The blockade helped, but also exposed gaps in governance – editorials
Never before in history, anywhere in the world, has a country of population, size, diversity, and the social and economic complexity of India been closed for 40 days. As the extended blockade comes to an end this weekend, although restrictions will continue in the red zones, it is time to review what the blockade accomplished, the gaps it exposed in India’s system of government, and the path to follow.
First, the block was necessary. Given what was known about coronavirus disease (Covid-19), social distancing, imposed through confinement, was the only way to reduce the rate of infection growth. And while it is impossible to know to what extent the disease would have spread in the absence of the blockade, it can be said with certainty that if more human-to-human interaction had been allowed, India would be looking at much higher numbers today. This period has also been used to increase testing (although it should be increased further); create Covid-19 installations; reach a consensus on the effective model to treat the disease; and strengthen the health care infrastructure. This “ruthless containment” model is based on testing, isolation, and quarantine. Could the shutdown have been terminated earlier? Possibly yes; But it is important to note that not only the Center, but all the state governments wanted an extension.
However, there are two important gaps in the system that the blockade has exposed. The first is India’s relatively underdeveloped wellness architecture. The plight of migrant workers in this period will be one of the darkest episodes in the way the Indian state dealt with its poorest citizens, who lack an organized political voice. The second gap is in the inability to cope with the economic costs of the blockade. Certainly, no country, even with the majority of resources, could have faced a blockade of this magnitude and shocks in supply chains and demand, and the impact on unemployment. But India’s weak growth, even before the blockade began, and an excessive, almost inexplicable delay in announcing a comprehensive fiscal stimulus to support economic activity has been a weakness. Looking ahead, even as the closure is gradually and gradually eased, India will have to continue to focus on both public health and the economic dimensions of the crisis. All the sectors that are opened will have to abide by social distancing; the State will have to be prepared for a sudden increase in cases; citizens will have to change the way they lead their lives; and there will have to be a wartime national reconstruction effort to ensure that businesses survive, livelihoods are protected and India is slowly returning to normal.