he unplanned manner in which Prime Minister Modi declared the COVID-linked 21-day lockdown is taking a harsh toll. For instance, several faithful from various states and abroad who attended a religious event at the Markaz or the Global Centre of the Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin in Delhi during mid-March are now reported to have been infected with the deadly virus. What aggravated the scenario was also the sudden declaration of the lockdown, which forced about a thousand of the participants to remain tight at the mosque’s dormitories, unable to move out or travel back to their homes. Before the declaration of the lockdown, several had left for their homes too, and it turns out that many of them had carried the virus with them. Thus, an unplanned but dramatic declaration has ignited the fear of community infection or Stage 3.
Reportedly, the mosque authorities are not alone being on the defensive now. They say they had got clearance from the Delhi Police to hold the events which culminated in the congregation of over 2000 people since February end. The events lasted for many days and were suspended after PM Modi announced a Janata Curfew for 22 March. A large crowd stayed on and participated in the events for weeks, and the Delhi Police did nothing to dissuade them obviously being mindful of the sensitivities involved in the religious event – and unmindful of the consequences.
Agreed that the COVID-19 infection cases began being reported in India in trickles, and no one initially took the matter very seriously. There were hardly any deaths, and not many infections. The worry now is about the next stage of the virus spread by way of community-level infections. So far, it has been at individual level, mostly of those who had travelled abroad and returned to India and those who mixed with them. The infections reported from the mosque event are suspected to have been transmitted from some preachers who landed up for the event in Delhi from Indonesia as also other foreign delegates.
That some 300 of the about a thousand who remained at the dormitory have been sent to hospitals with symptoms of COVID-19, and the rest are put under quarantine, is only one side of the grim story. The other side has it that several of the participants of the event who returned from Delhi to Telangana now formed the bulk of the detected COVID-19 cases of that state. Fear is that the participants who returned to other states too might have carried with them the virus, and that their spread or detection is only a matter of time.
A similar scenario is evident in the case of large-scale panic retreat of migrant labour from cities like Delhi after the three-week lockdown was declared 24 March. The way they got panicky because their employers suddenly and mercilessly threw them out of their jobs and means of earning was evident from the way they thronged the vicinity of bus terminals and railway stations. This was the perfect settings for transmission of the virus from one individual to another. And chances are that many of them now carried the virus to their villages, leading to possible community level spread of the Chinese virus. States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh may have to bear the brunt. The Union as also most state governments failed to take adequate precautions by way of addressing these workers’ concerns vis-à-vis sustenance in their areas of work. Had the lockdown been properly planned by the Union after consultation with State governments, this manner of migration of helpless laborers could have been averted. The desire to always adopt abrupt and dramatic decisions has caused immense pain for millions of poor and socially unprotected Indians. It is the poor and only the poor that is being constantly made to pay the price for all the sudden acts of the government.
For India, the COVID-19 disaster was in the coming. It started shaking China since December last. India failed to shake and failed to take any major preventive measure for weeks together. Not only that, the Union government in its effort to garner a favorable image amongst Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) went ahead and carried out multiple sorties of civilian aircrafts that ferried in people from other affected countries. It started by flying in Indians from Wuhan in China where it all started. Then the GoI did the same for Italy, Iran and Malaysia.
Several other countries shut their borders immediately even for their own citizens living abroad along with tourists and other travelers with the intention of keeping the local populace safe. Puny Pakistan had also done the same at the very beginning. India did not do so.
States like Kerala and Maharashtra had reported large numbers of cases while, over weeks, the virus spread covered all the States. Governmental response came a bit too late.
Proper planning was called for before the lockdown was announced. Instead, word came from PM Modi at 8pm over television, and just four hours were left for the nation to get ready. A similarly timed abrupt announcement about Demonetization in 2016 which too caused immense trouble to the nation and its people, failed to teach any lesson. While secrecy might have been an excuse in DeMon, no such secrecy was called for in the present context. The abrupt manner in which the lockdown was implemented this time only added to the misery of the people at multiple levels. Theatrics is killing the poor and the country as a whole.