I ndia’s all-out war with coronavirus is ongoing. Several battles will have to be won to win the war, but some inherent strengths in its governance and administrative structures have helped wrestle with the pandemic of monstrous proportions. The system, which started in the British era and evolved with successive governments, has today matured into a robust mechanism. At a time when the country needs to take some tough and decisive actions to fight the pandemic, having Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister has been quite reassuring. Other than his effective messaging through his addresses to the nation, his frequent interactions with the chief ministers have been a unique and successful model. The respect he enjoys among the masses has been a major advantage in handling the situation. His reference to Ramzan and celebrating Eid together when things become normal during his address were part of an effective messaging mechanism. Some of the most tricky and sensitive situations were handled quietly and exceptionally well by his team, such as handling of the Tablighi Jamaat crisis by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
The NSA played a major role in extracting the Jamaatis and ensuring their medical isolation. Though the Jamaatis have become a single largest group of carriers of Covid-19, a bigger disaster of infection was averted by tactful handling of the situation. PM Modi’s visionary projects such as Digital India, Make in India and Swachh Bharat have become quite relevant today. Had it not been for digital connectivity proactively pushed through the Digital India programme since he took over in 2014, the country would have been majorly handicapped due to social distancing requirements in both governance and administration. Our banking operations would have failed. These days almost 70% of our banking operations are digital with less reliance on cash transactions. Today when social distancing is the norm and there are several restrictions on people’s movements, all government and corporate meetings are being held through video-conferencing and other digital platforms.
These platforms have made possible strong district-level outreach, effective Centrestate coordination, massive leveraging of technology covering all sectors. Governance is a continuous process and it has been evolving since India’s Independence. Back in the 1980s when Rajiv Gandhi came up with his policy of computerisation, he was scorned at. There were fears that his new policy would lead to massive unemployment. Similarly, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment of Panchayati Raj System initiated by him enabled government benefits trickle down to rural level to some extent. A great leader never disregards differences of opinion or dismisses policies of earlier governments but looks for scope and makes improvements on it. PM Modi has been doing that quite effectively other than bring new innovations into the system. Today when the world’s most developed countries have started working towards self-reliance in manufacturing, Make in India becomes such a great idea, which will have to be developed in the near future. Under Modi’s leadership barring a few aberrations like West Bengal and Kerala, the country’s federal structure has been delivering remarkably well even during these tough times. And this is happening at a time when the world’s superpowers are grappling with their federal governance issues. Take for example the US, where there has been a constant tussle between President Donald Trump and governors’ office. In India, we see a different story.
For instance, Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have played an enabling role, which has been ably reciprocated by the Centre. Amrinder Singh vowed not one grain of wheat would be wasted in Khariff crop. Both Punjab and the Central Government worked in tandem to harvest the crop. Punjab contributes to almost 35% of wheat grains for the country. Migrant labour was missing, so fleets of combined harvesting machines were mobilised and escorted on a war-footing in convoys from elsewhere to Punjab’s fields. The Food Corporation of India was mobilised; 2,000- odd additional mandis were created to reduce crowding and improve social distancing. Centrally-controlled paramilitary forces worked with local police to control convoys of thousands of trucks and tractors conveying wheat from mandi/aarat and beyond to godowns. The fields were lit up at night for harvesting on a 24×7 basis. The focus was to quickly complete harvesting and disband the workforce to reduce chances of corona spread. Last year Punjab harvested 86.71 LMT. This year Punjab has harvested 75.08 LMT in such testing times till 30 April. FCI is present at all the mandis procuring and immediately paying for wheat. By doing this the government is putting money in the hands of the population, encouraging farmers to harvest even more quickly.
The Punjab government is working with FCI and Indian Railways to simultaneously take the grain away from Punjab as there is no place to store the grains. The Railways started Annapoorna trains, popularly known as Anaconda due to their sheer size running into kilometres. Coming to the point of inherent advantage of administration, there is cohesion in both Indian civil and police administration. The four-tier system has been fine-tuned over the decades, districts’ size made smaller for better and micro administration. Every district is managed by DM, SSP, CMO, CEO so on and so forth. India has also had a history where Indian bureaucracy has delivered in natural disasters, given excellent results during most demanding situations — for example, Odisha cyclones, Uttarakhand and Kashmir floods. One of the reasons for Indian police being able to do a fairly decent job is its unique structure. Unlike nations like the US where there are 500 police organisations for 50 states, in India police is interconnected, though allocated to various states. Indian police share common training, ethos and SOPs. All the DGPs are not only connected through Union Home Ministry but are also capable of exchanging notes. Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s encouragement of doctors and health workers by way of his intervention in reassuring them helped a great deal in making them secure. After Shah’s intervention attacks on doctors and health workers were dealt with a heavy hand by the entire machinery led by the Union Home Ministry. All this was possible due to the unique policing system in India. Last but not the least, Indian defence forces have played a major role in creating quarantine facilities, transporting medicines and other essential supplies.
The Air Force was entrusted with the responsibility of transporting supplies to far-flung areas just like they supplied currency notes during demonetisation. The Army and the Navy have a major role in the national security, and being on standby for being pressed into service for civil purposes at a short notice. DRDO, which has mandate of research and development of defence material, has adapted itself so well to making of PPEs. There will always be afterthoughts about decisions taken during crisis; some sceptics would later say situation could have been better handled, or even question the need for a prolonged lockdown at the cost of economy. But as of today, most decisions taken by the government are unprecedented in nature and so they cannot be compared, only appreciated. While there are reasons to be happy about our robust governance and administrative systems, there is also a need to enhance and have a relook at our health and medical facilities, given the proportion of our population. There is an urgent need to develop an infrastructure for manufacturing and storing RNA/DNA vaccines on a large scale for onward distribution and administration to more than one billion people. Also, work out an effective policy to address uprooted migrant labour. The writer is Input Head (Executive Editor), iTV Network.