At any time, a country deserves the best government it can get. People are owed the ideal set of policies for the point at which their country stands at that time, delivered by the people most capable of crafting those policies, of thinking through outcomes and side-effects, and of leading the implementation.
During an emergency like the one that the world is facing, when the Covid-19 pandemic has created a situation that few have any experience managing, this is even more critical. India absolutely needs in its government the individuals who can handle this crisis the best because of their expertise.
Naturally, no single politicial party or formation can claim to have such people on its own. In any case, considering the specific expertise needed now, such abilities will not even be found in career politicians alone.
The extent of the challenge can hardly be exaggerated. Not only must the pandemic be tackled, the economic backbone of the country must be strengthened, even as peace and harmony across and within social groups become essential for India to steer its way out of this crisis.
If ever there was a time India needed a national government, it is now. Each of the key ministerial posts that are involved in dealing with the crisis – those in charge of healthcare, the economy, industry, trade, foreign affairs, home, labour, transport and logistics, data management, communication, food and civil supplies, and human resources, to name a few – need to be occupied by the person whose track record shows they can do the best job.
For instance, would Manmohan Singh as finance minister today not be the idea choice to steer the economy through this extraordinary phase, not least because of his experience as prime minister during the global financial crisis of 2008 and after, not to mention his work over three decades, starting with the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991?
Singh is but an example, not a suggestion. In the same way, there are a number of professional economists and financial authorities whose counsel and involvement are necessary now, irrespective of their relationship with the party in power. In fact, a national government would need to co-opt the best people not just for ministerial roles, but also for executive positions to set and implement strategies, monitor the outcome, and course-correct.
Where health is concerned, India has some of the world’s top thinkers and doers, who have led from the front and have vast experiences of intervention in both medical systems and practices as well as public health. They must be part of the decision-making and implementation process. Every day that passes without their direct involvement is a day wasted.
If there is one area in which the individuals who are part of the current government have fallen short, it is in being able to predict and plan for the fall-outs of the policies they announce with great aplomb and fanfare.
From demonetisation to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax regime, the economy and, as a result, everyone in India continues to pay the price. Now, the clear lack of foresight in putting in place measures to deal with the fall-out of a 21-day lockdown is evident, leading to a situation which may in face hasten the spread of Covid-19 in some parts of the country.
This is a shortcoming that needs to be addressed with immediate attention. Once again, it is necessary to bring in people trained in planning and project management, those who have been involved in strategising and implementing such schemes on a national scale.
All of this will, of course, need a massive shift from the over-centralised policy-making that the current administration is known for. Each individual or group must be empowered completely if they are to be successful. As for the Prime Minister and his office, they must lead the Herculean task of ensuring coordination among all the ministries, and the equally vital act of monitoring, measuring and giving feedback on the outcome of all the steps taken.
The truth is that no political ideology or electoral battle will matter very much in the short run unless the government enables everyone in the country to weather, and then emerge from, this crisis the likes of which are not known to anyone alive. The least that we can ask for is the best leaders show the way with their ideas and implementation. A truly national government for, by and of the people.