From overseeing the rerun of Ramayana on television to adopting video conferencing as a new form of governance, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar is adapting to the “new normal”. He talks to iTV Network’s Political Editor on life in the time of coronavirus:
Q: Announcing the lockdown has been an unprecedented move. How was your experience in these 40-odd days? What has the government learnt and what have you been able to see?
A: I’ve seen the greatness of our country and our people. The citizens believed in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and trusted him with working for the benefit of our country. “Jaan Hai toh Jahaan Hai” was our motto when we began. “Jaan Bhi Aur Jahaan Bhi” is our motto now. The lockdown is now being eased, stranded labourers are being taken back. The success of the lockdown was possible because the people believed in the PM.
Q: Do you see things coming back to normal now or will this lockdown continue?
A: Absolutely, things are coming back to normal. Private workplaces are being opened up, industries are starting to work again in the green zone, daily wage labourers are being looked after and will be given work. Half of India is in the green zone and that half will hit normalcy. Most of the red zones are the major cities, that’s why the focus on them is so intense. Even in red zones we are carefully opening up a few services at a time.
Q: What is behind India’s success story?
A:India acted fast and everyone followed the directives. The next 15 days are crucial, cases will increase, but situation will be manageable.
Q: When the pandemic hit, India was short on PPEs, ventilators, masks, hospital, etc. How are we placed now?
A: We are very well placed to manage the situation going forward. All of this was because of PM Modi’s leadership. The first case in India was found around the end of January, but our PM was active before that itself. During a Cabinet meeting, he had told us that this would become a pandemic and we should be prepared. We didn’t have enough resources when we began, but now we have over 500 Covid-19 hospitals, over 2 lakh isolation beds; our country now manufactures masks, sanitizers, PPE kits and even ventilators. We recently put an order for about 36,000 ventilators and they are all being produced in India itself.
Q: Internationally, we have managed to strengthen our footing. We have managed to help over 30 countries, including a superpower like the US, with our various drugs and other essential items. How do you see all of this?
A:It is all thanks to how our PM had worked to boost our image internationally and during this pandemic he kept in touch with world leaders to work with them. He never fell into unnecessary issues and stuck to our global positioning.
Q: By when do you think we will get a grip on this pandemic?
A: No one knows much about the virus or the vaccine. Only the scientists will be able to tell you about that. As and when the vaccine arrives, it will take time to give it to our over 1.3 billion population. We have to live in this new normal for the next one-two years at least. We have to wear masks, maintain social distancing, keep washing our hands and stay home as much as possible. Only then can we break the chain. I implore everyone that the minute they see any symptoms, they should consult a doctor.
Q: Yours was one of the most active ministries during this lockdown. Retelecasting Ramanad Sagar’s Ramayan turned out be one of the most watched television shows in the world. How did you come about this decision?
A: We had a meeting and I put people to work telling them that classics like Ramayan and Mahabharat should be telecast. These are old serials, there were technical and compatibility challenges to broadcasting them using our current technology. A team worked on that, they even contacted Ramanand Sagar’s family. I was personally in touch with the family to talk to them if issues cropped up. I called them today as well to thank them. The show is part of our legacy, it talks about our culture. This is why it broke world records for shows in its category. That is the greatness of the show and our people. Even now there are so many classics like Chanakya and Shaktimaan which are being shown and are very widely watched.
Q: In this entire fight against Covid-19, we have seen how the Centre and the States have worked together. The PM held four rounds of meetings with the Chief Ministers and took their decisions into consideration. How do you see the new dynamics?
A:PM Modi has always talked about cooperative federalism. He has been a CM for about 12 years and believes in decentralization, state governance. He has regularly kept in touch with states; not just CMs but also Chief Secretaries and Cabinet Secretaries have had meetings with the PM. He even talks to the district administration. This chain of communication has helped us keep a tab over the pandemic.
Q: West Bengal is the only state which seems to still be at loggerheads with the Centre. What explains this acrimony between the Centre and Bengal?
A: This is most unfortunate. This is the time to save people’s lives, why play politics over this? And nothing can be dealt with or solved by hiding it. They should work with the Centre, let us also do our jobs and we should in fact add to what we are doing. Sticking to the stance that everything is fine and the Centre shouldn’t get involved is very unfortunate. Nothing will come from turning a blind eye. I am hoping they too understand the same and work with us soon.
Q: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has talked about how the BJP has communalised this entire pandemic. What would you say to that?
A: No one has communalised this pandemic. The PM has repeatedly talked about how the virus doesn’t see any caste, colour, creed or religion. It affects all. Everyone needs to follow the WHO guidelines to stay safe.
Q: You recently held a video conferencing with the environment ministry as well. How was that experience?
A: In the last 35 days, all ministers have been holding video conferences to keep a tab on what is happening. It’s a great experience to see everyone, hear their voices and see that work is being done, even though we are all under lockdown. Usually in-person meetings take longer as there are formalities that need to be done, but with video conferencing those formalities don’t come into play and the meetings are extremely quick. Just recently, we held a video conference with ministers from 40 countries, including the German Chancellor and British ministers, that meeting got over in under two hours as there no formalities were involved.
Q: What all has changed in your personal life in during the time of Covid-19?
A: All my family members are in Pune but I’m in Delhi, working. I have three ministries to handle, and I am involved in mostly that. When I get free time, I like to look outside to see the birds and the rest of God’s creation. I enjoy being in the kitchen as well as the garden. Good music and talking to people help me relax nowadays.