The “Salt Satyagraha” or “Dandi March” as it is popularly called, was an act of civil disobedience led by none other than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The 24-day march lasted from 12th March 1930 to 6th April 1930, to protest against the British salt monopoly. Mahatma Gandhi started this march with 80 of his trusted volunteers. Walking ten miles a day for 24 days, the march spanned roughly 240 miles from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, which was called Navsari at that time. When Gandhi broke the British salt laws at 6:30 am on 6th April 1930, it marked the beginning of the end of the British empire and its colonisation over India, by setting off a chain of events that finally gave India her much-coveted independence, in August 1947, seventeen years hence.

In contemporary India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call for a “Janta Curfew”, on 22nd March 2020, is as historic and unprecedented as Gandhi’s “Dandi March”, as this time, the enemy is hidden, its moves unpredictable, the territory is unchartered and the fight is against a pandemic that is fast colonising the world, cutting across geographies and demographics like never before.

On 19th March 2020, Modi’s outstanding speech took cognizance of the gravity of the situation, without either underestimating or overestimating the seriousness of the issue when he said — “It is clear that this pandemic is deeply hurting the economic interests and wellbeing of our nation’s middle class, lower-middle-class, and poor segments. In such a time of crisis, I request the business world and high-income segments of society to as much as possible, look after the economic interests of all the people who provide them the services”.

“In the coming few days, it is possible these people may not be able to come to the office or your homes. In such a case, do treat them with empathy and humanity and not deduct their salaries. Always keep in mind that they too need to run their homes, protect their families from illness”, added Prime Minister Modi.

“Be it doctors, nurses, hospital staff, housekeeping staff, airline staff, government servants, police personnel, media persons, railways, bus, autorickshaw, home delivery people — they are serving others, by not taking care of themselves. They are like protectors of the nation. The country is obliged to them.”, he further added.

“In the countries where the impact of coronavirus is the maximum, it has been seen that there has been an explosion in the number of cases after initial days. Some countries have also taken necessary decisions and isolated their people,” Modi said.

Given that it took 97 days to reach the first 1 lakh affected cases globally, but only 12 days to reach the next 1 lakh cases, Modi’s “Janta Curfew”, for 14 hours this Sunday, is not merely symbolic. It is an excellent initiative to unify a nation of 1.3 billion people, to rise to the challenges of the enormous task at hand, which can succeed only if each Indian does his or her bit. The “Janta Curfew”, is meant to underline a collaborative sense of urgency and bring together the entire country to fight a common enemy, that has tested the might of the world’s most powerful nations and the cognitive skills of the most respected scientific brains of the 21st century, who are still struggling to find a way out of this health disaster.

The mysterious disappearance of Chinese real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, the harshest critic of the Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s miserable failure in handling the Coronavirus pandemic, is a telling reminder of how China still resides in the 18th century when it comes to handling matters more humane.

The fatal explosion of a hospital in China’s Chongqing municipal province, which had hundreds of patients afflicted with the infamous COVID19 virus, is again a grim reminder of everything that is wrong with the “Made in China” model. Many suspect, the explosion was not merely an accident. China’s wildlife trade worth more than $80 billion, with over a million people employed in this industry, has recklessly endangered large parts of the globe. Clearly, China could not care less, as hard numbers are all that it cares about.

Contrast the policy of obfuscation and apathy followed by China, with the probity and transparency shown by India during the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala in 2018. The Modi government immediately informed the WHO and the Nipah related toll was limited to 17, with the virus being localized to Kozhikode and Malappuram districts only. Once again, with the screening of over 14.5 lakh passengers at airports and limiting the death toll to four, even as Italy, with one of the best health systems worldwide, has reported over 4000 deaths, India, has shown that a vigilant political leadership is critical in desperate times like these. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, could certainly take a leaf out of Modi’s book.

India’s endearingly humane approach in ensuring help to those beyond its own borders is evident from the supply of 3 month stock of medicines to the Maldives and sending tonnes of masks, gloves, and medicines to China, too. India decided that it will export pharmaceuticals to Israel despite the ban on drug exports. The ban was lifted following a special request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is the world’s main supplier of generic drugs. The country has restricted the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and the medicines made from them, including Paracetamol, a common pain reliever, also sold as acetaminophen, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world. India, also the world’s largest manufacturer of N95 masks, has been helping countries beyond its borders on a war footing, clearly telling the world loud and clear, that under Modi’s leadership, India has what it takes to take the pole position in dealing with the spiralling threat from the Wuhan virus. Contrast China’s sordid lethargy with the Modi government’s unfettered and much-needed overdrive against the Wuhan virus. Rather than acknowledging the problem in its initial stages, when it could have been contained to prevent it from imploding into a full-blown contagion, all that the Chinese did was to deny the existence of the virus. From the Bubonic plague in 1855 to the Spanish Flu in 1918 to the SARS in 2004 and now to COVID-19, every major pandemic can be traced back to China and its love for eating anything that moves or crawls, from bats and rats, to illegally trafficked pangolins.

The world, therefore, has a lot to learn from India, which has showcased in no uncertain terms, that the “Namaste” as a form of greeting is far more hygienic than a handshake. A vegetarian diet, preferred by most Indians, in Hindu majority India, is a much safer bet, than being beef eaters, in testing times like these, in particular. So while the leftist media locally and internationally had a whale of a time making “Gaumutra” jokes for the past several years, post the Wuhan virus, the joke is certainly on those who regularly eat slaughtered animals, with remorseless impunity! Under Modi’s leadership, there has been a cultural renaissance for the Hindu cause and the Hindu way of life. Be it offering prayers at the Sangam to “Maa Ganga”, during the Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj in February 2019 or paying obeisance to Lord Shiva at the Kedarnath shrine in May 2019, Narendra Modi’s solidarity with Hinduism as a way of life has been a huge catalyst in bringing millions of Indians closer to their roots and leading a cleaner, fitter and healthier life, which is what our ancient texts and sages focussed on.

The Wuhan virus is among other things, the result of  China’s unsustainable development model, that not only paid scant regard to cleanliness, hygiene, and the environment but arrogantly dismissed the usefulness of building adequate social infrastructure. Modi’s “Make in India” model, on the other hand, has paid equal weightage to both, financial and social capital, with India targetting 175 GW of renewable energy sources by 2022, of which at least 100 GW, will be solar energy.

From building over 110 million toilets in the last six years under the “Clean India” or “Swachh Bharat” mission, making India and its 5.5 lakh villages open defecation free (ODF), to the emphasis on banning single-use plastic, recycling waste and reducing India’s carbon footprint—sustainable development has been the hallmark of Modinomics.

The first case of Coronavirus can be traced back to 10th Dec 2019 after a 57-year-old lady, Wei Guixian, a seafood merchant in Wuhan’s Hua’nan seafood market, fell sick. Chinese government and state media, on 31st December 2019, reluctantly admitted to the presence of some “mysterious pneumonia”. The first death from the deadly Wuhan virus happened on 9th January 2020, but China acknowledged the existence of the deadly Coronavirus and informed the public only on 18th January 2020. This, despite being aware of 11th January, of seven senior health workers who had been affected. The worst part is, China quarantined Wuhan only on 22nd January 2020, after some 5 million people had already left Wuhan just a few days prior to the quarantine.

Amidst all this, a 34-year-old doctor and whistleblower, Li Wenliang, who was forced to sign a letter on 3rd January 2020 under police and political pressure from China’s ruling Communist party, that he had spread lies about this fatal virus, finally died on 7th February 2020 while treating patients. Li is a national hero today but sadly, he is no more, thanks to the Chinese government which wanted to keep the fatal nature of the virus under wraps. China has been more worried about its global image, even if it meant playing around with the lives of its citizens, children, doctors, and students. Li Wenliang’s death is a tragic and gory reminder of how China may be a dominant economy but can be ruthlessly insensitive and hopelessly incompetent during a healthcare crisis.

In sharp contrast, the Narendra Modi government has been highly proactive and taken exemplary preventive measures to contain the Corona outbreak in our country, despite India being a vast country of 1.3 billion people, that shares a 3488-kilometer long border with China. India’s response to COVID-19 under the outstanding leadership of “Global Goalkeeper”, Modi, is a textbook case in how great leaders do not escape–rather, they take the bull by its horns, as it were. Modi took the lead in hosting a video conference on 15th March, of SAARC nations, where India pledged to share disease surveillance software, work towards a common research platform and provide all help required, including assistance from the Indian Council of Medical Research, to its SAARC partners. India has also taken the lead in setting up a COVID-19 emergency fund, with a voluntary contribution of $10 million. Taking a cue from Modi’s initiative, the G-7  group has decided to host it’s summit via video conferencing, in June this year.

On 14th March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs, led by the very dynamic and meticulous Amit Shah, declared Coronavirus a notified disaster, for the purpose of providing assistance under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF). India’s decision to go into the self-quarantine mode, well-stocked hospitals, massive advertisement campaigns on the dos and don’ts of how to tackle the crisis, India’s National Institute of Virology at Pune working round the clock and, Modi’s office that has been monitoring the situation 24/7, to prevent the Corona outbreak from becoming a contagion, are initiatives that are truly commendable. 

The Indian government activated four new laboratories — the Indian Council of Medical Research’s viral research and diagnostics lab network at Alleppey, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, for testing samples.56 make-shift labs were set up in a matter of few weeks, with another five dozen labs likely to come up in the next 4 weeks. A 24×7 call center has been made operational to monitor the list of contacts furnished by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and provide details of district and state surveillance officers to those who seek them. Also, in case of any clinical query, it would direct the concerned person to the relevant integrated disease surveillance programme officer. Meanwhile, ports too, have stepped up vigil. Mumbai Port Trust was asked by the Modi government not to give shore permits to vessels coming from China. All vessels from Southeast Asia are being scanned and a health declaration has to be given by the captain of these vessels, detailing the nationality of the crew, health details of the members, including symptoms. Community-level monitoring is being intensively done in border areas like the Indo-Nepal border, all border entries from Bangladesh into West Bengal have been sealed barring the one in Nadia district and, the land border crossing with Pakistan will be closed infinitely from 16th March, till further notice.

India has temporarily suspended all travel, tourist and inbound visas till 15th April 2020, including those of three million OCI cardholders, barring a few exceptions. And Italian, Iranian, South Korean and Japanese nationals who have visas issued before March 3, 2020, but who have not yet entered India, remain suspended too. All passengers from Spain, Germany, Iran, China, Italy, France, and South Korea who entered the country after 15th February 2020, will be compulsorily quarantined. It needs to be mentioned here that the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force and Indian Army’s Wellness Centre in Jaisalmer, have played a noteworthy role in this entire process.

Advisories on social distancing, self-imposed isolation, making free masks, gloves and test kits to those who cannot afford these, are being made available by the Indian government. It is pertinent to note here that the Central government has invoked Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, in its fight to control the spread of Coronavirus. Section 2 of the Act makes Health Ministry advisories enforceable.

In BJP ruled states like Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act has been invoked and anyone defying government orders which include temporary suspension of schools, colleges, malls, cinema halls, and public gatherings, hiding symptoms or refusing medical assistance, could face prosecution under Section 188 of the IPC, with up to 6 months of prison term.

In the final analysis, it can be said with no “ifs” and “buts” whatsoever, that the Indian response to the Coronavirus pandemic has been awe-inspiring at various levels. While the US and Europe are dealing with endless queues of people lining up at malls and stores that have run out of toilet paper and hand sanitizers, India’s calibrated approach by the government, without causing panic, has had a salubrious impact. Also, don’t forget, while India reported its first case only on 30th January 2020, it had started screening incoming passengers from affected countries, via infrared thermometers, from 7th January itself. Additionally, India evacuated 766 people including 323 students from China,124 from Japan,336 including 234 students from Iran and 218 people including 211 students from Italy. 

Needless to add, in the final analysis, Modi’s “Make in India” model runs high on both the growth and humanitarian quotients whereas Xi’s “Make in China”, lacks the emotional quotient that separates a robotic, authoritarian regime, from an aspirational India, helmed by a “karma yogi” like Modi, who leads by example, never playing on the backfoot and always keeping the nation first, above everything else.COVID-19, which is still unfolding, will also be remembered for the global outreach by the Indian political diaspora, which has shown to the world, how a responsive and nimble-footed government can tackle any emergency, with the right mindset.  

Coronavirus has infected more than 276000 people globally, with over 11400 dead, across 186 countries. If New York were a separate country, it would have been the 10th hardest-hit nation, in terms of fatalities. Social distancing and closing borders may eventually give way to the rise of global protectionism and xenophobia, if not managed effectively by both—world leaders and the world fraternity at large.

On 19th November 1863, Abraham Lincoln made an iconic speech at Gettysburg, redefining the concepts of nationalism, liberty, and equality and thereby, forever changing the course of American history. Lincoln, to this day, is remembered for abolishing slavery and winning the American Civil War — most importantly, however, he is remembered for his famous Gettysburg Address, which healed a divided America and connected the work of the Union’s soldiers at Gettysburg, to the work of the Union’s founders at Philadelphia. In much the same mold, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s endearing call for a “Janta Curfew”, which not only seeks to bind together a diverse nation but sends a powerful message of “resolve” and “restraint” to the global diaspora, is India’s historic Gettysburg moment.

Ms. Sanju Verma is an Economist, Chief Spokesperson for BJP Mumbai and Author of the Bestseller — “Truth & Dare-The Modi Dynamic”.

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