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.

Dear Mr Kejriwal, are you listening?

Dear Mr Kejriwal,

You began your journey of sweeping the muck in Indian Politics with baby steps alongside Anna Hazare. Soon you outpaced him; the old soldier could not march by your side. You left him behind. Nothing is wrong about that decision of yours because when a mission is still unaccomplished; it is not incorrect, unfair or unethical to leave behind the weak and the wounded. They can be attended to; their wounds nursed, and their contribution to the war effort can always be lauded after the flag has been hoisted on the objective. In some cases, a nicely worded epitaph can make up for everything.

The problem is of shifting goal posts and ever-changing objectives. Selection and Maintenance of Aim is a principle of war. It is difficult; nay impossible to recall a victory wherein this proven principle has been flouted. Needless to say, the journey is long and arduous; you have miles to go. Be sure what you want to aim at: purifying Indian politics or uplifting aam admi or uprooting BJP with the help of others with whom you otherwise don’t see eye to eye. 

I hear you have done remarkable job in some walks of Delhi’s life; your team’s effort to provide quality education and healthcare is, beyond any doubts, unparalleled; it deserves a very special mention and appreciation. May you have the resources, power and support to keep going great guns.

Now, how does one keep going when people are jumping off the bandwagon at regular intervals? Some members of your core team who have left you have compared you with Napoleon. Napoleon––not the French Emperor, but the Napoleon of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. And, Ms Shazia Ilmi thinks she was the Boxer (of the same epic). Others who left you also perhaps thought so, but didn’t say it openly. But, you don’t have to worry on that count. Animal Farm, written nearly three quarters of a century ago as a satire on communism fits Indian politics of today. It fits very well! Rejoice in the fact that you don’t stand alone––every party has Napoleons. When I look at you (people) dark humour amuses me to no end.

That’s just the preface to draw your attention; what follows is more serious. I only hope you have the time, and the inclination too, to read on.

What has struck my imagination recently is your decision to consider granting free travel to women in DTC buses and Delhi Metro. The reason you have extended this proposal is––women’s safety. It baffles me to no end. How can making the ride free for women in public transport enhance their safety? A large number of women can afford public transport and are already availing DTC and Delhi Metro services. The additional number of women who will get attracted to (government) public transport because of the freebie will be miniscule. And, if I am not grossly wrong, in these times of #MeToo, by this very gesture of yours, you might end up offending many a self-respecting woman who seek absolute equality in thoughts and actions.

If you still implement your plan, I fear that you will start a practice, which will nurture yet another breed of people getting used to free lunches with added burden on the state. Mind you Mr Kejriwal, the public are smart. Blame yourself for it; you made them smart. I remember you telling them long ago, to accept whatever freebies (and bribes) other parties were giving, and still vote for AAP. I will not be surprised if, in the next assembly elections women do just that––accept your freebie and still go by their choice.

Freebies

Think of it, there are umpteen ways of making women safer than by just giving them free rides. Directing the resources and energies towards, and focussing them on the source of crime can make people, let alone women in our cities safe.

I have a suggestion, if you care.

We have a large population living in slums all over the city, on footpaths, and under the flyovers. People living in those places work as labourers on construction sites and as servants in bungalows, offices and factories. The stark reality is that Delhi “needs” them. Delhi cannot do without them––Delhi will come to a standstill if they are not there. Their children sell pirated bestsellers, used flowers, hand towels and ballpoint pens on traffic lights. To earn a livelihood, some of them take to crime. And, if one was to go by what our films depict, they are picked up by bigger fish to get their works accomplished.

Such places where survival is a daily chore, people are vulnerable. Those places can easily turn into nurseries for crime.

Convert those slums into double-storey accommodation with the very basic amenities (drinking water, sanitation and electricity). Give them medical facilities and schools. That will demolish some of the nurseries where little ones get to learn their basics of crime. How so ever difficult it might appear, it is achievable. All that is required is a strong will to do it.

A single court decision in the US––to legalise abortion––brought down the crime rate drastically. But that took nearly twenty years. If you give a decent livelihood to the poorest of the poor today, it is just likely that the positive effect might be felt twenty years hence.

Are you ready to wait that long, Mr Kejriwal?

Remember, a lot can be achieved in this world, if one is not bothered about who gets the credit for the achievement or, who reaps the harvest. Are you ready to switchover from the alleged Napoleon’s role to that of Boxer’s in the yet-to-be-conceptualised Animal Farm Revisited? Keep the answer to yourself.

At this juncture, may God bless you with the wisdom to choose the right path.

Yours truly,

Group Captain Ashok K Chordia (Re-attired)

An Indian Air Force Veteran