07.05.2020 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Some Outcomes of the Lockdown that was Introduced in India

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The impact of SARS COV-2 pandemic on current global processes continues to increase and there is no plateau in sight for now. However, it is important to point out that the outbreak, which is, at present, ravaging communities all over the world and is the focus of everyone’s attention, has had practically no effect on the nature of global political processes.

Risky games continue to be played over Taiwan and its political status, a key issue that poses a grave threat on the global chess board. SARS COV-2 is only one of many factors that contribute to the long-standing Taiwan issue.

Still, the Coronavirus is already being used as a political tool, both, we reiterate, globally and within certain countries.

We refer, first and foremost, to leading nations where the use of SARS COV-2 as a tool on the domestic political landscape is especially noticeable. In fact, the current “world leader” is enough of an example.

The Coronavirus pandemic has become an important factor in India’s internal political processes. And based on official statistics, the overall situation in the country in light of the COVID-19 outbreak looks incomparably better than that in the United States and Europe.

At the end of April, the number of confirmed cases in India (a country, let us not forget, with a population of over 1.3 billion) was 26,270 (with the daily rate of +1,750). There were altogether 821 deaths (+43 a day) attributed to COVID-19 and 5,000 recoveries. 80% of those who are infected with the Coronavirus are either asymptomatic or exhibit mild symptoms. It is important to clarify that (just as everywhere else) there are issues with interpreting the given data.

Recently, there have been more and more discussions about the reliability of the tests and the presence of antibodies in those who are checked for the presence of the Coronavirus. Only increasing the quality of such tests and their wide usage can help establish a more or less accurate picture (not only in India but the world as a whole) of the real scale of the outbreak; of when the Coronavirus began spreading, and of how dangerous the pandemic is in comparison to other threats facing the world today.

In an attempt to stop the spread of SARS COV-2 in India, measures as strict as those used in the worst-affected regions of Europe were implemented throughout the country. On 24 March, a three-week nation-wide lockdown was introduced, which disrupted India’s ties not only with the outside world but also, to a certain extent, within the nation. With full support from state governments, the lockdown was (“for now”) extended until 6 May.

However, the harsh measures had an immediate and negative impact on the workings of the government as a whole and also on the life of each of its subjects. Out of a total of 150 million day laborers, those who had to travel between various states for work faced grave challenges, as they lost their ability to earn a living as soon as the lockdown had started.

The central government took a number of emergency measures to ease the negative consequences of the lockdown. For instance, on 3 April, approximately $1,5 billion was made available to state governments from the government budget. The money is mostly meant to be spent on urgent construction of facilities with necessary medical equipment that are to be used to treat those infected with SARS COV-2 in need of emergency care.

The nature and scale of the steps being taken are being (often justly) criticized by the opposition as to be expected. Leaders of the Indian National Congress party slammed the government over freezing of dearness allowance paid to government and public sector employees and pensioners in India to mitigate the impact of inflation on people. Supposedly, the central government is still primarily focused on modernizing and speeding up India’s economy, a task it will focus on as soon as the SARS COV-2 pandemic has been successfully dealt with.

However, experts think that the current outbreak of the Coronavirus has exposed India’s long-standing issues in economic, political and social spheres. For example, articles published by The Indian Express point out the difficulty in “striking the right balance between curbing the spread of the virus and keeping the economy functioning”, and the growing interfaith and class divide within society as a result of social distancing measures and the temporary “suspension of democracy” in the country.

Still, it is unlikely that most of the nation’s citizens share such pessimistic views. Another report in again the Indian Express talks about the fact that “COVID-19 may go down as India’s first ever natural disaster not to register widespread starvation in terms of a total collapse in food consumption levels”. It also mentions the unsung heroes in the crisis — the country’s farmers, who do take issue with some of the current government’s policies on agriculture.

A recent survey revealed that “an astounding 93.5 per cent people in the country believe” that the Narendra Modi-led government was handling the Coronavirus outbreak effectively. Such results even surprised some supporters of the Prime Minister and of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who have not forgotten the recent defeat of the BJP in the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections.

The (unprecedented by global standards level of) trust placed in the government has allowed Narendra Modi to act decisively during the current crisis. The leadership is looking into lifting some restrictions during the lockdown in order to make life easier for small and medium-sized businesses as well as for some citizens. Long-term plans are also being formulated on how to restart the economy after its partial shut down.

In the tough climate in the nation at present, Prime Minister’s increased focus on the Muslim community right before the month of Ramadan, which began on the evening of 23 April, was very timely indeed. For instance, a week before the start of the holy month of fasting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had conveyed his greetings to King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan and his people during a telephone conversation.

It is also noteworthy that, apparently, the Supreme Court of India is currently acting in concert with the central government. In fact, the country’s Constitution seeks to ensure de jure and de facto independence of the judiciary. In other words, nowadays, the highest judicial court is not overly concerned with keeping to the letter of the law when reviewing cases filed against the government on account of the emergency measures taken. It appears to be the right choice considering the serious challenges facing the nation.

Overall, the response of the current Indian government to the increasing negative impact of the SARS COV-2 pandemic and of the growing uncertainty associated with it can be deemed as highly appropriate, especially in comparison to other countries.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues in the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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