Why Modi Cannot Escape Responsibility For Covid-19 Lockdown

The Indian response to the Covid-19 pandemic is dictated by a phalanx of largely faceless bureaucrats operating under the overall supervision of Home Minister Amit Shah. The finger on the ‘Enter’ tab, however, is always that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So, even if Modi distances himself from the lockdown – as some have alleged after the second extension to the lockdown – he will not be able to escape accountability for lapses and failures.

Note that not a single state/UT has shown the middle finger to Modi on the broad strategy spelled out for Lockdown 3:0. People’s lives versus people’s livelihood is at the crux. Both cannot be taken lightly. One mistake and it will be kaput for the perceived decision-maker. Modi is aware of the risk. And so are the state chief ministers. Therefore, the reluctance in Modi to hog centre-stage, and in the Chief Ministers to voice opposition.

Lockdown 3:0 was declared without any fanfare – claps and light-the-diya – which is what’s in Modi’s a fitrat! Past record shows he cannot make a point without making an event out of it. But that’s in normal times. Huge changes are taking place around the globe because of the coronavirus and whoever is wherever stays there. Except for navies patrolling economic zones, the world is in lockdown.

And it’s about which country will eliminate Covid-19 deaths and which will lag behind. For, in as far as Covid-19 deaths are concerned, India is nowhere near victory. If instead of 2000, 20,000 Covid-19 deaths take place, the blame has to fall on somebody. And neither the Centre nor the state governments – neither Narendra Modi nor CMs – would want to shoulder responsibility in case of such a likelihood.

It’s, therefore, that the MHA led by Amit Shah took the trouble to issue the Centre’s notification declaring Lockdown 3:0. Original ‘Lockdown Hero’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not even use the launching ‘Sunday’ to celebrate his ‘success’ as would have been his vaunt if it wasn’t for the unpredictability of the coronavirus!

Therefore, not a single state, not even any of the opposition-ruled, opposed the extension. Some like Maharashtra, with the most number of Covid-19 deaths, just cannot afford to. The ‘lockdown tweaking’ is all-India. Every state wants economic activities to resume. Liquor vends to reopen. State coffers are almost empty. Even containing the coronavirus costs a packet. It’s like running on a treadmill. You run to stay where you are or you slide back. There’s no two ways about it. Till the coronavirus is defeated, or dealt a stillborn death with a vaccine.

Congress, the main and principal opposition party, has its own ideas on coronavirus and the ‘three’ lockdowns, but it displayed political savvy not to butt into Modi’s party! The PM’s ‘TRP’, so to speak, was spiking at a very high rate after Lockdown 1:0. The phenomenon was global though. Even Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro had become corona heroes in their countries in the first flush.

No longer. And trailing the caravan and sniping at the caravan-master from both sides is good strategy. The lockdown landed the migrant workers and the unorganized industry in trouble. The opposition parties now have a stick to beat the Modi government with. India’s economy is already on the slide. Unemployment can only rise. Migrant workers wallowing in misery can take down the unorganized industry and along with that the economy, and perhaps Modi.

Lockdown 3:0 is seeing the return of migrant workers to “home” and hearth; to mom and dad, wives and children; to Khet and Kalihaan – the village chowk, the homecoming sweetened by reunions. But, then, will come the ills! Economic crisis will paralyse households in the tens of thousands. Media like the Republic are shouting of an ‘agriculture boom’ with no proof. Will the village economy be able to sustain the surge in numbers?

The urge of the migrant worker to “return home” is overwhelming. The spectre of hunger and ‘left-to-die in a foreign land’ are killing. So much so, a bunch of migrant workers laboured into a cement mixer for a ride home. Lockdown 3:0 has addressed this unrelenting urge. Special trains have been put on track to take migrant workers “home.”

But the restless migrant workers have no money. Most haven’t been paid their March wages and nothing’s forthcoming for April. Sonia Gandhi said the Congress will pay the train fares for migrant workers taking the train home. Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray asked Modi give migrant workers a “free train” ride home. Is Modi listening?

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