Dr Satish Misra
It is a universal truism that any human being or any leader is tested in times of a crisis. Spread of deadly novel corona virus or Covid-19 across the globe since it broke out in Wuhan-China- in December last year has thrown a serious challenge to national leaders within their country and on international platforms.
Back home, the first confirmed case of corona virus was reported on 30 January. Number of confirmed cases in the country have been growing since reaching 64, 139 on 10 May. In approximately 100 days since the first case was reported, India has been able to contain the disease with about 50 days of full and partial national lock-down.
In the backdrop of the ongoing crisis, it will be a worthwhile exercise to look at the leadership qualities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is supposed to lead from the front to defeat the pandemic while taking the country on the path of economic development.
At the same time, it would be equally interesting to look at the leadership of the opposition party-the Congress- which has the longest experience of handling several crises in the past because the party has been in power for the longest period.
Because Modi is in power at the Centre, we will have to determine the outcome of the steps that the BJP-led NDA government has taken since the crisis rang its alarm in the country. In the case of the Congress, we will have to look at various interventions that former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and present party president Sonia Gandhi made during the same time.
Four criteria will determine the assessment of both. Whether the leadership anticipated the crisis? Did they have a plan in place? Whether adequate preparations were made before the plan was put into action? How was the execution?
Modi had no reasons to not anticipate because being in the government he had all the wherewithal and the administrative machinery to anticipate the crisis.
Without being in the government, Rahul Gandhi had stated on 12 February that the Modi government was not taking the corona virus crisis seriously and had called for timely action to prevent the spread of the crisis.
On this count, Rahul is ahead of Modi.
Modi had time from 30 January when the first case was confirmed, he should have seized the opportunity and would have had more time after media reports began to come on the outbreak of the disease in China but obviously, he did nothing of that sort. For him the ensuing visit of US President Donald Trump to India in February was far more important as he was convinced that China will take a knockdown creating an opportunity for India. Time that he could have utilized for preparing a plan like the economic package for the industry as well as relief measures for the poor and weaker links like migrant labor and senior citizens could have been readied but it was not done.
Vague and eye-wash economic measures were announced only after the government had imposed the national lock-down. The government should have prepared a roadmap preparing the people for the national lock-down. If it was done, hardships that are faced by migrant labor could have been avoided. State governments could have put plan in place to take care of migrant labor. The Modi government only had to promise that states and UTs would not have paucity of funds. It was not done because the ruling party has always paid lip service for the poor. If only Modi had learnt a lesson from Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi who had said that the best test of any policy would be as how it would affect and impact the poorest of the poor in society.
Rahul had stressed upon “timely action on 12 February itself but the BJP had ridiculed him. “Dear PMO, quit wasting India’s time playing a clown with our social media accounts when India is facing an emergency. Focus the attention of every Indian on taking on the Corona virus challenge. “Here’s how it is done” Rahul had tweeted on 3 March attaching a video message from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who is heard telling his citizens how to prepare for the crisis.
On this count too, Modi comes out a cropper as he was busy plotting and mapping the capture of political power in Madhya Pradesh. Rahul, in his role as an opposition leader, was warning the government.
On 17 March, Rahul had again raised an alarm saying that a Tsunami was gong to hit the country advising the Modi government to not only prepare for corona virus but also for economic devastation which is coming like a tsunami. It came on a day when the country had 126 confirmed cases and three had died of the infection.
The government made no plan and went straight ahead for a national lock-down. Had Modi listened to Rahul who was warning and suggesting steps, the country today would have been in a much better position.
Any good leader should keep his ears open to hear good advice. Despite being in the government and having no dearth of good advice provided a leader is ready to listen, Modi’s economic revival plan is not clear as he is still groping in the dark to take the country on the path of recovery.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to discuss the national lock-down and ways to relax some regulations to kick-start the national economy with chief ministers through video conferencing, it is but obvious that the country did not have a long-term strategy in place when the first phase was launched on 25 March.
Like in the post- demonetization phase, the goalposts as well as the pathways to fight the Covid-19 crisis went on shifting. The Modi government adopted top-down approach to counter the disease without taking the stakeholders into confidence. States and Union Territories that were to implement the provisions of the national lock-down were neither consulted nor told in advance to prepare themselves.
On the contrary, Rahul is listening to top economic experts and giving constructive suggestions for the economic recovery to the Modi government. But alas the Prime Minister has no time for the opposition.
Unfortunately, there is a government at the helm whose priority is to capture political power and consolidate it. Weak and poor are suffering as the government is snatching the rights of the working people by changing labor laws that provided security and protection.
Rahul is talking of ensuring them minimum income so that their purchasing power can revive the economy.
My long years in media during which I have had an opportunity to know both Modi and Rahul personally tell me that the country would have fought the crisis much better compared to Modi who shuns advice.