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COVID-19: Major decision awaits Modi on May 4

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
April 27, 2020 09:32 IST
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'Even though he consults chief ministers at regular intervals, the ultimate decision is still his own.'
'He will be blamed, nobody else, if god forbid, there is a huge spurt in fatalities after the reopening,' notes Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Workers busy in underground cabling work on a street in Ranchi, April 25, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Come May 4, the question that will be on every Indian's mind but only one man will be in a position to answer is: What next?

Do we continue as before under a complete lockdown which has shut down three-fourths of our economy?

Or will there be a reopening, partial or full, depending on the impact of the coronavirus in dense urban pockets country-wide?

That call will be the prime minister's alone to take.

Of course, he will rely on medical experts for crucial inputs, but scientific advice based on the spread of the virus, its intensity, extent of contact tracing, testing, quarantining, etc will have to have one another key component in the mix.

That is a dispassionate assessment of the livelihood concerns of the poor and the hungry, the tens of millions of daily wagers, the landless labourers, the farmers waiting for hired hands to harvest the standing Rabi crops.

How long can the mass of people go without daily earnings?

IMAGE: An employee working at a coal mine provides santiser to his collegue in Dhanbad, April 25, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo

One does not envy the position Modi finds himself in.

In case of a partial exit from the lockdown, say, there is a spurt in the spread of the pandemic, there will be huge costs to pay in terms of political capital.

Even though he consults chief ministers at regular intervals, the ultimate decision is still his own.

He will be blamed, nobody else, if, god forbid, there is a huge spurt in fatalities after the reopening.

With Opposition leaders already baring their fangs, and sections of the media allied to it daily undermining his leadership, Modi will have to tread very, very, carefully.

On the other hand, not opening the labour-intensive sectors of the economy such as real estate, small and medium enterprises, will make it tough on the poor and the hungry.

Despite the economic packages, including Rs 500 each in crores of Jan Dhan accounts, and Rs 2,000 each for crores of farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Yojna, without restoring normalcy for farms, factories, bazaars and mandis across the country, the misery of the aam aadmi is bound to grow further.

IMAGE: Vendors wait to enter a market in Jalandhar, April 25, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo

Modi is under pressure from the captains of industry and commerce to allow the economic engine to spring back to life again.

This is for the first time that the toiling masses made redundant by the lockdown too have strongly echoed the same sentiment.

There is no redemption in sight for them without an early exit.

If the economy tanks, as it certainly will if the lockdown were to last any longer, it will be well-nigh impossible to save it from going into negative territory.

It will be a double-whammy for the poor.

They will not only pay the price of the lockdown but also suffer the consequences of a failed economy.

Reopening the economy on May 4, barring in the designated coronavirus hotspots, therefore, seems very much on the cards.

***

If subzi is sold, why not sharaab?

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has a question for Prime Minister Modi: If you can allow subzi (vegetables) to be sold in the open market, why not alcohol? Yes, why not alcohol?

Speaking to a Punjabi television channel the other day, the Congress chief minister was aghast that liquor was not allowed to be sold although his own state alone stood to lose a huge chunk of revenue from its sales.

Punjab earns Rs 6,000 crores from liquor sale annually, Captain Singh said.

Asked whether the ban by the Centre was anti-Punjab, Captain Singh said it was not so, since BJP-ruled states too were losing revenue from the ban.

But what was significant was his putting vegetables on the same page as alcohol. If one can be sold, why not the other? In fact, he claimed that alcohol which comes in bottles was less vulnerable to carry the coronavirus as against vegetables!

Unlike most politicians, the captain is not a hypocrite and makes no bones about the fact that he loves to imbibe daily his favourite Johnny Walker Blue Label Scotch, that is, unless he has switched to a more exotic label in recent months.

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