Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that India should assess its coronavirus fight based on the number of lives it has saved instead of the number of infections or the mortality rate. In an interview with The Economic Times, he added that India can still reach its goal of becoming a $5-trillion economy by 2024 despite the setbacks triggered by the pandemic.

India’s coronavirus tally rose to 80,40,203 on Thursday as it recorded 49,881 new cases in 24 hours. The country’s toll is now 1,20,527. India has 6,03,687 active cases, while the number of recoveries stands at 73,15,989. Globally, India is the second-worst country. The coronavirus has infected more than 4.4 crore people globally and killed 11,73,270 people, according to the Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 3 crore people have recovered from the infection.

“Our case-fatality ratio is among the lowest in the world and the deaths per million is much lower than what is seen in many developed nations,” Modi said, adding that the virus was “proving to be very fickle”. Areas that were seen as hotspots in the beginning of the pandemic are performing better now while others such as Karnataka and Kerala, which were doing well initially, are in distress, he noted.

‘No room for complacency’

“This is why I feel there is no room for complacency,” he said, stressing on the need to take precautions such as wearing a mask, washing hands and following physical distancing norms. “Though even one untimely death is extremely painful, for a country of our size, openness, and connectivity, we have among the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world,” the prime minister said.

He stressed on the high recovery rate and falling active cases. “From a peak of almost 97,894 daily cases in mid-September, we are reporting only around 50,000 new cases in late October. This has been made possible because entire India came together and worked as Team India.”

Reiterating the need to not be complacent now, when the number of daily cases are on a steady decline, he pointed out that several countries that had initially controlled the outbreak have now reported a resurgence in cases. In contrast, many Indian states are bigger than countries, he said.

“Within the country, the impact is very diverse – there are some areas where it’s minimal, while there are some states where it’s very focused and persistent,” he said. “Yet it must be kept in mind that in a country with more than 700 districts, the impact is seen only in some districts of a few states.”

“Our latest numbers of new cases, mortality rate and total active cases do indicate a lower phase than some time ago, yet we cannot be complacent. The virus is still out there. It thrives on our complacency. I believe we should use this phase of slowing down of cases not to celebrate, but further strengthen our resolve, our behaviour and our systems.”

— PM Narendra Modi, The Economic Times

Lockdown was proactive and timely: Modi

Modi said that India’s “proactive, timely nationwide lockdown” came at a critical point in the pandemic’s trajectory. “We not only got the broad timing of various phases of lockdown right, we also got the unlock process right and much of our economy is also coming back on track,” he said. “The data for August and September indicates that. India has taken a science-driven approach in response to Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Such an approach proved beneficial.”

“Studies now show that this response helped avoiding a situation which could have led to rapid spread of the virus with many more deaths. In addition to the timely lockdown, India was among the first countries to mandate wearing of masks, use a contact-tracing app and deploy rapid antigen tests.

For a pandemic of this dimension, it would not have been possible to manage if the country was not united. The entire country stood together to fight this virus. The Covid warriors, who are our frontline healthcare workers, knowing well the threat to their life, fought for this country.”

— PM Narendra Modi, The Economic Times

‘Farm and labour reforms signal a new India’

The prime minister also claimed that despite several setbacks this year caused by the coronavirus pandemic, India was on its way to economic recovery.

“So what if we could not move at the desired pace this year due to the pandemic?” he said, when asked if India would reach its target to become a $5-trillion economy by 2024. “We will try and run faster in the next year to make up for the loss. Nothing great ever gets done if we get deterred by obstacles in our path. By not aspiring, we guarantee failure.”

He added: “India is the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. We want India to become the third largest in terms of current US dollar prices as well. The $5-trillion target will help us achieve that.”

Modi added that his government’s reforms in the farm and labour sectors would signal to the world that this was a new India. “I am confident that these reforms undertaken in the last few months will help increase the growth rate and returns in both the manufacturing and agriculture sectors,” he told the newspaper. “Moreover, it will also signal to the world that this is a new India which believes in markets and market forces.”

Reiterating that India was on its way to economic recovery, he said that several indicators such as record high foreign direct investment inflows, auto sales, and manufacturing growth suggested the same. Record production and record purchase in agriculture are going to “inject significant income in the rural economy which will have its own virtuous cycle of demand generation”, he said.

He also cited a 34% rise in new net subscribers of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation in August to show that the job market is picking up.

“Other than that, foreign exchange reserves have touched a record high. Key indicators of economic recovery like railway freight traffic increased by more than 15% and power demand by 4% in September over the same month last year,” he said. “This shows that recovery is broad based.”

The prime minister added that India will soon emerge as a global manufacturing hub on its own strengths in the new world order that would emerge after the pandemic is over. He said:

“India has not started speaking about manufacturing only after the pandemic. We have been working on increasing manufacturing for sometime now. India is, after all, a young country with a skilled workforce. But India doesn’t believe in gaining from the loss of others. India will become a global manufacturing hub on its own strengths. Our effort is not to become some country’s alternative, but to become a country which offers unique opportunities. We want to see the progress of all. If India progresses, 1/6th of humanity will progress.

We saw how a new world order was formed after World War II. Something similar will happen post Covid-19. This time, India will ride the bus of manufacturing and integrating in global supply chains. We have specific advantages in the form of democracy, demography and demand.”

— PM Narendra Modi

Aatmanirbhar Bharat

The prime minister also dismissed claims that the Aatmanirbhar or self-reliance initiative was a contradiction of India’s initiatives to become global.

“Aatmanirbhar Bharat [scheme] is not only about competition but also about competence, it’s not about dominance but about dependability, it’s not about looking within but about looking out for the world,” Modi said. “So, when we say Aatmanirbhar Bharat, we mean an India that is, first of all, self-reliant. A self-reliant India is also a reliable friend for the world. A self-reliant India does not mean an India that is self-centred.”

When questioned again if this was not a contradiction, he said: “Confusion among experts is not necessarily a contradiction in our approach.”

“We have just eased restrictions for FDI through reforms like you see in agriculture, labour and coal,” Modi added. “Only a country that believes in the power of international trade and commerce would go on opening up more and more avenues to work with the world. At the same time, it’s also true that India has been unable to realise its potential in sectors where it has inherent comparative advantages.”

He added: “We have given a fair chance to those who have invested in India, shown their trust to expand their capacities and become globally competitive. The Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative is about unlocking India’s latent potential, so that our firms can serve not just domestic markets, but also global ones.”