Unity in diversity

Disregarding respective political ideologies and affiliations, the Union and State Governments joined hands with healthcare professionals to beat the virus

With COVID cases in India falling from a peak of 98,000 new cases per day last September to below the 25,000 mark, it can now be said that the collective efforts of the Union Government, the State Governments, health administrators and the entire healthcare sector over the last eight months is finally yielding the results.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been leading from the front and has taken 10 meetings of Chief Ministers devoted wholly to the tackling of this pandemic. His hands-on approach, constant State-wise monitoring of the spread of the virus, interaction with Chief Ministers of the worst-hit States, visits to pharmaceutical companies to get an update on the manufacture of the vaccine have all contributed in a substantial way not only in controlling the disease but in keeping the morale high among doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and administrators and researchers in the field of medicine.

Apart from the Prime Minister, many Chief Ministers have put politics aside and worked tirelessly alongside the Union Government to control COVID-19 in their respective States. At last count, there are over 40 political parties governing this country at the national and State level. This includes members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre, regional parties with huge majorities in States like the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, the All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana. There are also several States like Kerala, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Bihar with the Janata Dal (United) at the helm, which are run by coalition Governments. Apart from these parties, we have the national parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party (INC) — running several big States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh, to name a few.

This is indeed a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of political parties governing 1,400 million people and this does not include several dozen more sub-regional political entities in positions of power at the zila parishad and municipal corporation levels. Yet, despite the fractious nature of our politics and high-decibel political battles that have been fought between the BJP-led Centre and States run by other parties in the recent years, they have by and large put aside their political differences and come together to fight the pandemic. This is the spirit of co-operative federalism that Modi was keen to usher in and it goes to the credit of all the players that they have displayed a unity of purpose to fight COVID-19 which is in contrast to the intense political battles that are fought on the ground in normal times.

A good example of keeping politics out and putting in a joint effort can be seen in the initiatives taken by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to reach out to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and to find ways to improve Delhi’s infrastructure to tackle COVID-19. Shah had more than a couple of meetings with the Chief Minister and his officials when the COVID situation in the Capital began to cause concern. He was joined by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who has been working vigorously over the last 10 months to confront and contain the biggest challenge to public health in this country.

The meetings in November resulted in Delhi getting more ICU beds and equipment. After this meeting, the Delhi Chief Minister thanked Union Home Minister and said he had the assurance that all Central and State Government agencies would work together to

tackle COVID-19.

This is also the moment to acknowledge the work of our doctors, nurses and paramedical staff, especially in the Government sector, who have been working relentlessly against huge odds to treat COVID-19 patients. On testing COVID positive, this writer was treated at the Trauma Centre at AIIMS, which has been converted to a COVID Centre. Several doctors and nurses working there had themselves contracted COVID in the course of duty. Yet, they were back at work after recovery. There are many such reports from other hospitals as well. But the one disturbing factor is the rapacity of some private hospitals and reports of them charging mind-boggling sums just to provide a room for COVID patients. The Government has a responsibility to identity these institutions, investigate their practices and penalise them once the pandemic is under control.

Meanwhile,  Modi has reviewed India’s vaccination strategy, the current status of the research and the distribution of the vaccine when it is available. Here again, consultations with the States is already on.

This brings us to the lessons that we have learnt over the last 10 months. If one reflects over the situation when the crisis first hit us and the Union Government announced a lockdown and decided its extension, there was a nation-wide debate on the efficacy of the lockdown itself. Thereafter, many Chief Ministers were highly critical of the Centre and the latter had a lot of complaints about the non-response of States like West Bengal to the directions issued by the Centre. It took some time for all the stakeholders to realise that the Union Government’s directives regarding the lockdown, social distancing, wearing of masks, closure of businesses, entertainment industry, educational institutions and so on flowed from the powers vested in it by the Constitution to deal with national emergencies and disasters. The States also realised that in the absence of unity of action, all States would be doomed because the virus respects no geographical boundaries separating States.

Those who breathe negativity are unable to see all this. They are the doomsayers, hoping that this diverse nation will collapse like a house of cards. But all indicators show that this country’s political leadership, both at the national level and in the States, is capable of rising over petty politics to offer a united challenge to this pandemic and to win the battle. Just look at the situation in the US and you will realise how blessed we are. Unfortunately, America has been unable to show a unity of purpose and the confidence to deal with the pandemic and this has resulted in COVID-19 spiralling out of control in that country.

Hopefully, the new year should see COVID-19 cases decline in India to the barest minimum, followed by a credible, reliable vaccine. That day, we must wholeheartedly acknowledge the integration that the political leadership brought about and the heroic fight that our doctors, nurses and everyone in the healthcare sector put up against COVID-19 which enabled us to overcome the deadliest health crisis this country has faced in the recent times.

(The writer is an author specialising in democracy studies. The views expressed are personal.)

Source: PTI

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