Lockdown flattened wrong curve, says Bajaj Auto MD

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 6/5/2020 1:01:04 AM

NEW DELHI, Jun 4: Industrialist Rajiv Bajaj (53), managing director of Bajaj Auto, on Thursday said India implemented a "draconian" but porous lockdown, ending up decimation of its economy and flattening the GDP curve instead of flattening the curve of the Coronavirus infections.
He was quite blunt in his conversion with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as a part of the series in which the former Congress president talks to experts on the pandemic's impact on India.
"You flattened the wrong curve. It is not the infection curve, it is the GDP curve. This is what we have ended (up) with—the worst of both worlds," Bajaj said, asserting that reopening the economy will be a herculean task as "we are not seeing a smooth, concerted, rhythmic movement towards unlocking."
First, he wants a "very clear, aligned narrative" from none other than the Prime Minister to take fear of Coronavirus out of the people's mind. "On one hand a porous lockdown makes sure that the virus will still exist and as you said, it is still waiting to hit you when you will unlock. So you have not solved that problem,” Bajaj told Rahul Gandhi.
Being an Asian country, Bajaj said he expected India to look at eastern nations than at Italy, France or Spain which can't be its right benchmarks. “Unfortunately, India not only looked to the west, it went to the wild west. I think we stayed more towards the impervious side.”
Reacting on the conversation, senior Congress leader and former union minister Jairam Ramesh tweeted that "Bajaj is right. GDP curve was already flattened by Modi govt before COVID-19. India is now "na ghar ka, na ghat ka," he added.
Bajaj said he had not heard about the kind of lockdown in India anywhere else in the world. "All my friends and family from across the world have always been free to step out, to take a walk, to go and buy something they require, to go and visit someone and say hello. So in terms of the social and emotional aspects of this lockdown, they seem to have been in a much better place."
"Some of us who can afford it are not too unhappy to be home. But when you see what is happening around you with both businesses and with the masses, it is certainly more bitter than sweet. So every day brings a new learning on how to cope with it, whether in terms of business, in terms of one’s own emotions, in medical terms," Bajaj said.
Endorsing him, Rahul Gandhi said: "It’s quite surreal. I don’t think anyone imagined that the world would be locked down in this way. I don’t think even during the world war, the world was locked down. Even then, things were open. It’s a unique and devastating sort of phenomena."
Rahul agreed with Bajaj that "well off people can deal with this kind of situation. They have a home, they have an ecosystem which is comfortable, but what it has been for the poor people, for the migrants has been completely devastating. They have lost confidence actually. Kaafi logon ne bola hai ki bharosa kho gaya hai, bharosa hi nahi bacha and that I think is a very sad thing, and a dangerous thing for the country."
The Congress leader said he liked Bajaj's stress that we look west and not east and wanted to know why India looked west. As a layman, Bajaj said he saw from the beginning four choices: At one extreme on the left is the choice of a hard lockdown, which implies an airtight, impervious lockdown and this did not happen anywhere in the world -- to physically constrain yourself to your home and see absolutely no one. On the other extreme, business as usual. Just ignore it, carry on, jo hoga so hoga. He said nobody says this either as everybod tried to find a middle path between these two extremes.
"I think unfortunately, India not only looked west, it went to the wild west. I think we stayed more towards the impervious side. We tried to implement a hard lockdown which was porous. So I think we have ended up with the worst of both worlds. On one hand a porous lockdown makes sure that the virus will still exist
and as you said, it is still waiting to hit you when you will unlock. So you have not solved that problem. But you have definitely decimated the economy.
'What should have been done is something more right of centre. Which is the kind of stuff that we are hearing out of Japan and Sweden. And people when they hear about this in terms of being articulated as herd immunity, tend to think that herd immunity means let the vulnerable die. It doesn’t mean that at all. They are missing the details, whether it is in terms of sanitisation, masks, distancing etc. Sweden, Japan etc. are following all these practices but they are not trying to go further into the unproductive zone as you said. Make something that is relatively benign and manageable appear to be fatal and beyond control. I think unfortunately we have a quasi hard lockdown I would say, which has given us the worst of both worlds."
On Bajaj asking how he would have crafted a different roadmap in the last three months, Rahul said: "Our discussion internally in the Congress party
was at the time that the response has to be decentralised. Central Government has to operate as a support system and as an enabler. Certain things that the central government needs to do eg. Air traffic, railways etc. that it does. But then it moves the battle to the districts, to the CMs, allows them and enables them to fight.
"Now if you look at what has happened acer the lockdown. Which by the way I call it a failed lockdown. It is the only lockdown in the world where the disease is increasing acer we are opening up. What you are finding is that you are going back to that anyway. The central Government has backed off and has said that now we are going to be forced to leave it to the States. So the correct response is happening organically."
Bajaj interpreted: "To our percep@on as a common ci@zen it is happening as passing of the buck and not passing of the strategy."
Rahul shared with him the kind of response he got from the government people when he asked why not giving a stimulus which logically makes absolute sense. Their response in bullet points:
Point no. 1- There is a huge opportunity for India with regards to China.
Point no. 2- If we give a handout to our labour now, bigad jayenge. They will get spoilt and they will not come back from their villages.
Point no. 3- We might send a wrong message to the international community who we will need to invest in India.
Point no.4- Later we might consider giving money to these labourers and small and medium businesses.
Bajaj talked of some mood elevator to come out of the present morass. "We have to get demand going again, we have to provide something that lifts the mood of the people. We need some mood elevator. And I do not understand why there is no strong initiative, even if it is for a period of 6 months - 1 year to strongly gauze the mood of the people and provide a stimulus to demand.

 

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