“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”, quotes Joseph Stalin, citing Kurt Tucholsky.
From just a few deaths, what we are dealing with, world over, is raw statistics. And India is no different. Or, perhaps it is.
Nobody, even the most expert of the experts (except may be Bill Gates), could predict these numbers, and we are far away from the peak.
These are truly difficult times and call for discipline, perseverance, faith, and compassion. The virus (natural or man made) has truly brought us to our knees and has made us one truly Global Village, and the world has literally become Flat and Slippery.
There is hope, for this too shall pass, but not without offering some harsh lessons and insights. Tales of bravery, valor, strategy, operations, creativity, innovation, and miracles.
As an Indian, I feel proud and safe being here, and would like to call out three reasons why India would tide over this gracefully and instructively.
Our leaders chose lives over economy
One of the most defining features of India’s fight against coronavirus is our strong, unambiguous, and early stance towards complete lock-down. Notwithstanding the economic hardship it would bring, the government still chose people’s health over economic growth. It might sound trivial, but it is nothing but. One of the key reasons why the West is reeling under the virus is because they are so much soaked into capitalism that it seems humans are mere fuel and lubes for economic progress.
Here’s what the US leader has to say.
“America will again and soon be open for business — very soon. We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem. We have to open our country because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems.”- Donald Trump, US President (23 March)
Across Italy, UK, Spain, Singapore, and Australia, it took several confirmed cases of the virus and deaths for the leaders to implement lockdown, and that too, it was done in partial manner. As against this, when India declared nationwide freeze on 24 March, there were only 500 cases and 10 deaths. That was proactive and firm. Without lockdown, it’s predicted that of the 1.3 billion Indians, 300 to 500 million would be infected by the end of July and 30 to 50 million with severity.
The timely freeze of movement could well make the difference between manageable loss and harsh statistics in an Indian context. Further, the severity of lockdown in India far exceeds what’s witnessed in other countries. You have experienced this first hand. Haven’t you?
We can bounce back economically better than most other nations, because India is a huge market by itself. But for that, we must survive the crisis.
Grassroots level creativity and improvisation
So much for the leaders and policy makers, but how about the citizens? It’s heartening and encouraging to know how our brothers and sisters across the country have improvised in the face of hardship.
The tech savvy talent in India and a general sense of experimentation has led to several novel ways of keeping safe.
The Indian Railways has also improvised and created quarantine coaches and treatment facilities at all major cities, and that too with minimal expenses and disruption. The aim is to convert over 20,000 coaches to accommodate up to 3.2 lakh beds for isolation or quarantine needs.
The Indian Railways Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW), in Asansol, West Bengal, has been producing hospital beds and side drawers for isolation or quarantine wards, apart from masks, sanitizers and other essentials.
I don’t see other countries taking up such measures. That’s the classic depiction of the adage — necessity is the mother of invention.
Several state governments and local bodies have resorted to deploying drones to take on the surveillance challenges, and this has worked very effectively. Drones are also coming in handy for sanitisation purposes.
Who ordered them? No body. These are spontaneous reactions by several hundred startups and tinkerers from across India, and they have braced the challenge/ opportunity. This is the time for improvisation, for no one knows what could work.
Reverence for authority
Guess what’s the first place most Americans would run to at a lockdown? It’s a gun shop! The sales of guns and ammunition has soared amid the coronavirus in the USA. Why? It’s chiefly because Americans feel insecure and what to own up their personal safety and, more importantly, they don’t trust the authority over there.
Contrast this with India. Indians have an inherent reverence for authority. Whether it be political, religious, administrative, or even in the family. That’s the reason we didn’t have any major upheaval in the country, yet and that the government didn’t have to resort to military.
Our police forces are doing all this with a lathi, without resorting to guns. How much of it is possible in developed world?
If 1.3 billion people don’t have respect for authority, it would be impossible to come out of this ditch. We need a great leader to help us through, and luckily, we have one.
I salute you sir — my Prime Minister — Narendra Modi.