Rhetoric with no road map


Rhetoric with no road map What people need now is oxygen, not gas”. This pithy comment on a social media platform aptly sums up the import of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on the Covid-19 situation. At a time when the country is reeling under the devastating impact of the second wave of coronavirus infections, one would expect the top leadership to spell out specific measures and timelines to tide over the crisis. However, Modi’s speech was high on rhetoric and abysmally low on substance. There was no mention of the concrete plans to address the serious shortages, be it vaccines, oxygen, hospital beds and emergency medicines. Merely blurting out sermons will not help mitigate the situation. This too appeared like yet another event management exercise, a favourite trope of the present leadership. If anyone was looking up to the Prime Minister’s address for answers to questions plaguing the nation in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, it came as an utter disappointment. Instead, what one got was a long lecture on what people should do to protect themselves from the deadly virus but nothing substantial on what his government was planning to do. For someone who feels destined to elevate the country to the status of “Vishwaguru”, Modi had precious little to offer to his own countrymen in the hour of crisis. If he had come up with concrete plans and specific numbers and explained how his government would steer the country out of the Covid storm, it would have boosted the confidence among people.

The country does not need rhetorical speeches but concrete solutions. For all his lofty claims of working towards ‘minimum government, maximum governance’, Modi has presided over a poor policy response to the pandemic challenge. Premature celebration, complacency, political finger-pointing and knee-jerk policy interventions have come to characterise the Centre’s response. A fatal complacency had crept into the system around January when India was witnessing a decline in the number of daily infections. A victory of sorts was declared prematurely and the guards were lowered, despite a warning by experts about an imminent second wave that could be more virulent and dangerous. Given the low vaccine production numbers, it was clear from January itself that the country would need foreign vaccines to augment supply, but the government refused to act. When the green signal finally came last week, the dynamics of the global vaccine market had changed. We had our heads buried in the deep sand of denial. The foreign vaccines already have supply commitments to other countries. While Pfizer may insist on an indemnity clause to protect itself from any legal actions in future, Moderna is reportedly not keen on entering the Indian market.

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