When in distress, we first see someone blaming us before we go inside. We can discuss by uming whether people reflect leaders or whether leaders reflect people in caring or everything is clear. Depending on our ‘chronic’ systemic deficiencies, we can discuss whether the situation is different or the same, despite the observations of precautions and protocols, of which health care infrastructure is one of the most expressive. These discussions are largely endless, and our positions reflect our biases and / or personal and intimate experiences.
While stories of personal suffering and tragedy plague themselves, the artificial harm done to the long-term prospects of the poor and low-income groups is equally, if not, relevant. In March, Pew published a study (‘In the pandemic, the Indian middle class shrinks and poverty spreads, but China sees little change’, 18 March 2021) which showed that the number of those classified as ‘poor’ in India dropped significantly between 2011. And 2019. But some of this progress has been set back by the economic collapse of the first wave of Kovid infections in 2020. In the case of India, the ‘poor’ are more likely to graduate from the lower income class, according to the study, and not as much into the ‘middle income’ category as in China. Now, with the loss and casualties caused by the second wave, we do not know how many will fall back into the ‘low income’ and ‘poor’ categories in the ‘middle income’ category.
Like individuals, chronic deficiencies in the country’s readiness meant they could not withstand a severe Kovid attack.
However, how do we now find resilience for the future at the individual and national levels? Leaders with big hearts are needed to deal with the ongoing health crisis and any financial shock in the future. Swami Ranganathananda of Sri Ramakrishna Math has made a leader a ‘Raja Rishi’ with the right leadership. Rajas (Action) and Satvik (Virtuous) attitudes.
Given the proximity of the first wave, and looking at what is happening elsewhere in the world, it is difficult to avoid asking why we declared victory so quickly, on what basis, and whether the country — not just the central government — exists. Each sector (housing, business and government) can be made better if the other is not reinforced in the sense that the worst is over. To be clear, experts who were pessimistic and wrong during the first wave gave an ‘all clear’ signal in January (‘Did Kovid reach the maximum? Maybe, but it’s definitely too soon’ ‘, Nature.com, 23 March 2021)
One reason the 2021-22 budget came to high applause is that it has buffers to absorb the traditional and the shocks, as we witness today. Such an attitude affects both body-politics and the public. In general, we are very keen to announce our arrival on the big stage without putting in yards. The current Australia Test cricket team can tell us about haste and false courage. When there is substance behind faith, it is tolerated. If not, we’re ducks sitting around laughing when we made mistakes.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in himself Bath to Mann Address on April 25, we are overconfident. He represents the whole country. However, one surefire way to avoid overconfidence, as Tirukkural puts it, is to surround oneself with people who are brave, obligatory and encouraging the following: play the devil’s lawyer, look for alternative perspectives, stand up for the boss, remind him or her to take him to the high road every time Remind her, map out all the possible scenarios and make sure to listen to the top decision maker with the best knowledge available.
For now, we are left to celebrate the Doctor-turned-Officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in the well-prepared Nandurbar. We could not find a state or national level official to say that the Collector is a street-smart political strategist and a commentary on how organizational skills-mobilization, including logistics planning, alliance strategies and negotiations, have expanded. It is a systematic and continuous approach to our public policy design and problem solving, except on occasional and ‘serious’ basis, such as when organizing a Kumbh Mela or fighting elections, opening bank accounts for the public and registering them for Aadhaar.
Indian political parties know the goal they are pursuing and they work towards it with energy, skill and dedication. Can the Indian Civil Service inspire the same? What goals are they pursuing? Perhaps, as a society, we have not developed the vision or discipline needed to sustain our work and focus, or the common goals may not be as interesting and motivating as one-off projects. Will this crisis be the catalyst for governance and accountability reforms in the Indian bureaucracy? If senior bureaucrats across the country do not take the initiative to address this, efforts to form a political consensus on it will be worthwhile.
Perhaps, we will develop those skills and attitudes when we become rich as a nation. But, being rich depends on developing our skills and attitude. The virus gave us notice.
These are the personal views of the author.