On 17 November 2019, a 55 year old citizen of the Hubei province of China went to the hospital complaining of mild breathing problems. Soon after COVID-19 was a common household name in 218 countries and territories in the world as WHO declared it a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. We saw panic forming among the general population as we witnessed our world leaders in a mangled state of confusion about their plans of action. There were ill-planned lockdowns all over the world where billions of people were forced to shut their shops, be it business or job, for no apparent long-term effect. As the largest democracy in the world with a population of 1.35 billion, India was on the top of the list to be hit quite hard; and it was. India seriously lacked strong, visionary leaders who could have tamed the situation at hand. We bore witness to endless political blame-games and short-term shouts for attention but very few effective strategies to contain the health crisis. After more than eight months of being declared a global pandemic, COVID-19 still refuses to part with the world as medical scientists all over the world are still looking for a sure way to fight back. In this article, let us look about the future changes in store for India when the pandemic situation finally ends.
Let’s face it. A country this big and this populated was bound to face challenges never tackled before. But Indian political leadership looked just dazed and confused about any future plan of action as they juggled between “Jaan Hai toh Jahaan Hai” (when there’s life, there’s livelihood), “Jaan Bhi Jahaan Bhi” (lives and livelihoods matter equally) and “Jan Se Lekar Jag Tak” (from individuals to the whole humanity) approaches in just the first two months of the lockdown period. But let us not dwell on the past and instead look at what’s ahead:
- India will economically be more on the self-reliant side in the decades to come. “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan” or “Self-reliant India Mission” may still seem as the desperate grasping for a straw while sinking steadily, but logically it will be the next step indeed. More and more Indian citizens are expected to begin their own ventures, online and offline. ‘Ease of doing business’ measures will be simpler and more collateral-free loans will be given to aid the newcomers.
- 18 April 2020 saw a slight change in the Indian Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) policy that basically called for a close scrutiny for all FDI from countries sharing physical borders with the country. There will be only more stringent policy changes in future in this regard, at least for the next decade or so.
- Continued serious persecution of human rights in China and frequent bad blood regarding the Global Magnitsky Act between the US and Russia can serve as a double-entry for India in gaining the MFN/NTR status, especially in the post-pandemic world. Regardless of political leadership in the country, India remains an automatic choice in this regard due to its huge population alone.
- Even when the situation was normal, India was never able to enforce a minimum wage structure. During lockdown the same was tried in vain. But there will definitely be more discussions on this matter as the terrible images of migrant workers toiling laboriously on feet still run fresh on our memory.
- Major improvements in the supply chains / logistics area, clearer NPA norms that will depend on both centralized and decentralized means to solve its problems and more humane labor laws for the 94% of India’s working population in the unorganized sector (of a total of 487 million, as of 2012) are ones of the immediate follow-ups in the post-pandemic India.
Whether it be a ‘V’,’W’,’U’,’K’,’L’ or for that matter any shaped recovery, one thing is for certain and that is there will be an eventual recovery. When that comes we need to see India getting back up but this time on stronger foundations.
What is the only thing that can currently help against the spread of this corona-virus pandemic? Yes, the answer is “Social Distancing”. While the effect of social distancing is more or less same in all parts of the world, it is especially impactful in such a socially diverse and culturally rich country like India.
- We all somewhat agree (irrespective of whether we are prepared to do anything about the betterment of it or not) that the backbone of a society is education. Schools and colleges mostly remain closed with effect from mid-March. True there is the online mode of providing classes and evaluating students going on but not all the schools are able to follow it due to a number of reasons. In a report from October, World Bank predicted that nearly 5.5 million Indian students will eventually drop out from the education system, resulting in a “loss of over 400 billion USD in the country’s future earnings, besides substantial learning losses”. Many students who are at the critical junctures in their academic life are feared to suffer various modes of depression, anxiety over future career and susceptibility to future educational pursuits. It can cause a lifelong productivity reduction in a whole generation of students.
- A new form of poorly understood ‘untouchability’ in the form of social distancing has led to serious crises in the health sector also. Being someway connected to the blood donation drives by Bloodmates, a non-profit, non-governmental organization with the goal of providing blood donors across India through social media campaigns, I have seen the dire situation where donors are afraid to donate blood during the COVID-19. Thalassemia patients probably are among the most affected as they require a steady transfusion of blood in regular intervals. Similar cases of non-COVID medical emergencies still continue to suffer from lack of proper care. What it shows is the poor awareness levels and unsubstantiated fear about the virus across the country despite vigorous media coverages. One can also go to the extent by stating that the general trust level in the Indian society is at an all-time low.
- The low trust factor can also be attributed to the plethora of misinformation that was already on the rise before the pandemic. Highly exaggerated media reports with the sole aim of tantalizing the public often bordered on fake news. A new kind of frustration is now seen on Indian news-gobblers as they can not distinguish from fake news to the real ones, in many cases stopping to read any news whatsoever. Unless the news houses take notice and do something, this will continue to be the case for the coming years. As a result, general lack of information about vital issues will elude the bulk of the educated Indians. But at the same time, this mistrust can also serve as a boon when the educated Indians demand more and more to learn about things from authenticated sources. In a nutshell, low or no trust among the society will eventually be the foundation upon which the new trust frameworks will be built.
- A report by Childline India Foundation stated that during only the first ten days of the lockdown there was a significant rise (nearly a lakh of cases) of child abuse crimes in India. Same is also true for women. Lockdown forces the victims to stay in close proximity of their abusers, resulting in unprecedented emotional stress. Domestic violence against women and children was nothing new in the mostly patriarchal country but the pandemic showed it to the general public in a naked fashion. We can hope for better laws to guard against such a menace in the coming days.
- As stated earlier, 94% of Indian workforce is in the unorganized sector. This is the sector hit the hardest during the pandemic. Future India will see an attempt of this huge workforce to move into the organized sector for better security and returns. While the demand for education will be on the rise, many will not be able to provide for the same. (Remember the World Bank report telling about 5.5 million dropouts?) At the same time, unemployment was a giant shadow even before India was hit by COVID. This situation is now greatly inflated as millions of homes lost their primary source of income. More and more suicide reports are coming from every corner of the country. This bleak and grim situation can only be tackled by a collaborative and cooperative approach by both the government and the private sector. The immediate future may look darker than we care to acknowledge but with scope of slow improvement over the years.
The COVID-19 situation has gifted a power boost to all the governments around the world. What it means is: when the crisis will finally be over, a lot of those governments would simply refuse to let that power position go. India has already seen its share of severe restriction of freedom of media, unlawful banning of mass protests in the name of health emergency, scapegoating the minorities or using relief fund for political purposes. Moreover it has given the government a perfect excuse for all its shortcomings. But the current situation will bring some fundamental changes to how voters think at the very least, and that will lead to some tell-tale signs for improvement.
- Make no mistake about it — “people make the government.” As already discussed in the Social Changes section, we will see more and more of the general public who will be able to see through the veil of governance and will begin to demand solutions for the most pressing issues. Propaganda machines will not work as efficiently as before. Leaders will be held accountable to the promises they make. New CSR policies will be in place to guide the corporates on where to draw the lines. People will demand full transparency and the government will have to comply.
- If the above prediction seems like an utopia, it is because it probably is. A polar opposite can be true as well. True the people will keep asking the right questions, but there can be a whole new sophisticated approach to paint the answers. Propaganda machines have done their job over and over again in the past, and this time maybe they will evolve to the point where the line between truth and propaganda will be that much harder to separate. Leaders will happily hold themselves accountable for everything they do because they will be sure that nothing harmful will ever surface which can be used against them in any way. The corporates will devise ever so shrewd approaches to push its tentacles under the state governance system. People will still continue to demand full transparency but will be unable to tell apart truth from carefully engineered lies.
As you have probably guessed already, both these all-utopian or all-dystopian future is probably too much exaggeration by my overly imaginative mind. Reality will most likely be between these two alternates. The current political situation in the country (or for that matter all around the world) is suffering from both lack of sincere politicians and the need to look beyond own political gains. This is why I leave the possible political future entirely on the senile minds of my audience while I sip my morning tea, choosing to watch closely as the events unfold.
* This article is not at all meant to predict what will happen (after all, I don’t have the illusion of being an expert!), rather to pen down some interesting thoughts bound to arise in a turbulent time like this. Stay Safe and Happy Thinking, everyone! *
* All images used herein are copyright-free, free for personal or commercial use with no attributions required *