India, the great home of ancient civilizations, vedic knowledge and a rich cultural diversity and history. From the faultering colonial past, the post independence progress it has made, led to India becoming a global leader and the 5th largest economy in the world, 4th largest military power in the world and a nuclear state.
But the fault lines within the Indian administration and progress it has made were clearly exposed by the pandemic. Low investment in healthcare sector by consecutive governments (around 1% of GDP) and the widespread undernutrition and wealth inequalities made them vulnerable to the pandemic. Although India is a large economy, it is a misleading concept because the humongous 1.35 billion people aggregates to it. The percapita income which is much more conducive measure defines it as a low to middle income country and attributes to the inequality prevailing and growing in the country. Over crowded cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai adds to its vulnerability potential.
The first wave of infections hit India during the last week of January, when students returned from Wuhan to the Indian state of Kerala. Kerala, but was an exception among Indian states and its much praised health infrastructure was well prepared to deal with the pandemic. They contained the disease within 3 cases, all of them imported without any contact spread.
The second wave too hit Kerala first, imported cases from Italy, who evaded the surveillance in Airports and led to a cluster which led to many contact spread. By the time cases were reported from Maharashtra and a few other states too. The PM Narendra Modi declared a nation wide lockdown on 24th March with a prior notice of just 4 hours, the harshest and the largest lockdown in the entire world.
Cases rose evenly and linearly with its pace decreased, but threat hidden. The lockdown saw the largest humanitarian crisis ever since India’s partition in 1947, and internal migrant labourers started fleeing to their home states, by foot and cycles throughout the length and breadth of India, due to loss of livelihoods, jobs, food and income. Although there were repeated calls from the govt to make them stay indoors and avoid travelling, mere words and consolation could not match the money and food required to sustain life within their flesh and bones. Many dead on the way in accidents, train runovers, starving and ailing. A lot of them contracted the disease on the way. Initial hesitation and ill treatment by many state governments, underscored the discrimination and unidentity these people faced.
The rate of disease climbed up in the country, the city of Mumbai & the state of Maharashtra being the worst affected. Many states ramped up testing rates, developed Covid hospitals and equipped their health workers. But, the short period of ramping up was not enough to cover up the years long neglect this sector faced. Soon many health workers including doctors contracted the disease, there were widespread shortages of protective equipments and hospital beds.
By the end of May, 4 consecutive versions of lockdown extending for more than 60 days were coming to an end and it was devastated the already ailing economies and livelihoods. The financial package announced by the govt, remains a question mark in the lives of Indian populligentsia, as to how it will act in short term to revive the economy. The first week of June, with the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, saw the cases crossing 2 lakh and tolls close to 8000 and the progression of cases changing from linear to geometric. Experts are pointing to the community transmission that has already set in, but the govt is in denial and continue easing lockdown.
For a country like India, this is a watershed moment in its administrative career, to look back and introspect the wrongdoings and neglects of the past and To reorient itself to focus more on people centered policies and welfare measures. As the social intellectuals put it, “India needs to look upon its policies as to what benefits its people directly rather than what benefits foreign companies and through them the people because ultimately what matters in a democracy is its individual building block and built on them the collective good.”