Modiji, rally troops, we’ll be at war with virus soon

Modiji, rally the troops, we’ll be at war with coronavirus soon

Here’s the thing

This week, I’m most thankful to Modiji and Covidji (not Kovindji, please). Covidji has ensured that the world has come to a standstill. No vehicles, no manufacturing, no pollution, no global warming. A sort of Gaia theory in action, perhaps. The earth knows how to take care of itself. It got a fever, and it begged its children — the human race — to stop overheating the planet. We couldn’t care less. So, it decided to take care of its fever itself. The result: it shut our world down. Tsunamis, hurricanes, cloudbursts, torrential rains, massive forest fires, nothing had worked to force us to change our ways. Now, a tiny virus has done the job, at least temporarily. This means, the earth and nature still have much left in their armoury with which to hit us if we don’t learn.

Speaking of learning, thank you, Modiji, for the nation-wide lockdown. My children and I are using the extra time together to read, among other things, Sophie’s World. Author Jostein Gaarder begins by quoting the German poet Goethe “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”

It set me thinking. The timing of the lockdown seems right (we will know for sure in a few weeks’ time) and Modiji, you did a good job of conveying its importance to the masses. But there are thousands, if not millions, of people moving around across the country still — mostly migrant workers trying to get back to their villages and towns after their workplaces were shut by your order and their employers or landowners threw them out. There are people who cannot find food or shelter anywhere in the vast expanse between, say, Delhi and their village 400, 500, 600 kilometres away, and so these poor people have decided to walk the distance to their villages. Can you imagine!

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Could the lockdown have been handled better, if only your government had learnt the lessons not from 3,000 years ago but just three years ago, from the devastation that you yourself unleashed with demonetisation? Then, too, millions of migrant workers had to leave their jobs and shelters and go to their villages, and they still haven’t recovered, neither has the economy. But, obviously, you didn’t remember what you had done to them then, so history repeated itself.

Now, we have learnt. Every time you come on TV at 8 pm, the nation shuts down at midnight! Just one request, Modiji. Next time, come on TV a day or two earlier than when you want to shut the nation down. Give us people, especially the poor, time to prepare. The nation could have been prepared in the time between the ‘Janata Curfew’ and the forced lockdown if only you had given us direction, but you didn’t.

And following your lead, many landlords decided to throw out their tenants and paying guests, including doctors and nurses, out of their sovereign territories for fear that they may have contracted the coronavirus. When the PM did not spare a second to think of the nationwide panic and dislocation that he would create with the sudden lockdown, why should I spare a thought for my tenants? So what if they are doctors and nurses putting their own lives at risk to treat other people? So what if I might need their help myself in a few days’ time? I don’t care. Yatha raja, tatha praja.

In effect, a lockdown was announced that ensured that the rich and the middle class were safely locked up in their homes while the poor and the migrants are either still on the road or would have to come out to get food grains (under the “package” that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman came up with “within just 36 hours of the lockdown being announced”) at a time that the virus is passing through the population. So, in effect, many of these people will get infected and pass it on to others.

In all this, the government also overlooked, despite the World Health Organisation’s repeated exhortations, the need for testing: We are all at home now and the vast majority of us will not have been tested by the time the lockdown is lifted. This means, when we all go back to work, we will not know who, and how many, among us is carrying the virus!

So, Modiji, here’s an appeal: Please come on TV again, not to shut down anything, but to tell us about the government’s testing strategy and to marshal Indian industry to produce all that we will need in the next 3-4 weeks as the infection peaks: Certainly masks, gloves, hand-sanitisers and soap must be easy to make. But please also push industry, commandeer if need be, to produce test kits, respirators and ventilators by the hundreds of thousands. We will be at war with the virus very soon.