Seal The Hotspots, Other Areas Gradually Exit Lockdown: Why Political Correctness Shouldn’t Stop Centre And States From Doing What Is Right

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Apr 9, 2020 10:28 AM
Seal The Hotspots, Other Areas Gradually Exit Lockdown: Why Political Correctness Shouldn’t Stop Centre And States From Doing What Is Right India under lockdown.
Snapshot
  • Everyone has to get back to work as soon as possible. That is the priority.

    Hotspots may have to be sealed, and lockdown lifted gradually in other areas.

    Many of these hotspots will be Jamaati clusters.

As India approaches the end of a 21-day coronavirus lockdown, the big question is about the exit strategy. Will it be in one go, will it be staggered, or will the lockdown be extended?

One way out that is emerging is to seal Covid-19 hotspots, and gradually lift the lockdown in other areas.

As things stand now, a lot of the hotspots would be linked to the Tablighi Jamaat and the spread related to it.

These are vital decisions which the central government will have to take in a few days, after gauging the situation, and taking into account the apprehensions and administrative capacities of the states.

Unfortunately, it is possible that some necessary decisions might not be taken to the extent required, because of a persistent worry in the higher echelons of power: that India’s Achilles heel of vote bank politics could be brought into play by the usual suspects.

As the table below shows, this concern is not as far-fetched as it might seem.

This is because it has now been established beyond doubt that the unmasking of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) Wuhan virus cluster in Delhi has single-handedly resulted in a dangerous, temporary setback to our fight against the epidemic. This can be attributed to the inexcusable spread by unthinking Jamaat attendees to far corners of our land.

Seal The Hotspots, Other Areas Gradually Exit Lockdown: Why Political Correctness Shouldn’t Stop Centre And States From Doing What Is Right
Seal The Hotspots, Other Areas Gradually Exit Lockdown: Why Political Correctness Shouldn’t Stop Centre And States From Doing What Is Right
Seal The Hotspots, Other Areas Gradually Exit Lockdown: Why Political Correctness Shouldn’t Stop Centre And States From Doing What Is Right
Seal The Hotspots, Other Areas Gradually Exit Lockdown: Why Political Correctness Shouldn’t Stop Centre And States From Doing What Is Right

Note that these rough initial estimates from a crowd-sourced site do not satisfactorily include states like Gujarat, West Bengal and Bihar, where attendee details are scanty.

In the absence of such data, those patients who cannot be verifiably linked to the Jamaat congregation have been disregarded from calculations.

Further, it is understood that these figures would undergo revisions as more details pour in.

Yet, even with such constraints, a conservative estimate of the Jamaat’s contribution to the Indian tally is depressing; nearly three quarters of new cases reported since 30 March, and over half of the grand total.

While these numbers are still rising, and details of more individuals are still awaited, they offer three insights.

One, an idea of just how badly the TJ cluster hurt the national effort.

Two, how, in spite of the damage caused, the identity of the attendees might still serve as an impediment to the implementation of a logical, planned, focused exit from the lockdown.

Three, why extra administrative focus and restrictions will have to be placed on these TJ clusters in various parts of the land, if the epidemic is indeed to be contained successfully.

Now, whether anyone at any level of seniority in any government is willing to admit to this hesitation or not, the sad truth is that the impending decision on an exit strategy is unfortunately dependent, at least in part, on this issue.

It should not be so, but it is. For this reason, it is equally important that the reported repulsive behaviour of quarantined TJ attendees be set aside for the moment. Offensive though they might be, those defiling acts actually have no relevance to the matter at hand.

But, while principal inferences from the above table might be as clear as mud to most, be it termed Islamophobia or not, it is at precisely this paradigm point that the narrative stands set to be twisted out of joint for all the wrong reasons. And in a democracy, the public narrative is paramount.

Already, a freelance election campaign manager and political strategist with delusions of grandeur, has issued a tweet expressing incomprehension over police-led lockdowns.

His incomprehension is incomprehensible, except for its obvious, venal intent of stirring the pot, for if the police won’t lead a lockdown, then who will?

As readers will note, that is pretty much the flavour of the day, already, and we are only speaking about social media stalwarts yet.

The states, whose role in battling the epidemic is just as important as that of the Centre, have a different set of problems.

For one, there is always an election around the corner, and it never does to ruffle certain pampered feathers, irrespective of the TJ’s culpability in thwarting the nation’s best-laid containment plans. Think October 2020 and May 2021, both of which, on a political calendar, are just around the corner.

Also, some states, especially those whose finances are on the ventilator support of a liquor tax, would actually benefit from an extension of the lockdown, since it gifts them the opportunity to stiff the Centre with an even fatter bill when the crisis passes.

Unfortunately, this flies in the face of advice from health officials, who maintain that one should actually intensify containment protocols onto smaller administrative units, exactly when the rate of cases reported daily begins to shrink – like a block, or a ward, or an urban quarter.

Consequently, it is perhaps time to stop beating about the bush, and consider the nature of India’s prevailing political discourse: meaning, it is inevitable that the central government will be castigated to the core, irrespective of which decision it finally takes. That is unavoidable.

It is, therefore, up to the citizenry, in their interest of safely returning to work soon, to ask about the wisdom of prioritising political correctness over logic and reason; what Swarajya’s editor calls ‘the weird blackness’.

Is this really the time to divert issues, by invoking hoary postmodernist concepts of cultural relativism to justify the TJ’s behaviour? Or pseudo-secularist refinements like appeasement?

Does it really matter if it is the rest of India which is at fault, that we castigated the bad behaviour of TJ attendees in quarantine, simply because we could not empathise with their ‘cultural’ practices? Or are we all to endure an extended lockdown, merely so that a little moral equivalence may be instituted, and the sentiments of a select few not hurt?

Frankly, no, and in light of the crisis at hand, the time for such dhimmitude tripe is over.

Everyone has to get back to work as soon as possible. That is the priority. Retail has to recommence – be it flowers, footwear or fashion.

Harvesting has to get underway. And governments will have to set aside the very real risk of being branded Islamophobic, as they take necessary, hard decisions – even if it costs them political capital.

As the table above shows, the hotspots will thus have to be clamped down upon, whatever the exit strategy finally selected. They will have to be sealed for an extended period if need be, so that nothing moves in, out or within.

This may appear unfair, but it is a necessary part of the exit strategy. All cannot be held ransom to the censorious sentiments of a privileged few, especially when no malice is intended, and lives are at stake.

Ironically, orders to seal selected localities across the country have already been issued by various governments. But there is no outcry presently because the entire nation is under lockdown. Thus, one may expect that such outcries for moral equivalence will rise only when sealing orders persist in selected geographies, while the rest commence an exit strategy.

No doubt, the secularists will stick to form and milk the moment for all it is worth. Let them. The sanctimonious semaphoring of such virtue-signallers will never end. It is up to the rest of India, including the average Muslim, to accept that a safe return to routine at the earliest is what matters most.

Therefore, if the central government is to select the right exit strategy, it will have to do so by enduring further, incessant accusations of Islamophobia.

This choice will not be without political cost, or without tumult, but it will be better than letting a health crisis transmogrify into a financial one.

So, better the acrimony of a few, than the ill favour of many. Indeed, to paraphrase a line from a film in conclusion, ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the woke’.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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