Wishing for a Corona-free India

Many predictions have been made about the currently rampaging corona virus that is infecting thousands and killing hundreds in the industrialized and developed world. While China claims that life in the epicenter of the pandemic, Wuhan, has become almost normal it is rampaging through the developed world like never before. Thousands have fallen (victim) to it in Germany, Italy, Spain, Great Britain and the US. Economies of these countries are disrupted just as those of the emerging economies like that of India. It is difficult for a country to remain under a complete lockdown for long. But the virus is such that unless there is a complete cessation of all kinds of activities its chain is not snapped and it continues to thrive.

That is what the doomsayers are afraid of. How long can the countries be kept locked in while the pandemic has a free run of the world knocking down thousands of people with the infection and killing hundred as it sweeps through various countries. A medicine man was describing the other day a scenario on the TV that was frightening. He said that nobody knows how long this menace would last – it could be a year or it could be two years or even more or indefinitely into the future. It seems to have the capability to send us all to the Stone Age – dangerous and lethal as it looks like. The immediate misfortune of a long drawn out lockdown could be a severe famine. For loosening grip of the virus on us much would depend on how we handle it and how soon we are able to eradicate it.

Lockdown and social distancing have emerged as major arms to fight the virus. But to organize millions of people to pay heed to the advisories to observe the restricted way of life indefinitely is a difficult proposition. Many of those caught straying out of their houses, particularly in India, are poor and they come out to get some fresh air, crammed as they are generally 8 to 10 people in a hundred sq. ft. room. 

Indian economy is slated to lose heavily as the virus looks for new victims in India. Estimations have been made of a loss of Rs. 32000 crore every day of the lockdown during the first 21 days. Unemployment has risen from around 5% to 26% as on 9th April 2020 and 45% of the households have seen a drop in their incomes. It is mind-blowing. Almost every sector of the economy has been battered. It must have been heart-wrenching effort for the government to have announced a lockdown and then extend it knowing as they did its massive economic costs. The Gross Domestic Product is likely to register a historic low of 1.9% as indicated by the IMF. Worldwide, too, economies are likely to contract and global economic growth is likely to suffer. No one wishes to extend one’s neck out and predict with certainty when the pandemic will cease allowing resumption of the arrested economic activities.

The doomsayers say it is not as simple as that – that is predicting a post-Covid scenario. There could be any number of possibilities. The virus could refuse to go away or the world is unable to chase it away. The first scenario as painted by Politico, an US based magazine, is about the great deceleration. The US, Europe and China, the big three, struggle to recover from the battering of their respective economies with major fiscal and monetary efforts. The second scenario is more about China which wins the war with the virus and capitalizes on it by building ties across Asia, undermining democracy everywhere and ruthlessly blunting dissent at home. The rosiest scenario is about a V-shaped recovery and the rich West vaccinating everybody against the virus in the third world for free.

These basically depict the American way of looking at things. The scenarios predicted are generally US-centric. For us it would suffice if we imagine only two alternatives. One, the virus becomes uncontrollable, mostly because our people do not observe the guidelines issued by the government. In the process the Centre has to throw more money at it to contain it. But that pulls in millions who were climbing out of poverty into middle class back into poverty. Despite the herculean efforts of the government the economic recovery is slow with poverty on the rise enhancing social tensions.

The alternative scenario that we could think of could be that despite the lapses of various sections of the people the government with its unmitigated efforts is able to control the pandemic and makes the country largely free of the corona menace. With the virus shaken off, the government decides to prepare for the next pandemic which is predicted to be more lethal. The most positive item of this scenario would be the government, with the help of various international organizations/institutions, is able to pressurize China to close down its wet markets. Economically, the government, with active cooperation of the people, is able to register a V-shaped recovery eventually regaining its economic and social balance and is able to put its economy back on a firmer footing.

The above is more of wishful thinking. We are such a divided country, a few sections of it will never allow the government (run by whichever party) to continue and do the good work. We start barking at our opponents at the slightest pretext regardless of the fact whether the opponent is doing work that is good or not. Look at the way West Bengal government is fighting with the Centre.

What all this adds up to is that people in general should act as advised by the experts, the government at the centre having most of them. If we do that, we would be lucky if we become a Covid-free country by September next. Only then Modi will be able to set the wheels of the economy in motion. Hopefully, once the economy starts moving he will get support from most sections to recover the expenditure and losses incurred in dealing with the pandemic.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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