World Leadership Beyond Covid-19

The 9/11 terror attacks led to killing of over 3000 Americans in New York. The US reacted; formed a coalition and vowed to avenge the strikes. In a response that was largely punitive for the mastermind and the abettors, who were still invisible, Uncle Sam went pounding and pulverising Afghanistan. As if that were not exemplary enough for the rest of the world, an enraged George W Bush went about setting his own standards for the world’s behaviour. He threatened the comity of nations: “Either you are with us or against us.”

Arrogance!

The outcome was much expected: In a moment of America’s extreme sorrow, the world responded with sympathy on the face and a subdued indifference in the heart. The feigned feelings made little difference to the US.

The US was the (mind the strikethrough) a Super Power then. The world looked at that country with awe, and respect, born of fear of its military and economic might rather than reverence for a true leader.   

In its effect, the Covid-19 pandemic has been more devastating than the 9/11 attacks––the death toll in the US has exceeded 10,300. It is more than three times the lives lost in 9/11 and the figure continues to rise harrowingly. The catastrophic effect on the economy will be more evident as time passes. In denial, President Trump first called the pandemic a hoax and, in a matter of days changed tack to declare that it was horrific.

With a difference though, this pandemic is indeed America’s 9/11 (Version 2.0).

In 2001, without a second thought, the US began bombing the perpetrators of 9/11 allegedly hiding in Afghanistan. In this instance, although President Trump has blamed China for the spread of the pandemic, and has gone on to call Covid-19 as the Chinese Virus, he has displayed no desire or keenness to punish that country. As it appears, the US contemplates enough before punishing and chastising countries for errant behaviour. China is certainly not Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Guatemala or even Iraq.

There are stark reasons for this reluctance. The years gone by have exposed the rot setting in and have proved the powerlessness of the most powerful nation on the earth. Whether it is Paris Summit on Climate Change, or it is the Nuclear Deal with Iran, or it is trade war with China, or it is the affairs of the NATO, or it is China’s expansionist actions in the Sea in the South of China or it is intervention in a war-torn Syria, the US has gradually relinquished its leadership role. There are allegations that in the last few days, American firms have got a few consignments of medical equipment, meant for Europe, diverted to the US (of course, unscrupulously). Needless to say, these are acts unbecoming of a world leader. In hindsight, Hollywood’s projection of Uncle Sam as the saviour of the world looks comical.

In the same context, the high death toll in Europe (in Italy, Spain, France and the UK in particular) has laid bare the hollowness of the superiority of the West over the rest of the world. Last month, the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte was heard saying, “If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’être for the people.” The Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic was scathing: “European solidarity does not exist… that was a fairy tale. The only country that can help us in this hard situation is the People’s Republic of China. To the rest of them, thanks for nothing.”

The Covid-19 pandemic curve for China is flattening. Beijing has already begun extending medical support to countries all over the world. Its economy will soon get off the ventilator and show signs of improvement. But, if the news of dissent brewing in the Chinese population is to be believed, the peacefulness of further rise of the People’s Republic of China would be in doubt.

The leadership in India took timely and daring steps to fight the pandemic. Until now Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the population of 1.3 billion along by exploiting the ancient art of ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’ (साम, दाम, दंड, भेद) literally meaning: “by hook or crook, or any rule in the book.” His leadership will be put to an even greater test when the storm has gone past and it is time to pick pieces and revive the economy.

It will be a while before conditions start improving in the US and other parts of the world. As it appears, Post Covid-19, US will not be automatically restored to its Super

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Leadership in the Post Covid-19 World

Power position. Perhaps the world will look for a replacement for its desiccated and introverted leadership. Also, in a world that clamours for human rights and democracy, Russia and China will have to work overtime to prove their credentials to be accepted as the Number One. Perhaps it would be a leaderless world until a truly deserving country occupies that first-among-equals status. Perhaps the pace of life will slow down. Perhaps people will be more inclined to family values and spirituality….   

Did someone say (…more loudly, this time), “It will be an Asian Century?”

All said (and hinted), it would be naïve to assume that the leadership of the post Covid-19 world would be up for grabs. It’ll have to be truly earned.

COVID-19, India’s Options: Fight, Flee, Pray, or…

A slave went to his master in Cairo with a request to save him from ‘death’.

The wretched man shivered as he narrated his encounter: “I met ‘her’ in the marketplace during my morning errand to buy grocery. ‘She’ was giving me threatening looks. I guess my time has come.”

The master, a benevolent man, gave him the best steed in his stable and advised him to ride to faraway Basra. He owed that kind gesture to a man who had served him devotedly for two decades. “Abdullah, I don’t think death can reach you that far,” he said as he waved the grateful slave good luck.

Abdullah galloped away into the horizon leaving a cloud of dust.

It was a matter of chance that the master too came across ‘death’ when he went for a stroll in the evening. He couldn’t help question the menacing looking ‘creature’ in her black cloak, “Why did you scare Abdullah. He is such a pious Moslem, prays five times a day; follows all rituals; is kind hearted and has served me so selflessly all these years?”

“Why? Why at all would I scare such a good being? I had only one thought when I saw him perambulating here in the streets of Cairo this morning. My appointment with him is in Basra over the next weekend. I was wondering how he would reach Basra in such a short time for our scheduled meeting.”

That was an Arab folklore.

There’s a real story too; wonder if it is true:

Among the victims of the Ukranian jetliner that got shot in the Iranian airspace recently––in the aftermath of the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani––was an individual who had texted his friend before boarding the ill-fated aircraft that he was concerned about the mounting tension between the US and Iran and wanted to leave Tehran before the situation worsened.

That was for the preface.

In dealing with COVID-19, things cannot be left to fate. Everything good, bad or ugly will not happen automatically. Not luck, but actions taken now will determine the outcome.

उद्यमेन हि सिध्यन्ति कार्याणि न मनोरथै ।

न हि सुप्तस्य सिंघस्य प्रविशन्ति मुखे मृगाः ।।

The essence of this Sanskrit Shloka can be summarised thus: Physical action is essential to fulfil wishes. A deer does not walk into a sleepy lion’s mouth––even he (the lion) has to hunt to satiate his hunger.

The global war against Corona Virus is on. Deliberate and conscientious action can spell success. Today, the worst affected countries are China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. Each country is doing its bit to keep the epidemic at bay. Chinese efforts stand out in as much as there’s a decline in the number of new cases. A close scrutiny reveals that unmindful of the ‘world opinion’ they have resorted to dictatorial (draconian, for some) methods of implementation of the medical directives to succeed in their endeavour. Tough times require tough measures. While the end of the crisis is not in sight yet, it is possible to review our own actions thus far and take mid-course corrections to arrive at the desired destination.

Schools have been closed and use of biometrics for identification at entry/exit to offices has been suspended. Teams of doctors, the Armed Forces and the paramilitary forces have been pressed into action. The checks at the airport have been made stringent. There is a suggestion to close the Taj Mahal to tourists. The government has issued an advisory to: “Avoid mass gatherings.”

But, as brought out in an earlier post (“Salam, Namaste Kovid-19”) either the magnitude of the problem has not sunk in, or the attitudinal deficiency has still not been made up. Congregations are still taking place. Recently there was a ‘Page Three’ kind of wedding attended by the who’s who of Delhi. The very people who (supposedly) are to lead the lesser mortals to salvation were visible engaging in apparently long firm ‘handshakes’. Still later they were engaged in more serious and essential meetings elsewhere in Delhi to restore normalcy in riot hit parts of city.

All are equal in the eyes of the Corona Virus

Likewise, there was another mega event where the country’s sportspersons were honoured and people mingled. In the larger national interest such gatherings may well be avoided. A lot depends on the willingness of the people at the helm.

Elsewhere, people with colour-smeared faces could be seen throwing caution to the air––the mood to celebrate Holi has already taken the better of people. Hand sanitisers and facemasks have disappeared from the shelves. More and more jokes and cartoons laced with cynicism and weird remedies like names of some herbs, alcohol and cow’s urine etc. (rather than useful tips) are being shared on social media.

Time to issue advisories has long gone

If only people could understand one thing: “Corona Virus is socialist and secular in the true sense of those terms––it is going to spare none. The adage: “Example is better than precept,” was never as relevant as it is today. The chosen and the educated few who can make ‘the difference’ must lead by example. For the government, the time to issue advisories has long gone. These are tough times; tougher times are yet to come. Firm directives rather than suggestive advisories, is the need of the hour. Not prayers but action alone can save this country despite the blessings of the 54,000 and more Gods and deities taking care of its destiny.

Salaam Namaste COVID-19

Ever wondered who could have been the most harried Indians over the last two months? The answer might not come easy because of the way most people look at things, and act (or react) to situations. The answer is not Modi, not Shah, not Kejriwal and not even Rahul Gandhi.

It is the team of doctors like Dr P Ravindran (Director, Emergency Medical Relief Department), Dr Sujeet Singh Rajput (Director, National Centre for Disease Control) and the medicos of the Directorate General of Health Services (Ministry of Health) that has been having sleepless nights. They, amply supported (as always) by the Indian Army, the ITBP and RML Hospital etc. are in the forefront of the fight against Corona Virus in India. It is a challenge, the enormity of which, it will never be possible to appreciate entirely. Providing medical services is one thing, motivating doctors and nursing staff to work in an environment threatened by the virus is quite another. The diplomats, the bureaucrats and the political leadership are all playing their assigned roles to the best of their abilities but one thing is certain––the credit for the success (if, and when, it is achieved) against the epidemic will go to those at the helm and the brunt of the failure (if any) will be faced by those actually fighting it out.

Bearing the Brunt

To add to the woes of Dr Ravindran and Dr Sujeet is the attitude of some medicos who have said that they would go on strike if masks were not made available. Beyond an iota of doubt, masks and protective gear are an undeniable necessity for the medicos. But at this juncture, going public with this attitude of refusing to work under constraints will prove more contagious and deadly than COVID-19. Those at the helm must do everything in their power to equip the frontline workers appropriately and adequately. They would do well if full control is given to the doctors rather than the bureaucrats or the politicians. It is equally important to allay the fears and anxiety of those in the field.

The fight against COVID-19 is going to be tough. The antecedents of the last few days will establish where we stand in this fight.

Efforts in right earnest have been on to contain the spread since the threat became evident. It is an acknowledged fact that one of the likely reasons for its spread is proximity and physical contact with the affected individuals. Yet the first lot of people evacuated from China, and quarantined on arrival in India, were seen mingling and frolicking. The video of people dancing together in an isolation ward is horrifying to say the least. On exit from quarantine, one of them compared the life ‘there’ as: “Being a part of the television serial, Bigg Boss.”

Naïve? Stupid? Callous?

Naïve? Stupid? Callous? Or, all three at the same time?

Under the circumstances, let alone people in quarantine, even others (everywhere) must ‘maintain distance.’ Even the media could be denied access to the people in medical isolation––recorded press releases must suffice.

In the recent past a few gatherings took place where people came in close proximity of hundreds others and in physical contact with equally large numbers. Here are some that come to mind:

  • The youth festival at Gargi College: the ‘reverie’ was disturbed by hordes of goons who entered the campus and assaulted the students. In the ensuing melee, people in large numbers came in physical contact with each other.  
  • Thousands of Delhiites at Ramlila Maidan gathered to witness the oath-taking ceremony of AAP: People were urged to come with families and children.
  • Nearly 1,00,000 people gathered in Motera Stadium in Gujrat to welcome President Donald Trump on his first ever visit to India.

Giving a rational (and a dispassionate) thought to the antecedents––after the threat of COVID-19 became evident––the above mass gatherings and many others, which are potential hazards, could have been scrupulously avoided. Schools are now being closed and conferences, sports meet and military exercises are being called off. It could be a case of ‘too little, too late.’

For the same reason, prudence demands that celebration of Holi be postponed to coincide with success against COVID-19.

Further, the disruptions caused by the many pro/anti CAA gatherings and rallies have led to rioting, which in turn has flooded the hospitals with casualties. The attention of the medicos and other support agencies that are expected to fight COVID-19 is divided.

There’s an urgent need to regain focus. While some schools in Noida and Delhi have been closed as a ‘precautionary measure,’ avoidance of congregation and travel of any type––besides sticking to the medical advisory in letter and spirit––would help combat spread of COVID-19.

Lastly, ‘Saluting’ or extending a ‘Salaam’ as a Jawan does, or joining hands in a ‘Namaste’ to greet people could be a much better option than shaking hands to avoid physical contact. Besides, the art of saluting will come in handy in the not too distant future when there’ll be a natural urge to SALUTE those on the frontline of the war against COVID-19.