Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday that India is the only country where the number of coronavirus infections has increased after the easing of the nationwide lockdown. In an interaction with industrialist Rajiv Bajaj, Gandhi said that the Centre has now backed off and left the states to deal with the crisis.
“It is the only lockdown in the world where disease is increasing after opening up,” Gandhi told Bajaj in a discussion held via videoconferencing. “You are going back to that. Central government has backed off and said we are going to be forced to leave it to states.”
The number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 2,16,919 on Thursday morning after 9,304 people tested positive for the infection in 24 hours. This is the biggest single-day increase in the number of cases. The country’s toll reached 6,075 with 260 new deaths.
Gandhi said that instead of delegating responsibility to states now, the Centre should have done it in the beginning of the lockdown, first imposed on March 25. He said some states will perform better than others during this period.
Gandhi called for a compassionate response from the government towards migrant labourers, farmers, small and medium enterprises as well as big businesses. “The lockdown was really hard on the poor and migrants,” Gandhi said. “They had nowhere to go.”
Gandhi claimed the world had not been under lockdown this way even during World War 2, the Hindustan Times reported. “I don’t think anyone imagined that the world would be locked down in this way,” he said. “I don’t think that even during the World War, the world was locked down. I think even then things were open. It’s a unique and devastating phenomenon.”
‘Flattened GDP curve instead of coronavirus curve’: Rajiv Bajaj
Bajaj told Gandhi that he could not see a “smooth, concerted and rhythmic movement” towards unlocking the economy. “Yes, I understand, based on what I have heard yesterday also, that we are moving in that direction, but I think, an aligned approach is required,” he said. On May 30, the Centre announced that the “Unlock 1” phase would begin from June 1. It allowed reopening of restaurants, and all shops and establishments around the country, subject to the approval of state governments.
The industrialist called India’s lockdown “draconian but porous”, PTI reported. He claimed the lockdown ended up flattening the Gross Domestic Product curve instead of the coronavirus curve.
“On one hand a porous lockdown makes sure that the virus will still exist and as you said, it is still waiting to hit you when you will unlock,” the managing director of Bajaj Auto said. “So you have not solved that problem. But you have definitely decimated the economy. You flattened the wrong curve. It is not the infection curve, it is the GDP curve. This is what we have ended with, the worst of both worlds.”
India’s Gross Domestic Product grew at 3.1% for the January to March quarter, the lowest growth rate in 11 years.
Bajaj said India made a mistake by emulating the West in preparing its response to the coronavirus outbreak. “I don’t understand that despite being an Asian country, we sought not to look at what was happening in the East,” Bajaj said. “We looked at the US, France, Italy, the UK, etc.This is not a right benchmark in any sense.”
The industrialist said that no medical infrastructure facilities in India would have been sufficient to combat the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak. “When the rich and famous get affected, it makes headlines,” he said. “Eight thousand children die of starvation in Africa every day, but who cares.”
Gandhi asked Bajaj if he felt there was an “atmosphere of fear” in India that damaged business prospects. Bajaj said that in terms of being “tolerant and sensitive”, India needs to “mend some things”.
The Congress leader has held a series of meetings with prominent personalities as part of the party’s outreach during the Covid-19 pandemic. Gandhi last week spoke to globally renowned public health experts – Professor Ashish Jha of Harvard Global Health Institute and Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke.
In April, he discussed the impact of the coronavirus on the economy with former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan. In May, Gandhi held an interaction with Nobel Laureate Abhijit Mukherjee.