LATE RESPONSE MUST BE COMPENSATED WITH SAFETY NETS FOR THE POOR

MODI MUST ENSURE THAT LOCKDOWN DOES NOT IMPERIL THE PEOPLE

 

By Arun Srivastava

 

Narendra Modi has been playing truant with the people of the country in fighting coronavirus. If Modi has been really worried of the welfare of his people it should not have taken two and half months for him to grasp the escalation of the monstrous virus and react to the threat. It was on 30 December, 2019 the first case of corona virus was reported in Kerala. The victim was a student who along with his three friends had returned from Wuhan, China.

 

The transmission escalated in the month of March. On 10 March, the total cases reached 50. On 12 March, a 76-year-old man who had returned from Saudi Arabia became the first victim of the virus in the country. The total cases reached 100 on 15 March, 250 on 20 March and 500 on 24 March. The death toll reached 10 on 24 March.

 

During this period while China and other countries were gearing to face the challenge of Corona, Modi like other rightist capitalist leaders Donald Trump and Boris Johnson was busy enjoying life. His coming out of slumber and addressing the nation on March 19 about the threat perspective and cautioning the people was merely a façade purely aimed at keeping his rich and middle class voters in cheers.

 

Squirt of the virus has scared the rich and middle class people. This has its echo in the PM’s address on March 24 to the nation, wherein he cautioned that the virus spreads fast; it took 67 days to escalate to 2 lakh from 1 lakh but two lakh multiplied to 3 lakh within 11 days. His appeal, if one takes it seriously, which is to observe the lockout makes it explicit that he was really concerned of their welfare.

 

 

The success of India’s 21-day lockdown to fight Coronavirus depends on how quickly the country’s health system can detect and isolate persons already infected with the disease. The lockdown in China was backed by adequate government planning and monitoring of the population, while ensuring that people had access to basic essentials. China has not placed a deadline. It was open. It does not certainly imply that the Chinese authorities were too naïve to know that it needed at least 21 days to cut the link. Modi imitated only one part of the solution — the lockdown. Modi who claims to be a good friend of Chinese President Xi Jin Ping did not imitate his approach to face the challenge.

 

On the contrary Modi asked us to be prepared for a long drawn curfew on March 24. Ironically the manner in which the government machinery was behaving, it simply provides an insight that Modi was not prepared and he has not equipped the officials, his ministers, the bureaucracy, district administrators and law enforcement agencies across the country to face the lockdown and the difficult task of detecting and isolating as many infected persons.

 

In China the spread of the Coronavirus has been ‘brought down’ by public health management. What that magical management is, they are not telling the world. Their total burden of infection has been less than 1 per cent. Modi could have sought the advice of his friend if at all he was really concerned of the welfare of the people of the country.

 

The abject intellectual bankruptcy of his ministers was clearly manifest in their response to the questions posed to them about how to reach succour to the poor. In reply to specific questions on what steps were being taken to support the poor and migrant workers, the minister replied “The government is keeping an eye on the situation. State governments are announcing their measures.”

 

To a question on the migrant workers descending on the streets of Delhi despite the social distancing measures, the minister said: “The government is keeping a watch. But they had been working (in Delhi), they must be staying somewhere. They should stay there only.” Within two days of the lockdown frightening reports have started pouring in of mass hunger of homeless and daily wage earners. Police highhandedness has stopped the NGO from reaching out to the targeted people. 

 

A recent socio-economic study underlines that around 3.2 lakh families were homeless in urban areas across the country. The Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, has announced a financial package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crores to help rural and urban poor by transferring money directly into their bank accounts. But will she tell the people the actual numbers of the poor and daily wage earners the country has and out of them how many have bank accounts?  A couple of years back Jan Dhan Yojana launched by the Modi government died at an embryonic stage. She must refrain from refrain speaking farce and fooling the people. 

 

At this stage when the country is facing acute crisis these cruel jokes do not behove her stature or the office she holds. She must refrain from it. Explaining the package, she said that the Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme will benefit 1,70,000 crore migrants and poor people in the nation. Fine.  But will she take pains to inform the mode or mechanism she is going to resort to, to identify and locate the beneficiaries so that the benefit reaches them. 

 

We know how a well organised gang of criminal middlemen usurp and loot these funds. It is certainly not a pessimistic observation. This time too most of the food grains would find their way to the black market.  The government has promised 1kg of pulses and 5kg of wheat/rice for 80 crore poor beneficiaries for the next three months.

 

Yet another aspect of lockdown haunts us. The fear of being alone due to social distancing during the period of lockdown — the eremophobia — will acquire the character of a mass phenomenon. Fear of unknown will haunt the people. The dilemma of isolation-estrangement-loneliness will have its impact on the body of the individual and also on the body politic of the nation.

 

I strongly believe that the concept of “social distancing” is basically flawed and wrong. It should have been “physical distancing” and not social distancing. Staying physically distant will break the chain of transmission, but the element of ‘social distancing’ will harm the individual. Loneliness will hit mental health.

 

The entire Indian population will remain confined indoors. This would have enormous stress on the mental health of the people. The same is the case around the world.  There will be increase in cases of anxiety and depression. In this time of stress, we need more social togetherness; we need more social support than social isolation. We should be giving the message of physical distancing, which is a safety measure, and of social togetherness. Saying ‘social distancing’ will imply that you are alone. Ironically everyone is emphasising on ‘social distancing’ when actually they should be saying physical distancing.

 

To ensure that people should not suffer mental stress and become victims of mental health in the wake of the pandemic the fundamental principle should be for the government to convey correct information to people. A vacuum leads to more anxiety. Modi ought to not to create panic by portraying the black side of the pandemic.

 

Government must ensure that the flow of fake news is stopped. India is notorious for this. Incidentally with 21 days of leisure it is enough for the mischief mongers to create havoc.  These people will be disseminating all kinds of idiotic mails and messages. As is the human psyche during these times people will be anxiously waiting for more information and will tend to believe such fake news as correct information. It is a known fact that elderly people have been feeling more and more isolated.

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