Since the gory partition of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947, India has, unquestionably, not witnessed a human tragedy of the proportions of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has been unleashed in the past three weeks. The hardships and casualties seen in the wars that India has fought and won since Independence pale into insignificance due to the scale of the misery inflicted on the nation by this pandemic.

That India has now become the worst-affected Covid-hit country in the world should not only sadden us but make people at all levels of governance introspect, especially about the fidelity of our institutions, our organizational skills and contingency planning both by the Centre and state governments. That the nation has failed its people is abundantly clear. To be in denial of this inglorious performance will only add on to the omissions of neglect, apathy and in some cases the naked greed and black-marketing of unscrupulous vendors of medical equipment especially some oxygen suppliers and ambulance owners.

Our terribly hard-pressed yet unsung medical fraternity, some NGOs, security personnel and many sections of the people have come out to serve the lakhs of patients in trouble. They are the silver lining in today’s utterly tragic scenario. As a matter of fact, our medical crews’ services and sacrifices are no less than those of frontline soldiers’ who lay down their lives for the nation. That India also owes a deep debt of gratitude to nations like the US, the UK, the UAE, Singapore, Japan, France, Germany and Romania and organizations like the UN and the EU, among others, who are rushing medical equipment, oxygen concentrators and cylinders, PPE equipment, Covid vaccines, raw material for manufacturing the vaccines, etc, cannot be understated.

Although this is a time to heal, to unite and, by synergetic action, to bring whatever succour the nation can for its hapless people, some states are certainly in denial, churning out false figures and false hopes. The reality on the ground is abysmal and very different, with many hospitals turning back precariously ill patients for want of beds, oxygen, ambulances, etc. Sections of the media are vividly bringing out the helplessness of state administrations. Crematoriums all over the country are overspilling with the dead. This is the worst-case scenario which no one in the nation would have imagined. The shrieks of the helpless are heart-wrenching, with some of them falling on the deaf ears of local administrations which had one full year to prepare for any medical emergencies, including establishing hundreds of oxygen producing plants, which are low-cost and low-tech anyway. Could we not foresee the second wave? And now the third wave is also a possibility.

In the last three weeks some patients have died owing to a lack of medical care and the daily number of people getting affected have crossed 4 lakh. Reportedly, essential oxygen supplies like containers, tankers and concentrators are now being flown in from abroad by the Indian Air Force with the Indian Navy also on standby. The Indian Army has also opened the doors of its over-crowded hospitals to its civil brethren. Urgent replenishments from within the nation have also been geared up though many hospitals, especially in North India, are crying for emergency supplies to attend to their patients. Media reports of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, just witnessing an unprecedented 40,000 cases in one day display the enormity of the growing pandemic. For how long these lapses will continue and keep taking a heavy toll on life remains to be seen.

It will be prudent for the nation to fully comprehend that with the virus being airborne and intensely contagious, the situation can worsen further. The Centre must work out, with the utmost alacrity and professionalism, a National Action Plan, combining the resources of the Centre and all states, utilizing professionals from the Armed Forces and the Disaster Management Authority, the MHA, top medicos and a few industrialists. Statutory powers should be given to them and a retired Service Chief appointed to coordinate the relief efforts and head a National Task Force. Importantly, political parties must cease playing gutter-level politics to further their petty agendas. Casting aspersions on each other and branding people from opposing parties as anti-nationals must cease—this is no time for political or religious polarization. Let us learn from those selfless, noble people and organizations who are providing oxygen and ambulances to the needy or cremating unknown people on their own. Some gurudwaras, mosques and temples are also doing yeoman service reaching out to the hapless.

India, since Independence, has faced many major emergencies unitedly and with exemplary fortitude. Let us rise to the occasion to combat Covid-19 and speedily restore sanity, normalcy and harmony within the nation. As a soldier who has proudly worn his nation’s uniform for 41 years, it is now my fervent belief that India will overcome the current upheaval by all-encompassing synergetic endeavours and also gear up for any such cataclysmic events in the future. We must thwart with all our genius and our sweat the human disaster unfolding. Rise India, rise.