Who is winning the war between the Chinese virus and Indian leadership at present? Any guesses? To me it's very clear. India will win the war against the Chinese Virus. No Doubts. The cost will be high. In fact, inordinately high. The difference between a ‘high cost’ and an ‘inordinately high cost’ is attributable to Indian leadership at present. That cost, unfortunately is three to four thousand lives on a daily basis and probably growing as I write this article. Very sad and heart wrenching but true.
This diatribe is not a broad brush paint against everyone. I am highlighting a few glaring defects which the Chinese Virus has exposed at this point of crisis. Forget election rallies, Kumbh Mela or farmers agitation. They are behind us. No point in crying about them. They have spilt their poison. Look ahead. I am talking of the current and future situation which we have to overcome. It needs effective and strong leadership. However, our invisible leadership is reflected in inaction, being out of touch with reality and the homilies being paid to prime and chief leaders by their followers.
It is time for some of these leaders to take a reflective call; whether they want success born from hard work and dedication to the nation or they want to be consigned to history as glitzy failures. I am no one to judge them. It is Indians who will judge them and history will charge them accordingly. History is cruel, cold and objective. History overcomes deceptive narratives and spin doctors. Even Gods have not escaped history’s wrath. Just read Mahabharata and Ramayana. Our current crop of leaders are mere mortals and definitely not above gods.
I've been analysing and following the course of waves of the Chinese Virus. This wave is a tsunami. However, the whole of India is not overwhelmed or out of control. There are states and districts and their leadership who are fighting the rage of the Chinese Virus in an organized manner. Their losses are high but are facing the situation squarely - with thought and purpose. They will win the battle faster. Yesterday I saw an interview of the BMC Commissioner on NDTV.
The way the BMC has gone about organising its response in Bombay was heart-warming. Well done Iqbal Chahal (even if he is only 50% right). There is no doubt that Bombay has had a terrible time. However two things stood out in the BMC methods. Organization and discipline. I was wondering, who is this guy? Spoke well. Calm. Confident and organised in his thoughts and expression? At the end of the talk he said “look, I am the son of an army officer and I believe in discipline”.
That told everything to me. Where states are in control of the situation they have imposed discipline backed by a thinking organization and leadership. Look at Kerala. A small state. Minimal resources. High number of infections. Low number of deaths consistently. The overall cost will be relatively low. They will fight and pull through eventually. Its predictable. Look at Tamil Nadu. Bigger state. Lower infections. Low number of deaths. All this despite having gone through elections.
Not that elections have not had an effect. They have taken the Virus into the country side. Earlier Chennai was 50% of the infections. Today it is only 33% of the state’s infections. Overall, quiet and unflashy but good leadership. Whether the current Chief Minister will lose or wins in the elections is immaterial. He has proven to be a good leader. He deserves everyone’s respect.
Same thing goes for Orissa. By many standards, Orissa was a state of poverty, backwardness, lack of development. That is passe. The way it is fighting this virus is commendable. I could go on with many other states. However, what is coming out in national and international media is that India as a whole has gone out of control. That's not so. Its only pockets of failure. We should understand that. Leaders matter to remedy the situation.
It is very obvious that Delhi our capital is going through an unmitigated catastrophe. I hope for all our sakes Delhi pulls through. It is important because it is our capital. It represents whatever India stands for. However the stories coming out of Delhi are bleak. The number of infections in every society or RWA are scary. The hospitals and medical fraternity are overwhelmed. Inadequacy of medical equipment, medicines and oxygen is reflected in the ever burning pyres. Even crematoriums are hamstrung. The haunting images of burning pyres reflect inadequate leadership.
The same goes for the states surrounding Delhi and those cities which are international destinations like Bengaluru (which seems to be following Delhi’s footsteps). Look at it objectively. Where chaos prevails – lack of organisation, poor discipline and failed leadership is apparent. It is not only the leadership at state level but also at national level which is complicit in this tragedy. What are the high water marks of this tragedy? Data suppression and lying by the governments will lead to application of wrong remedies which will only compound the tragedy.
Hiding things do not solve issues. They putrefy them. Loss of control on the situation is palpable. That has led to a lot of panic in the air, duly compounded by the silence of the leadership. The silence is unfortunately accompanied by high decibel unwanted noise - of political slugfest, burnishing fading reputations and shameless apple polishing. The vaccination program has never seemed more confused. There is no clarity. High hopes are being raised when there is ground underneath.
The TV and media are running riot. I cannot blame them for the gory picture they are showing to everyone. Through their insensitivity they are filling the space created by the absence of reliable leadership, loss of faith in official releases and extreme economy of truth. These gory pictures are an outpouring of the tragic truths which we must know either way. Despite all this there is no sense of emergency in the air. We still see rallying and electioneering. IPL cricket in Delhi in the mecca of Corona today? Ludicrous.
The overall impression is that while India is fighting with its back to the wall, some of our leaders are on a different planet. When a union minister puts out a tweet extolling the PMs leadership when the crisis is still raging, it seems he can do nothing better than that. When CMs say that their states do not have an oxygen crisis when people are dying for lack of it in their state hospitals, very clearly they are deluded in a make believe world.
When high court judges order exclusive facilities for themselves to be created for treatment in five star hotels during such times, it represents a privileged depravity of a special kind. Our political, governmental and societal leaders have either abandoned us to our fate and or are plainly incompetent.
Despite all this, there is hope for redemption. The first step for redemption for all our leaders is to face and speak the truth. Do not hide issues. The nation and the people will be with you if the truth is known from you. We have to fight this together. Do not alienate people when they are grieving. Get to the ground. See things for yourself or by your minions. Meet people. Visit hospitals, testing centres, crematoriums. Share grief. Solve problems. It will release you from the alternate world of privilege you have been living in and get you into the real world of suffering. It will infuse confidence and quell panic. Instil the discipline of Covid Appropriate Behaviour ruthlessly. Discipline quells panic. It infuses confidence. It will stem the tide.
Make a viable, implementable and visible plan. There has to an organised review and update on the progress made on each front of this fight on a regular basis – testing, oxygen supply, hospital beds, doctors, vaccinations. Institute a public feedback mechanism. What are the plans for the next 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, week, month? I would recommend this activity twice a day. Very importantly, these should be inclusive to all parties sans petty politics. Let me remind our politicians again. If I fear anything more than the Chinese Virus it is the Vermin in our politics.
I cannot emphasis on the implementation of ruthless Discipline through Covid Appropriate Behaviour. It is necessary for our population which is not amenable to discipline and more prone to Covid Inappropriate Behaviour. Let us not fool ourselves by saying that ‘this is our culture’. It is not. Our ancient scriptures like Vedas, Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata do not propagate urinating in public, spitting, traffic violations, jumping queues, bribing, eve teasing, inappropriate touching, littering, cheating, lying, ticket less travel and more.
This is endemic to modern Indian society and pseudo religious organisations. They say cleanliness is next to godliness. Implementing it in the current times needs some stick. Our politicians and leaders must wield the big stick and talk softly. The opposite is happening. Big talk and no stick. If it is felt that it is beyond normal police and law enforcement to make things happen, get the Armed Forces in. They know discipline well and will implement Covid Appropriate Behaviour very fast. They will also get organisation in.
It is also very clear to me that all the help coming from international sources is great. We must pay for it to last dollar. Their aid should be restricted to the fact that it was made available to us when needed. India is thankful to the world (less China) which is standing by our side in this humongous fight. However, the help being rendered will be miniscule. Our scale is too big. It will only give us a jump start in the fight which will have to be based on our resources; which are plenty if we organise ourselves. Organisation, discipline and leadership will take us across.
Think back. What did our PM do when he went to Ladakh. He demonstrated leadership as also instilled belief and confidence in the nation and troops there. That is what he needs to do again. Instil belief in a shaken nation. If everyone is together we will come out of it. We Gunners say – “Altogether Heave”
PS. My last point. At our hour of need, China offered help on one hand and blocked it with the other. On the other hand, USA has opened its war chest after initial hiccups. It is very clear who is our friend and who is our foe. We need to deal with our foe accordingly. However that is for later. Let us fight the Chinese Virus together.
About the Author
(Lt Gen PR Shankar retired as Director General of Artillery, Indian Army. The author has vast operational experience and has held many important command, staff, and instructional appointments in the Army. An alumnus of Defence Services Staff College Wellington, Army War College Mhow, Naval Post Graduate School Monterrey and National Defence College Delhi, he gave great impetus to the modernization of Artillery through indigenization.
He has a deep understanding and experience of successful defense planning and acquisition spanning over a decade. Major 155mm Gun projects like the Dhanush, M777 ULH and k9 Vajra, Rocket and Missile projects related to Pinaka, Brahmos and, Grad BM21, surveillance projects like Swati WLR and some ammunition projects came to fructification due to his efforts. You can reach him on Twitter:@palepurshankar, Email ID: [email protected])
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')
Head over to 'Gunners Shot' for all things defence by Lt Gen Shankar