The opposition parties & journalists have been attacking the central government relentlessly over the GDP data, which showed a 23.9% contraction in Q1. But I firmly believe that PM Modi should not be blamed for it. Here is why.
COVID-19 & Steps Taken By PM Modi
The first few cases of COVID-19 made its way to Indian news media outlets in Dec’19. But it was not until Feb’19 that it started spreading at an alarming rate. While several western countries were lackadaisical in their approach, Indian government was very proactive in controlling the spread of the disease.
While the developed world took no precautions, hand sanitizers were freely available at Indian airports. It is only at Indian airports that travelers were being screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Many travelers commented at the utter lack of disregard for the highly infectious disease, while Indian authorities were proactive. One must note that average Indians at this point in time were confident that COVID-19 like SARS before it, won’t be able to last long in India thanks to our strong immune system.
But by 1st week of March, the effect was visible. The number of COVID-19 affected people was rising sharply. While most state CM’s apart from Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal did nothing severe, PM Modi took the precautionary measure of a single day lockdown.
The public largely complied with the lockdown. People were now generously using hand sanitizers & were seen wearing face masks. PM Modi on the advice of ICMR then extended the lockdown by two weeks.
Leaders across the globe lauded PM Modi for this move. The lockdown sharply reduced the infection rate.
Sadly the two-week extension did not manage to contain the pandemic. The lockdown kept getting extended month on month. A complete lockdown meant little or no business activity. By the end of June, the lockdown had been barely lifted.
What The Critics Had To Say
By the end of June, leaders of opposition parties mainly Rahul Gandhi of INC was criticizing the lockdown & was emphasizing its effect on the economy. Jobs were lost in millions. Many people were dying despite the lockdown. Hospital beds in several cities were barely available. Migrants were forced to vacate cities due to the loss of jobs.
While India’s GDP contracted by 23.9%, other major economies contracted by barely 8%-9%. China’s economy grew by 3.2%.
In PM Modi’s Defense
It is interesting to note that while Rahul Gandhi criticized the lockdown, his party continued to impose the lockdown in states where it was in power! His CM’s too knew the ground reality – unlike the west, India is not equipped to handle 20%-30% of its population getting affected together.
The situation was especially scary in Maharashtra which had 7 of its districts int the top 10 districts with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. Maharashtra was unlucky to have an inexperienced CM in Uddhav Thackeray at the helm.
The other non-BJP states like Rajasthan, West Bengal & Kerala too are no model states when it comes to containing the pandemic.
PM Modi had a tough choice to make – either ignore the COVID-19 outbreak, push several million to death or impose a lockdown & suffer a temporary jolt to the economy. He rightly chose the latter.
Despite being the second most populous country in the world, India had one of the lowest number of infected people. It is only recently that it has risen to the 2nd spot among COVID-19 infected nations. The US, with 1/3rd of India’s population is still ahead of India.
Despite the per capita hospital beds & healthcare in general in western world being much better than India, the developed nations were unable to manage the crisis. One can imagine what would befall india had it not imposed the lockdown & allowed the pandemic to spread.
Only the ones who have not lost a family member to the pandemic will question the government over the lockdown & it’s after-effects. Most of the population in India, who have been infected or have seen a family member die or get infected will support the lockdown. They will pray for no one else to contract this deadly disease.
The economy is expected to bounce back in the next fiscal. Vaccines are expected to be avaialble in the first quarter of next year. That explains the resilience of Indian stock markets – which are seeing huge amount of FII inflows.
This explains why PM Modi’s popularity remains unaffected despite huge losses to the economy & lives. The Indian citizens believe that PM Modi took the right measures to fight the pandemic & there was nothing he could have done to safeguard the economy. That combined with his handling of tensions at the borders has ensured that he remains hugely popular.