Pandemic to economic pandemonium

A national task force should be constituted to deal with health as well as economic crises

By Author J R Janumpalli   |   Published: 14th Jul 2020   12:05 am Updated: 13th Jul 2020   10:49 pm

The first anniversary of Modi 2.0 is being celebrated. With its 303-seat victory, the Modi 2.0 administration was expected to do great things to change India. But the advent of the novel coronavirus changed its game plan. India, like all other countries, is struggling to combat the virus. The struggle will go on till a sure cure vaccination or drug is found. Meanwhile, the pandemic is playing havoc with lives, livelihoods and the economy. It now depends on the government’s efficiency to contain the virus to protect the lives, livelihoods of the people and keep the falling economy afloat.

As for the containment of the virus, the BJP government imposed a long lockdown. Both the Centre and State governments worked on the WHO guidelines in their separate ways. Though there were some consultations, there was not much effective coordination between them. The reasons appear to be political differences, and the lack of a proper command line administrative mechanism, commensurate with the problem. It also did not constitute a national task force choosing the right talent to deal with the pandemic and administer its plan of containment. By and large, the administration of the lockdown and the containment of virus by the Centre leave much to be desired.

Administrative Inefficiency

One glaring example of the Centre’s administrative paralysis is in the migrant labour issue. Millions of migrant labourers came out on to the roads to trek back hundreds of kilometres to their native places. The government with its all-pervasive intelligence network could not anticipate the unrest of these labourers.

The Centre and States have a separate ministry for labour and big departmental paraphernalia for labour welfare. They collect huge labour cess and taxes and allocate large amounts for the labour department in their budgets. Migrant labour is the backbone of infrastructure development in the country. Yet, neither the Centre nor the native or migrant States seems to have credible statistics of the migrant labourer with them. They were almost left to fend for themselves.

The Centre could have made its labour department to coordinate with the States and tried to ameliorate their grievances. They could have counselled them to remain in their workplaces, assuring them of necessary help. And for those who wanted to return to their native places, it could have arranged some transport. Instead, there were political wrangles between the ruling party and the opposition parties, exposing the insensitivity of the ruling party playing political one-upmanship in the matter of providing food, shelter and transport to these labourers. It was a very sordid fallout of the government’s administrative inefficiency. The lakhs of labourers walking on the roads with all the stories of accidents, deaths, starvation was like a parade of poverty of India.


Crumbling Economy

Coming to the economy, the BJP had taken it for granted in its first term. It never bothered much about it. On the contrary, it took an overconfident stance and indulged in the disastrous demonetisation and the half-baked GST reforms, delivering serious blows to a normally growing positive economy.

Right from Moody’s, IMF, World Bank to even our own Reserve Bank of India (RBI) now are saying that we are likely to register a negative GDP growth at the end of the first quarter of 2020-21, for the first time in 40 years. By the recalcitrant attitude of the government even before the pandemic, the GDP was decelerating. It had fallen from around 7.41% in 2014-15 to 4% in 2019-20. Now, it largely depends on how the government deals with the coronavirus situation, for which it does not seem to be properly equipped.

The last six years of political suzerainty of the BJP has proved that they were more successful in winning elections. They had a very ambitious agenda in Modi 1.0 but were not successful in implementing it. In Modi 2.0, there is no agenda. But it was supposed to be majority nationalism, national security, $5-trillion economy, and undoing the bad done to the country by the Congress. And they won a massive mandate on it. Then, they abruptly abrogated Article 370. It was aimed at liberating J&K and ushering in big development there. But things did not change much there. Then they embarked on the NRC and the CAA, which drew much flak from the public. These are kept on the back burner for now. The much-heralded further dose of economic reforms did not come, leave alone the reforms and $5-trillion economy. The efforts of the RBI and the Finance Ministry with their fiscal tinkering to improve the economy too did not yield the desired results.

Political Hubris

Meanwhile, the virus struck. Along with lives, livelihoods too have been massively affected. The packages announced by the government were small and far between and could not stimulate the economy. The government administration of it was lackadaisical. There was no synergy felt in the working of the Cabinet to meet the challenge. The government could not attract enough talent to combat the healthcare crisis. There was a need to constitute a national task force of best experts and administrators of the country without regard to politics. But, it did not happen, because of political hubris. There were several gaps in enlisting the support of States.

Yet, both Modi and Shah who are the real powers in the BJP have harped on the same old agenda and the same supposed successes after their one year rule in Modi 2.0. Modi in a meeting of CII said his government is making India ready for a big take off. He urged industrialists to use the pandemic as an opportunity and try bringing in ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’.

There is an imperative need for them to see the situation as a national emergency. And a national task force comprising the best personnel for each task should be constituted to help the government administer the country to bring it out of the pandemic and steer through the impending economic pandemonium.

(The author is a freelance journalist)

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