The key takeaway of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Tuesday was the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana that offers 5 kg grain and one kg of pulses to 80 crore people for another five months.
This is welcome. True, it’s an acknowledgement that the nation has a long way to go before it’s business as usual.
But for now, the project that Mr Modi said will cost `90,000 crores to the national exchequer will help keep the home fires burning and the poor survive the crisis created by pandemic Covid-19. It should now be a joint endeavour of the Union and state governments to implement the scheme productively.
The Prime Minister also chose the occasion to warn his fellow citizens against being lackadaisical about social distancing norms during Unlock 1.0. The warning sounded timely, and should reach the last person, should we aim at winning the fight against the virus.
The Prime Minister, however, was silent on the ground realities on the corona front and the administrative measures the government is taking to contain it. He, as usual, chose to pick the low hanging fruit, saying India is comparatively in a better position when it comes to the death rate, without mentioning the fast pace with which the number of infections is surging and the crippling impact it has on the lives and livelihoods of Indians.
While none questions the decision to impose lockdown, experts are on record saying India did not make the optimum use of the opportunity.
The Prime Minister’s claim on the other decisions flies in the face of the facts that the healthcare infrastructure in the country is being overwhelmed and there are little or no national efforts to address it. The states’ pleas for financial assistance have never received a sympathetic hearing.
It’s a paradox that as Mr Modi was explaining to his fellow citizens about the dos and don’ts of social life in Unlock 2.0, and the Union home ministry was issuing the guidelines to be followed across the nation, many states were busy announcing their own decisions to extend the lockdown.
National capital Delhi and several key cities that work as the engines of growth have been put under lockdown for a long period with no immediate signs of an unlock.
The impact it has on the economy has started surfacing, fast and furious. Every single indicator, be it economic growth, unemployment, foreign debt or sovereign rating offers no reason to be contented.
This would force one to think that the government has no cogent plan to take on the challenges; on the other hand, it betrays signs of a dispensation which can take only expedient and ad hoc decisions that come in bits and pieces.
There is no running away from the fact that India is now facing an internal threat posed by a virus and an external one by an aggressive neighbour. It looks like it will be a long time before the nation can celebrate its festivals with the mirth and joy they are associated with, the Prime Minister’s reminder notwithstanding.