmation available that a staggered opening is being actively considered from the 15th of this month.

The Prime Minister asked ministers to prepare a ‘graded plan’ to restore normalcy in areas away from hot spots of the pandemic. Thus far, 274 of the total 644 districts have reported coronavirus cases. In fact, on Monday morning 80 per cent of the over 3,500 cases were from 62 districts alone. Members of the Tablighi Jamaat accounted for over one-third of those afflicted. However, the phase-out of the lockdown will take an extremely cautious route. For example, in Mumbai the areas around Dharavi slum and the Worli-Koliwada cluster might remain sealed off while the rest of the metropolis could be allowed to resume work in a graded manner.

Likewise in Delhi, the epicenter of the Tablighi havoc, the Nizamuddin Aulia Basti, might remain shut to outsiders while parts of the city to return to work area-wise or daywise. Meanwhile, a private airline has announced reservations for resumption of domestic flights from April 15th and international flights from May 1. We just cannot afford an indefinite cessation of all economic activity. During the lockdown a huge tonnage of food-grains and sugar has been moved by the railways from government godowns to different parts of the country for distribution by various state governments.

Yet, normalcy will return once the millions of migrant workers are back doing what they were before the lockdown. Given the huge burden on the finances of the states and the Centre, and the shrinkage of revenues due to the coronavirus crisis, it is of utmost importance that the economy returns to its optimal capacity as early as possible. At least in the first half of the current fiscal, the impact of the pandemic is bound to be reflected in the overall GDP numbers. Because the global economy, too, is now in the grip of a severe recession, our exports are bound to suffer while domestic demand will remain depressed for want of cash with the consumers. It is a double whammy for the planners, but thus far the government has handled the crisis well.

The decision that the central ministers and MPs will contribute 30 per cent of their salaries over the next two years — and an ordinance is being issued to effect it — spotlights the need to mop up every penny to tide over the coronavirus crisis. No less significant is the decision to suspend the MPs’ Local Area Development Fund for the current and nextfinancial year. This will add Rs 7,900 crores to the consolidate fund. These are harsh but necessary measures are aimed at conserving resources. Hopefully, state governments too will follow the lead of the Union Cabinet. In fact, the country as a whole might have to undertake a lot of belt-tightening to overcome the economic crisis. Corporate sector too might have to share the pain felt by ordinary people due to the pandemic.

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