LEADERS MUST READ THE SIGNS…

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Like all Indians, I have endured 51 days of lockdown. I say ‘endured’ because I obviously did not enjoy it one bit. Yes, there have been some positives but these too will be useless if we do not learn the right lessons from them. After all, in a free country, which one of us likes his or her freedoms curtailed in this manner? By 17 May 20, we would have had 54 days to sort ourselves out before resuming our daily lives and livelihoods. I will not labour on the handling of the pandemic situation within the country because our successes and failures are slowly becoming apparent. As a citizen, I expect absolute normalcy to return at the earliest. I want to see my colleagues at work, I want my haircut, I want my jaunts to the market and I want to rediscover my social life. I also know this has certain risks and therefore it may not happen all together. However, the basic enablers must be activated without which any lift of lockdown will remain unsatisfactory.

I also wish that this word ‘Lockdown’ is discarded from the Indian citizen’s lexicon. This word has become synonymous with confinement, loss of liberties and deep anguish at the deprivation in our daily lives. Alas, a Lockdown 4.0 has already been announced, however, different it may be from the first three versions. How I wish it was called ‘Restoration 1.0’! It changes the perspective entirely, replacing despondency with hope. It indicates an intention to revert to normalcy. Lockdown indicates an intent to continue curbs and quarantines. This is the power of language and we must incorporate such emotional aspects into our strategic communication. And while on the subject, I would prefer the term ‘physical distancing’ with a strong emotional connect rather than ‘social distancing’ which has already acquired pandemic proportions with the proliferation of smart devices.

Economic revival has suddenly become the flavour of the times. Figures, statistics and future growth paths are being rattled off by experts to the great wonder of many laypersons like me. This was preceded by figures, statistics and future trends of the pandemic. This will continue for many weeks to come. These are measurable, prone to manipulation and can be used in hundreds of ways to justify or denigrate actions taken by authorities, depending on which side of the divide we sit. These are also for the consumption of the educated few who may understand some of it. The large majority of the population could not care less about economic details at this stage when they are preoccupied with daily survival and reclaiming their lives. Economic lectures and proposals could have been made at some CII/FICCI kind of forum and national TV could have been spared.

While we are enamoured by the measurable, let me attract the reader’s attention to some immeasurable issues, that have devastated lives over the past 51 days. The severe stresses of confinement that all of us have withstood, the apathy and hardship that hordes of migrant labour have endured, the deep sense of grief that families have suffered at not being able to attend last rites of kith and kin, the long and hard separations that families continue to endure, the helplessness of students and employees stuck at places outside their home or duty stations, the frustration of patients who have been denied normal healthcare and the plight of millions of daily wage earners who just cannot sustain any more are but a few examples of things that matter more to the man on the street than complex economic packages.

It is time to shift gear from ‘Lockdown’ to ‘Restore’. We need to open up liberally, starting with public transportation, freedom of public movement within states and across the country and full restoration of all kinds of work. People should be enabled to return to normalcy while taking all ‘practicable’ precautions. Spikes in infections will have to be managed till we find an answer to the virus. We would have failed miserably as a country if we have not achieved this confidence over 54 days of national inconvenience.

My next vote depends on what happens after 17 May 20.

 

14 May 20

 

 

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