File photo| PM Modi interacts with journalists and stakeholders from the print media on tackling COVID-2019, in New Delhi, March 24 | PTI
File photo| PM Modi interacts with journalists and stakeholders from the print media on tackling Covid-19, in New Delhi, March 24 | PTI
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India is seeing a systemic failure of robust systems created to tackle scenarios like the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and there’s only one reason why this is happening. The unbridled centralisation of power that the Prime Minister’s Office wields.

The outbreak has made one thing clear. The centralisation of power in India is so enormous that the only thing ministers are capable of doing, till they’ve not received orders from above, is sing “go karona(corona) go”. What’s worse? They’re not even in tune. What’s tragic? They’re singing this in chorus, in a group. These people, chosen to run our country, have no clue what ‘karona’ (corona) is or how it’s spreading. Social media has dubbed such folks as covidiots.


Also read: Modi apologises for ‘harsh steps’ to check Covid-19, with a veiled rebuke for violators


Pharaohs are back

If I had to do a ‘Centralisation of power for dummies’ explainer, I’d probably explain it through a pyramid. But to really hit it home, I’ll explain it through the governance style of the pharaohs–the inventors of the pyramid.

The pharaoh had viziers and high priests under him, to whom he would give his commands. The viziers and high priests would then trickle down the command to the royal overseers who would then pass the command to the district governors. They would then send those commands to the scribes which were then implemented on the common folk– artisans, labourers and farmers. At no point were any of the stakeholders below the pharaoh consulted, except on occasion the viziers and high priests.

Change the names: from pharaoh to prime minister, from viziers and high priests to bureaucrats, from royal overseers to cabinet ministers, from district governors to chief ministers, and you won’t see much of a change in how power is wielded today in India.

In fact the artisan, labourers and farmers suffer as much as they did back then. Look at the plight of migrant daily-wage labourers walking over hundreds of miles to reach their homes under the Covid-19 lockdown and it would remind you of the exodus of slaves of the pharaoh. Only here, they’ve no prophet to guide them or give them hope. The poor are on their own. They either die of Covid-19, or of hunger.


Also read: Modi’s India isn’t Mao’s China. Silly forecasts assume we’ll let corona kill millions of us


Here comes Covid, look away

In India, centralisation of power is looked upon quite favourably as a sign of the government (in this case the prime minister) being strong, powerful and decisive. What is, however, overlooked is that the heavy weight of powers that lie at the tip of the pyramid slowly and steadily corrodes the foundations of the pyramid below, which are in this case systems and departments created for better governance, especially in a large country like India. In today’s India, these systems and departments seem nothing more than places to store dossiers.

The first case of Covid-19 was detected on 30 January in India. Owing to the seriousness of this disease in countries like Italy, France and Spain, besides China, India had a heads up on how to go about tackling this disease, which would surely become an epidemic in India.

But what was the Modi government doing back then? Preparing for ‘Namaste Trump’. What it should’ve been doing? Creating a blueprint of steps to be taken to prevent Covid-19 from becoming an epidemic in India. Who could’ve done this while our prime minister entertained Trump? The minister of health and family welfare.

Another stark example of centralisation is how India ran out of PPEs (personal protective equipment) like surgical masks, gloves, ventilators, etc. Since, the World Health Organisation had asked countries to stockpile PPE, the union ministry of commerce and industry issued a notification banning the export of all sorts of PPE the very next day after the first Covid-19 case was reported in India on 30 January. However, a week later, the Centre amended this ban and allowed export of all types of gloves, except NBR gloves as well as surgical masks. The ban only came into effect later on 19 March, when the government finally began to realise the gravity of the situation.


Also read: Covid doesn’t deserve the levels of panic we’re seeing in India, certainly not this lockdown


Disastrous response

Now to the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). This force is third in line in a medical emergency, after doctors, paramedics and health workers. The NDRF flagged the threat of Covid-19 virus in February itself and has apparently since then started training 600 of its personnel in every battalion, each battalion having 1,150 personnel, to help health workers contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

There are 12 NDRF battalions spread across India. Director general of NDRF, S.N. Pradhan, in an interview came across as someone who was not abreast with the chronology of cases in India. He said: “In February, when there was not even one case in India, we had alerted about the virus coming from China.” What Pradhan should’ve known is that by February, there were 6 reported cases of Covid-19 patients in India.

It was only on 4 March that the minister of health and family welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, announced compulsory screening of all international passengers arriving in India because the virus was not just coming from China but from Europe too. Till then, only passengers from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Nepal, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia were being screened.


Also read: Coronavirus: Latest updates on cases in India, all you need to know about COVID-19


Centralisation: Demonetisation to GST

The centralisation of power has manifested itself many times over since 2014. Be it demonetisation, where none of the stakeholders were consulted. Or GST, whose faulty implementation was corrected for many months and is still not seamless. Or dilution of Article 370 where an entire state was made into a Union territory overnight. In fact, Parliament was kept operational despite fears of a virus spread, after it came to light that BJP MP Dushyant Singh had attended a party with singer Kanika Kapoor, who was later tested positive for Covid-19. Dushyant then went on to attend House proceedings and also showed up at a breakfast meeting hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind. All this, just to pass the finance bill that was not even discussed.

The Modi government sure has its signature style of governance and is addicted to the taste of centralised power: one where orders are given, but results are barely questioned. Till today, the intelligence failure that led to Pulwama attacks has not been explained.

Holding videoconferencing with local authorities to assess the ground realities and ensuring food supplies for the poor is beneath the Modi government. The Centre is busy building its legacy with statues of unity and central vistas.

The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.

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34 Comments Share Your Views

34 COMMENTS

  1. Fews things can be justified not everyone, also this article feels lopsided, where globally countries are not shutting down themselves bcoz of global economic situation, however Modi did so, instead of country’ not so good economic situation, talking about labour migration, it’s not only center’s responsibility, states are equally responsible for the same. U can’t blame centre for everything.

  2. These media house specializes in spewing venom on modi government on all issues ranging from gst to demonetization to uri and pathankot strikes to counter surgical/balakot strikes to triple talaq or article 370 or caa protests.. and NDTV is their closest competitor. They act more like Pakistani spokesperson spewing venom and spreading disinformation campaigns

  3. The author has described a factual position in an objective manner but it is worrisome to note that 99% remarks are attacking the article,the author and her religion.Seems we are getting closer and closer to Germany of 1933.

  4. The writer is a paid …shameless agent…everywhere in the world’s corona started at same time and today we are one of the least affected nation..the numbers could have been lesser had the Nizamuddin gang was booked and thrown out in time..all the opposition wants the virus to spread and kill millons ..so that they can have this as an agenda for coming to power and Gandhi parivar can loot what is left..had any opposition condemned the Nizamuddin fiasco?

  5. Really?!! Zainaab? You must believe in the multiverse theory – your thinking is otherworldly, from a parallel universe. It is time to stop being a typist and become a writer, who researches her articles, thinks carefully, analyses critically and only then decides to write a piece.

    For people at print: do you really pay people by the words? I am happy to spend 30 mins of my day typing nonsense – can you please share where do I send my daily typing?

  6. It is very easy to sit back and write and criticise. The population of our country is vast. Added is the rate of illiteracy is high. For any government to implement something is a big task

    I suggest take a break and come out wid a positive mind to write something good

  7. At the time of global crisis, writing such negative article manifests the meanness of the writer who unfortunately got a platform to bark. He should know that when elephant walks in the street dogs bark at it but elephant ignores the dogs and moves on.

  8. ZIANAB….You are a thankless citizen of India. You totally failed to see what efforts Railway Minister / Finance Minister / Transport Minister/ Home Minister is doing in this crisis.

  9. The Print has no credibility amongst the young and educated people. Everyone knows about your hidden fundings and agenda. So, do something meaningful and positive for the society and stop living in fools paradise.

  10. Have noticed for a while that your publication is always anti govt.

    You think about all negatives
    Next time atleast give solution from your perspective and than challenge

    I challange you will never dare this

  11. Whatte insights lacking, demoralizing article. Do the members of this media group have no access to positive information.

  12. Whatte insights lacking, demoralizing article. Do the members of this media group have no access to positive information.

  13. Spiritual awareness is the key…if the ruling class is spiritually God conscious thats sufficient …if not the stress itself will break the nation…Time for India to get back the Lost Midas touch …the true power of healing rests within…and Almighty God bless those who know the right path…8 doors of heaven…8 paths…Underlying basic minimum truth.no need to fight for land this land belongs to every living being….love your neighbour …live your neighbour ..love your neighbour..

  14. And yet the Pharaohs managed to create what is arguably the greatest ancient human civilization. The Hellenic civilization of Greece borrowed much of its philosophy, arts, mathematics and politics from ancient Egypt.
    Ms. Sikander’s study and understanding of history is flimsy and superficial to say the least.
    As far as the Indian govt and its actions regarding Covid-19 are concerned, it is too early to pass judgements. Lacunaes are visible and the impact of the lockdown on daily wage labourers and migrants was clearly not thought through. However, to say that the govt has messed up completely and is clueless is totally absurd. Rather, the govt has been proactive in dealing with the crisis.
    However, its too much to expect Ms. Sikander to have a balanced and nuanced view of events. Her hatred for the current dispensation colours her judgement absolutely and renders it useless.

  15. Dull witted trolling by an intellectual challenged Islamist. Article 370 was not revoked, it was amended and done so by Parliament, not the Modi Govt. And So far the Modi Govts reaction to Covid 19 has been far superior and bold than even thenUKor US where they are still struggling with 1000s of deaths and billions in medical costs. As to our MPs – only the demented think MPs execute policy – it is the civil services that execute policy, not MPs. MPs craft policy .
    PS – Pharos were born into power by birthright, your prophet usurped power through “divine-right” – Modi however has come to power by LEGAL right through people-power

    • You sure don’t know what was article 370 was all about! It is as good as revoked. What remains of it is its most hollowed out firm. It was amended by Modi government, AND NOT BY PARLIAMENT! THE GOVERNMENT CAME UP WITH THE AMENDMENT, AND GOT THE PARLIAMENT TO PASS IT. IN ANY CASE IT IS A RUBBER STAMP PARLIAMENT, WITH ALMOST HALF MPs WITH CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST THEM! THESE RUBBER STAMP MPs WOULD PASS ANYTHING MODI ASKS THEM TO! IT IS JUST NOT TRUE THAT “Modi Govts reaction to Covid 19 has been far superior and bold than even thenUKor US where they are still struggling with 1000s of deaths and billions in medical costs.”. Testing is very scarce, and so, Modi govt doesn’t even know how many are infected by the virus. Without much testing, it is like groping in the darkness. Whereas in the US and UK they have pretty good idea as to how manty are infected. MPs dont craft any policy. They are rubber stamps, they sign on the dotted lines, when asked to!

  16. A very poorly mashed up article. This writer zainab is liability on the print. They have kept her only because she is jihadi supporter.

  17. The author is a Clickbait Queen, funded by those who stand to gain when “The Family” returns to the throne they view as “their’s by birthright”.
    An ankle biting gadfly. Best ignored, as most of the garbage published on ThePrint.

  18. Dear Editor,
    Your job just seems to be to pulling down the govt all the time. You are basically thankless citizens. Everyone has answers in hind sight. Put your self on the line and think ahead. You undermine all that we citizens want to work towards. Totally demoralising is your theme. Fortunately I am hardwired.
    Disclaimer: not a BJP or Modi BHAKT

  19. The stupidity manifests in the fact that states in INDIA are free to initiate measures as was demonstrated in case of NRC which is not in existence was fought tooth and nail but no preparations against Covid 19 which was a reality

  20. Consider the vast investment of time in global diplomacy. Difficult to think of a single bilateral relationship that is more durable today than it was in 2014.

  21. Pulwama attach in Kashmir was the first attack that happened in last 20 years, isn’t it? That’s why the intelligence failure should be probed. Some people will not leave any opportunity to do their petty politics even in the time of a crisis.

  22. This columnists like every Muslim writer will never find anything good to say about the Modi government. The agenda is clear- only a government that molly coddles Muslims is good. Minority appeasement that too only of Muslims is the only ctiteria to judge any government for this columnist.

  23. Indian government response Is the fastest see the number of cases in other countries.i believe my government is doing whatever it can and we have to be thoughtful before finding faults in each and every move taken by government.

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