India’s leader announced a nationwide lockdown on the night of March 24 with a notice of four hours and with the most stringent rules globally. The lockdown decision will be endlessly debated in the years to come. Information about the severity of the virus was limited at that time in March. And yet, decisions had to be made – lock or not, what to lock, what to tell the people, how to handle the cases, what to do about the economy, and so on. Various leaders across the world made different decisions. India’s leader decreed the harshest national lockdown in the world – with an advance notice of four hours. (Coincidentally, the same four hours warning was given when 86% of the nation’s currency was demonetised in November 2016.)
The consequences of the damage down by the lockdown are very visible in India. A 24% contraction of the economy in the April-May-June quarter – one of the worst in the world. The economy is likely to contract by 10% for the year ending March 2021. While government officials keep talking about the rapid recovery and how things are normalising, the key question to ask is: what about all the consequences of the decision made on the lives of people? It is quite clear now that the virus is probably only a little more deadly than the seasonal flu for most people who do not have comorbidities. Have we as a nation paid a very heavy price for the grandstanding of our leader – again?
India’s decision – made by its leader – to lockdown will rank high in measures that hurt hundreds of millions. Supply chains and livelihoods once ruptured cannot be easily mended. One can of course argue that India needed time to get its health infrastructure in place and so on, and many lives were saved. We will never know for sure. But one thing is clear to a dispassionate and unbiased observer – India’s harsh and immediate lockdown announced on the night of March 24 was a Himalayan blunder.
The sad part is that this was all too expected. India’s leaders through its history as an independent nation have let the people down repeatedly and made lives worse. They had the power to do exactly the opposite. At multiple critical junctures when they had policy choices, they chose the more harmful ones. Why did our leaders make these big mistakes? Can we hope for future Indian leaders who can make the right decisions?
Tomorrow: Part 3