Changing social behaviour is key in the Covid-19 fight

Changing social behaviour is key in the Covid-19 fight: If the states and Centre work to coordinate their efforts in advocating changes in social behaviour and support each other, I think we will be on a more positive and constructive path

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It is now common knowledge that large gatherings of people serve as super-spreaders of the deadly coronavirus. So I was amazed to see, on television last Wednesday, footage of women embarking on the kalash yatra to perform a jalabhishek ceremony in Navapura village in Sanand, Gujarat. Two days later, there was footage of thousands of people gathering in Kutch to pay homage to a Muslim preacher. This was happening even as the number of those infected across the country had crossed 400,000 in a single day.

Since Navapura had no positive cases over the preceding two weeks, the jalabhishek was organised to give thanks to the presiding deity in the local temple, Baliya Devi, and to seek further protection from the virus. When the footage went viral, the police swung into action and put many of the organisers behind bars. In the Kutch case, it is not clear whether the police have acted at all.

In the Kumbh mela at Haridwar earlier, the police offered protection to the gathering, despite dire warning from several medical experts that this sort of mass event was fraught with danger. A significant number of those who attended the Kumbh mela tested positive on return to their homes. It would be reasonable to assume that they have spread the disease far and wide and added to an already dire situation.

Simply put, we have to listen to the warnings of medical experts and scientists. That we did not is now there for all to see — in our hospitals turning away patients for lack of beds, in people dying for want of oxygen and live-saving drugs, in crematoriums and burial grounds running out of space. If this does not prompt us to rethink our social behaviour, nothing will.

You may recall that last year, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, warned his country that it was in the grip of a terrible disease, that many would fall ill and many would lose their loved ones. No Indian leader has had the courage to say it like it is. Instead, they allowed large religious gatherings to go ahead, and held election rallies with no safety protocols in place. The virus is now rampaging through areas where these events took place.

No political party has taken this situation as seriously as it should have. There is no point apportioning blame on any one political formation, but surely all of them should have come out of their ivory towers and warned their followers of the dangers of risky behaviour.

But, let us not lose heart. The current crisis is bound to bring about a change in political and social behaviour, going forward. Our leaders will be forced to heed public demands sooner rather than later. And the public is asking for accountability and decisive governance now. Even the mighty Indira Gandhi paid the price for not heeding the voice of the people when she lost power after her ill-thought-out Emergency.

Changing social behaviour is key in the Covid-19 fight:

After her fall, when the leaders of the then Janata Party began to act in a high-handed manner, they were shown the door in a few short years. Today, the emergence of strong regional parties has changed the political landscape considerably.

Several leaders have gained prominence in national and regional parties. There is the Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee, the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s MK Stalin, the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Akalis, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Pinarayi Vijayan, to name a few. In the Congress, there are tall leaders such Amarinder Singh in Punjab and BS Yeddyurappa in the Bharatiya Janata Party who can deal with their respective party leaderships on their own terms.

When regional voices are strong, federalism is strengthened. Today, when concerns are being raised about the uneven distribution of oxygen, vaccines and life-saving drugs, the ruling party is being forced to change the system and cede more space to the states. I predict that you will see a huge difference in Centre-state relations within a year. Last year, the central government implemented a unilateral lockdown. This time around, the National Democratic Alliance has had no option but to allow the states to implement lockdowns when and as they see fit.

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If the states and Centre work to coordinate their efforts in advocating changes in social behaviour and support each other in implementing the necessary protocols to fight the virus, among these being the speedy distribution of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment, I think we will be on a more positive and constructive path in the battle against Covid-19 and the other challenges which lie ahead.