New Delhi: In his April 14, 2020 address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed that his government planned to unwind the anti-coronavirus pandemic lockdown, but in stages.
India is the only G-20 country, which is simultaneously afflicted with Covid-19 sickness of its citizens, and also debilitated by falling growth rates in output, with rising unemployment and a tottering financial system. Thus our task, post-Covid-19, is gigantic.
As already known, by the time the coronavirus arrived in India in early February this year, the economic system of India had been in decline for over three years. But I expect that India will win the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. However, I also foresee that India may be badly defeated by the ongoing pre-pandemic war to reset the economy.
The problem, thus, for the nation is not that we cannot defeat the coronavirus, but that the already crisis-ridden economy will have been, by then, further battered by coronavirus and the consequent lockdowns.
When coronavirus enters the body of a human, which is already sick due to other reasons, the task to save such a sick human becomes hugely uphill. Similar is the case of fighting Covid-19 with an already weakened economy.
Thus by the time the government’s lockdown policy manages to contain the coronavirus, the economy may become so emaciated that there may be a situation of mass unrest in its people consequent on unemployment and rising poverty due the lockdown.
Thus the pressing possibility of an economic crash induced by the lockdown, should galvanize policymakers to honestly review the way we have governed and then to initiate wide ranging changes in economic policy—i.e., if those presently at the helm of economic affairs even know how to do this. These changes cannot be deciphered just by reading books and op-eds; but must come from qualifications fit for research, tested ideological convictions, and experience.
My suggestion is that as a first step, Prime Minister Modi should replace the present lockdown scheme by a more decentralized scheme and ensure that the MSME and daily wage workers in the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors are able to survive and the sectors revive soon.
As I have written in my earlier articles in The Sunday Guardian, the Modi government should formulate a new economic policy with a clear statement on objectives, priorities, strategy and viable schemes for resource mobilization with essential physical and financial infrastructure, and carry it out through experienced persons. At present there is no such policy. Instead the economy is being jerked from one ad hoc goal to another set of targets.
The bottom line in today’s India is that there are no trade-offs between containing Covid-19 and reviving the economy. Both have to go together in India at the present juncture because saving people from Covid-19 needs a growing economy to keep them healthy and vice versa.