Charudutta Panigrahi

India in COVID 19 transformed itself from a health care powerhouse to a human care powerhouse.


COVID has exposed the callousness, under-preparedness and the obstinacy of the world leaders who are supposed to be the torch bearers for the second and third world countries. Were we all overestimating their vision and mission for the world, when they were busy in the myopia of their own countries and boundaries?

The brazen jingoism does not help fight pandemics; they aggravate them and put the low income, less privileged communities equally, if not more, at risk. Floundering public systems, disturbing social adherence to health emergencies and mindless responses to mass killing pandemics, are we so credulous to continue to be overwhelmed by the so-called world leaders? It’s time to etch out our paths and directions, as we have substance inside.

american indian diaspora

A day ago, the most powerful human being on earth advised all to inject disinfectants to clean our systems of COVID 19. The doctors say it would be suicidal. A month ago, he had rubbished early signals and the fear of the infection’s onslaught and boasted that US was completely and comprehensively equipped to handle the morbidity, in any eventuality of spiking. The health care workers are now literally begging for PPE supplies in the US. The hospital beds are full and the health workers in different facilities like home health aide agencies, hospices, ambulance squads, and correctional facilities are working woefully without protection.

COVID 19 is at such alarming levels in US that he has suspended all immigration into the country. The world’s largest economy and most powerful has decided to cut off its grant to WHO, (the biggest grant of over $400 mn)in the midst of this global pandemic and near apocalypse. Was this really the time to act like a “Cuttack bully”[1]. WHO might also need to explain a lot, but was this the occasion to rescind the support? Does the captain of the world’s largest economy only announce financial packages after the damage is done? What would be the cash transfer of $1200 + 500 do, if the shelves get polished off? Even the disbursement of the money directly to the bank accounts, has not been without severe flaws.

Many beneficiary accounts have not been credited. When the stores are without stock, with money in their accounts, the people are demanding ‘no lockdown’. Do they have an alternative? With more than 52000 deaths, what is the engagement of the departments in the government in community outreach activities? Do they have any behaviour change strategy in place to desist people from breaking social distance? There is no sign of it. Odisha an emerging state in India has been exemplary. It is leveraging the village units (Panchayats) by extending them high level executive powers to register and monitor migration (mostly inwards) and sensitise the communities, household-wise in a population of over 40 million.

The boss of Russia is nowhere to be seen as the hospitals in Moscow and hinterland get choked and unlike the U.S. and Europe, Russia has so far offered only limited support to businesses that have been forced to shut. The country might have a $165 billion cushion of savings built from its oil and gas wealth, but large numbers of people are breaking coronavirus lockdown like they did in Moscow to march across Red Square to mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik revolution. There are about 68000 cases and more confirmed while Russia is busy playing the oil games with Saudi. The pandemic is rising exponentially and fast proliferating in Russia.

In India, with its size and related complexities both in the administration of social distancing and precautionary steps, there are about 27000 cases so far, out of 2.79million worldwide. This is no consolation but commendable is the way in which the general population’s dedication to the rule of law has been demonstrated under stressful conditions. Imagine the socio-psychological care at this scale of 1.37 billion,  one sixth of the planet, living in 36 provinces, most of them equal to or bigger than many countries in Europe in size.

Social distancing in India could be easily the biggest and quickest behaviour change in humanity, and that too result based. Because we don’t know what happened or is happening in China. It doesn’t even have correct COVID figures and last week they revised in an attempt to ‘leave no cases undocumented’. So the initial numbers they furnished was an arbitrary figure, or did that flow out of a surveillance system gone awry or was it again a deliberate confusion created to mislead or escape any sort of retribution form the rest of the world.

Trump's visit to India

Can the so-called superpower(s) be so fragile, inside? The wet markets are still open and there is scant respect for government notifications. All this for the fabled iron rule of China? Till now it is a mystery – whether the COVID episode was a lab accident or a strategy which worked or didn’t work or was plain and simple driven by animal to human transmission due to indiscriminate and reckless devouring of wildlife. Whatever is the truth is not becoming of the ‘predatory world superpower, manically discussed for its systemic efficiency and ruthless discipline.

The link between the wet markets and zoonotic diseases has been established. This link has caused human disaster and yet the famed ‘stern administration’ of China has not been able to close down. Australia is desperately appealing to the G20 to ensure that the wet markets are shut because they are a ‘bio security and human health risk’. I am bruised with my own lie –China rules. No, it doesn’t, and it can’t.

For India and Brazil, comparisons with China should end now because these two countries are open, democratic and humane. Not the only one, GDP is just one measure like many others. India values lives, even in the middle of a pandemic never seen before and trying to find its feet in the densely crowded, far flung and low literate millions in cities, towns and villages. China decided to inform the world about COVID, after a month of its outbreak.

USA on the other hand is in the business of announcing trillion-dollar stimulus packages even before taking rudimentary shutdown and preventive practices. And we still chase the big American dream – was great and will be great again. Certainly, it can if it understands what is happening around the globe. USA is not able to handle the payment of $1200 into people’s account, which was yet another incentive declared. There are major glitches and the money is not reaching many people.

Mega sized corporations have been benefitted by the Federal Coronavirus Aid while the ones the aid is meant for are left out. Is this what the world learns about disaster-time, targeted intervention from the most developed nation and the all-powerful? What is the power meant for if the aids cannot be managed, get messy and some of the corporations had to embarrassingly return the aid money?

Gandhiji in India had emphasised on everyday discipline and good health through, food and non-food positive stimulus. This has helped build the pristine self-restraining character of the country and strong immunity due to the dominant role of divinity in managing stress. This although lampooned in the past has now been scientifically ratified that personal habits greatly boost the immunity. The Prime Minister of India, the eloquent Narendra Modi has been addressing the nation very often after COVID surfaced and his speeches are motivational talks with frequent mention of Indian system of health including yoga and meditation.

This has sparked a nationwide practice of nature influenced self-improvement drive. I have not seen or heard many country premiers cultivating such plain speak and personal development plans for each citizen. This has been a remarkable bonding factor in this crisis. The nation’s premier should converse with the citizens and  not report like spokesperson, which many leaders do every day.

Italy, France had long periods of denial and had allowed irresponsible public gatherings with mindless sloganeering like ‘let’s smurf the virus’. These have aggravated the situation. UK floundered miserably and at one point the flock immunity so utterly failed that ‘the most fragile and the weakest were expected to resign themselves to sacrifice’. How hopeless is the situation of a ‘developed economy’ which always worried about health systems in ‘low income communities’ and pressurising the governments for tied aids?

They themselves need aid acutely. Squabbling motormouth leaders, publicity hungry scientists, callous, un-statesmanlike world leaders and their gross inefficient management has allowed the virus to get better of us. Vietnam, Indonesia, Rwanda, Thailand, Germany have silently and steadily worked around sprucing up their internal systems, observing lock downs seriously and increasing testing.

india's GDP Growth

Irrespective of a country’s economic status, the moral courage of the people during catastrophes is moulded largely by the leadership. Now, after seeing the world under pressure, we realise that the truth is something else. Our estimation of the world big powers was coloured with their GDP while we have realised that ultimately GLI (Gross Leadership Index) works. The Big Brothers have failed us. There are no torch bearers to look up to and get guided. It took one pandemic to expose the vacuum that the ‘developed economies and systems’ are. The emerging countries and their leaders are the true heroes, without feet of clay.

It is high time we realise that post COVID, it would be a changed world in every sphere, and it is then necessary to have the emerging countries lead institutions like the WHO, UN and others. After COVID, health would be the central eco-political agenda for the globe till 2030, at least. Meritocracy is the only way out. Plutocracy has demented us. We had overestimated their intentions and competencies.


(Charudutta Panigrahi is an author and a futurist living in Gurgaon, India.)