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Will coronavirus topple Trump?

March 18, 2020 19:31 IST

'It is perplexing to see the leader of the First World with a first rate medical infrastructure come up short on its foresight to handle the pandemic,' notes Group Captain Murli Menon (retd).

IMAGE: United States President Donald J Trump and Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar greet each other with a namaste at the White House, March 12, 2020. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

My yearly visit to the Big Apple appears to hold some dangerous portends this time around.

Last Sunday's presser by President Trump, after he goofed up serially on his initial reaction to the coronavirus threat, clearly showed a shaken leader who finds himself out of depth to handle the national emergency.

He perhaps finds that 'his rule by tweet' approach to governance has misfired this time around.

This was evident in his handing over the mic midway to Vice President Mike Pence and the belated attempts to firefight.

The drastic hacking of the Fed rate to zero perhaps achieved the opposite in terms of even more jittery markets.

It is perplexing to see the leader of the First World with a first rate medical infrastructure come up short on its foresight to handle the pandemic.

 

IMAGE: A worker mops inside an empty restaurant in New Rochelle, New York. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

As I write, New York, the 24/7 city, is a desolate locale indeed, with the general panic levels amongst average citizens sky high, supermarket shelves empty, restaurants and theatres shut and business activity near minimal.

Small professionals like taxi drivers and daily wagers appear to be really taking a hit.

My trader son-in-law, who ought to be rejoicing normally under abnormal market conditions, finds the situation unnerving.

Comparatively, my banker son in Singapore appears to be in a more comfortable space, with the efficient State system taking charge effectively to reverse the coronavirus cycle.

Singapore has just ordered a internal lockdown of its citizens. From what I read about India, it does definitely appear to have faced up to the trying times with credit so far.

The SAARC initiative by the prime minister and the outreach to countries like Israel and Iran would go a long way in upgrading India's stock in the comity of nations once this challenge is effectively behind us .

IMAGE: The Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, March 13, 2020.
Walt Disney Co shut its theme parks in California and Florida and its resort in Paris from last weekend through the end of the month due to the global outbreak of coronavirus. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

And to think that the cognoscenti by far expected India to fare poorly, given its inadequate per capita medical facilities and generally unsatisfactory (or perceived to be so) state of public health networks.

Perhaps those very challenges in our country are what makes us better prepared to handle such natural and health related calamities.

India's handling of the pneumonic plague epidemic in Surat in 1994 by the effective public health response of the local health authorities and the manner in which the pestilence was kept confined to one city and what is more, using the window of opportunity to make Surat one of India's cleanest cities now, earned worldwide appreciation.

Then again the tsunami challenge over the Andaman and Nicobar islands showed how the country could address such natural calamities even in remote locations.

Handling of the earthquakes in places like Latur in 1993 and the innumerable floods all over the country including the particularly grim one in Kerala last year and the efficacy of the newly established National Disaster Management Authority are matters that warms the cockles of the average citizen's heart.

It is generally believed that our much maligned city government hospitals are capable of handling medical situations and exigencies well beyond their ken.

A country like the USA may have plenty of resources in terms of funds, but money is not everything.

We must have done something right with our medical collegiate education to have handled multiple emergent situations nationwide with aplomb.

IMAGE: A healthcare worker tests a person at a drive-through testing station run by the Colorado health department for people who suspect they have coronavirus in Denver. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

The next few weeks would cement the positive world opinion about our historic country.

President Trump was all praise for India's culture during his recent visit to our country.

How ironic that he finds himself in the midst of his presidency's greatest challenge, that too coming in the thick of the presidential election season.

All the supposed good things his government did so far in his tenure could get wiped out in a jiffy by his inept handling of the coronavirus threat.

In his nationwide address this week he insinuated about something happening to him 'a couple of months down the line'. What he meant is unclear.

Was he hinting at some coronavirus driven health emergency or was he hinting at expected reverses electorally?

Notwithstanding any of these, the entire political map of the world is slated to be altered dramatically in the aftermath of the coronavirus emergency.

Analysts have predicted that besides Trump, the political fortunes of several leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Boris Johnson could be at stake.

What will happen to China's Xi Jinping is uncertain. The leadership of France, Italy and Spain would also be called to account by their electorates, especially if the story turns out sour like in the case of Italy.

Iran, which is another badly affected country, may once again find its government being spared thanks to its Islamic moorings and likelihood of attribution to providence.

Though they apparently gave birth to it, China's subsequent handling of the crisis has been with credit.

Whether it was thanks to its authoritarian system of governance or indeed good leadership is difficult to say.

But other countrries like South Korea and Singapore which came out tops during the crisis would reap political benefits too.

If India maintains its effective tack during these difficult days, the ruling dispensation is bound to reap rewards down the line.

It is ironical that British psychic Sylvia Browne had predicted the onset of a pneumonia-like viral disease in the year 2020.

Let us hope that the global handling of the malaise is also what the same psychic said in her book End of the Days -- an end to the pandemic within this year, with minimally more casualties than what the toll has been so far.

British health authorities feel the disease will prevail up to next year spring. India would benefit from the prolonged summer season which would take its toll hopefully on the coronavirus.

Group Captain MURLI MENON (retd)