It took a certain amount of political courage to go in for such a comprehensive and complete lockdown as announced — and carried out — by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Only he has the political capital to demand and receive such an overwhelming response. But now over a month later, as Lockdown 2.0 is nearly over, it will take the same kind of political will to lift the lockdown. When the Prime Minister met the Chief Ministers on 28 April he put this question to them. All the CMs asked for an extension, albeit with some lifting of restrictions. But what is interesting is that the Home Ministry had already sent a circular for most of these restrictions to be lifted by 20 April. The implementation, however, was left to the discretion of the state chief ministers.
Most erred on the side of caution and didn’t implement these. Which throws up a rather curious point of order — ask any politician off record and he/she will sigh in despair and talk about the economy. But on record they will all err on the side of caution and argue in favour of Lockdown 3.0. The risks involved are far too high. It is much easier to ask for government bailout packages. But every package has a price. The bill for these grants and bailouts will have to be paid. Even before Covid-19 the Indian economy was on a downturn. The graph has only fallen steeper after that. So yes, of course, the opening up should be graded and gradual. But it has to be sooner than later. It is all very well to argue for both jaan and jahaan but what about that migrant worker and daily wage earner who has categorically stated that he will take the risk with the virus rather than living on an empty pocket. What about that MSME employer who may have enough cash reserves to meet one month’s wage cycle but hasn’t bargained for a three-month payout with no revenues?
What about the house owner who has got a three month’s moratorium on his EMIs, but knows that the bill will still have to be met eventually? For all the talk of cures, it will be a while before a vaccine is found and finds its way to India. In the meantime, can we afford to put our lives on pause and watch our jobs become redundant in exchange for the sheer pleasure of watching wildlife roam our streets, for the freaky April weather that also brings with it boulder-sized hailstorms that ruin the rabi crop which hasn’t yet been harvested because of… you got it, the lockdown. The easy answer is to push the bill towards the Prime Minister. The difficult one would be for the CMs to pick up the tab and take the hardest decision of them all: work with the stakeholders (both industry and individuals have to be involved) and prepare for life in the times of corona. We have to move on, with or without a cure, but with mask and gloves on.