The national mission against coronavirus has provided a new paradigm to Centre-State relations. Barring the jarring notes perennially emanating from Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal and occasionally from Pinarayi Vijayanled Left regime in Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statesmanship has been reciprocated by most Chief Ministers including those from non-BJP ruled states. The crisis has seen each Chief Minister emerge a strong administrator. And in this the continuous handholding by the Centre, which has responded to demands for necessary resources to fight the pandemic, has played yeoman role. Prime Minister’s teleconferences with Chief Ministers have been a productive two-way process. It has been an exceptional confidence building exercise whose ramification, hopefully will transcend the present crisis. Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, K. Chandrashekar Rao, Amarinder Singh have exhibited rapport and bonhomie with PM Modi. Even “estranged” Uddhav Thackeray received positive response when he phoned to get his election imbroglio resolved. And now Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party had routed the Bharatiya Janata Party in a bitterly fought election barely three months back, has heaped praise on the Union government for the timing of the lockdown and even pooh-poohed Congress’ criticism that the lockdown was “ill-planned”.
According to Kejriwal, time was of the essence and had lockdown not been announced it would have been impossible to contain the spread of corona cases. He said, in hindsight there could be differences of opinion, but at the time when Narendra Modi took the decision it could not have been better timed. “Yeh rajniti ka samay nahin hai”, he told a Hindi TV channel on 2 May and emphasised that the way to combat the pandemic was to have unity of thought and action. In the past two months, Centre has extended all help to his government, Kejriwal said. The timely lockdown helped his government to contain the spread of the pandemic and also gave it breathing space to prepare itself to deal with it. Delhi today has Covid special hospitals, Covid care centres, Covid health centres and Covid test centres—which had been set up as per guidelines of the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. “We have to live with Covid”, the AAP supremo emphasised. “It will not go. It will spread”, but now the Delhi government and other state governments which have been following the national guidelines are better equipped to deal with the crisis. The challenge is to contain the spread. And to contain death. Kejriwal prefers containment zones, as envisaged in the 14 April Central guidelines, and is not entirely in favour of declaring entire districts as Red zones.
To bolster his point he says containment zones are those where three cases have been detected. He is in favour of declaring a containment zone in that part of the city where even one case has been found—but prefers normalcy to return to the rest of the areas. He suggests an odd-even scheme can be implemented in the opening of shops so that crowding is avoided. As for migrants, he feels if normal economic activity limps back migrants may find jobs and the pressure on transporting them back to villages may be eased. In April last year, Delhi government had collected Rs 3,500 crore in revenue—the figure dropped to Rs 300 crore in the past month. He is not expecting a big dole from the Centre as even Union government revenues have plummeted. Resumption of economic activity while government has equipped itself to deal with corona is his prescription. The per million fatality rate recorded in India so far has been far below those of many advanced economies. The high death rate abroad has created uncertainty and fear in the minds of the people. However, due to the lockdown the doomsday predictions two months back that millions will need ICU care in India as 60% of the population gets afflicted have fortunately not been vindicated.
Railway coaches had been readied to admit patients. Railway coaches are now being used to ferry the stranded migrants back to their home and hearth in rural India across states. Barring Rahul Gandhi’s adherents, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and the Left parties, by and large a consensus has emerged in the political class that differences apart, corona has to be combatted with national unity. A Congress panel headed by Dr Manmohan Singh is critical of the freeze on DA, while the Congress regime in Rajasthan and its supported government in Maharashtra (along with Left ruled Kerala) have announced wage cut of employees. Old timers recall that in 1974 when Dr Singh was Indira Gandhi’s economic advisor, a compulsory deposit scheme was thrust upon government employees, taking away half of their DA, which was returned after six years. Hard decisions needed in difficult times: Congress perhaps seeks political mileage even in distress.