India is all set to move from the Lockdown 3.0, dictated by the Centre, to the Lockdown 4.0 varying in degrees, durations and districts, identified by the states post-May 17.
At the marathon fifth virtual meet in the last 50-odd days with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the chief ministers of different states couldn’t arrive at a consensus on the extension of lockdown or movement of trains and flight operations. But by default, they created a picture of unity for the need of states to get greater autonomy to decide the future course of action against Covid-19 as well as graded exit form the lockdown.
At the end of the meet, PM Modi asked the chief ministers to submit reports on what next with an assessment of the situation. But today’s meet has clearly provided room for the Centre to relinquish command and control over India post-May 17.
Prime Minister Modi, speaking at the end of the meet said, "India now has a reasonably clear indication as to the geographical spread of the pandemic in India, including the worst-affected areas. Moreover, over the past few weeks, officials have understood operating procedures in a time such as this, right up to the district level."
In a meet that allowed all chief ministers to speak unlike the last when few were the PM congratulated the states for their efforts, thus, underlining that the battle against Covid-19 spread may take a more federal character. The PM added that "the entire world feels India has been able to successfully protect itself from Covid-19, states played a major role in this. Wherever we have not followed social distancing, our problems have increased."
He also flagged the next big challenge to the states that want more autonomy. He said, "Our biggest challenge will be to ensure Covid-19 doesn't spread to villages in spite of relaxations. The states which have been lax in enforcing the lockdown have created more challenges."
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
Unlike the PM- CM meets earlier, only a few CMs backed an extension of lockdown. Punjab CM wanted a lockdown extension with a carefully crafted strategy, backed by fiscal and economic empowerment of the states, to save lives and secure livelihood. He wanted the Centre to let the states decide the zoning of districts within the state. He was backed openly by the Chhattisgarh CM Baghel.
Maharashtra CM, who sits on top of the maximum cases reported by an Indian state, also backed an extension. He said, "Cases are expected to peak in May, it may peak in June or July also. I've read Wuhan is witnessing the second wave of cases, even WHO has warned about this. So, I suggest that any action on lockdown must be taken cautiously.” He wanted the Centre to announce specific, concrete direction on lockdown which the states can implement.
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan echoed the same thought. He said, "States face different challenges and therefore should be given the freedom to make reasonable changes to the guidelines relating to the lockdown."
On a day that ticket bookings for railways started PM cautioned, "We must ensure precautions are taken by people including social distancing norms by observing ‘Do Gaj Doori’ (six-feet distance)."
Andhra Pradesh CM Jaganmohan Reddy, on the other hand, wanted a relaxation of lockdown measures, with strict adherence to personal hygiene protocols.
Politics to dictate next move
The Centre has been facing immense fire for its decisions - starting the Lockdown 1.0 when Congress interim president termed the move hasty and badly drawn. States have blamed it for the economic distress, the hardships faced by the labourers and migrants and plight of the poor. When the Centre decided not to run trains and flights, it faced criticism and when it announced the resumption of services, there was more fire.
PM Modi, at the meet, indicated the catch 22 situation the Centre found itself. He said, "During the lockdown, people should have stayed where they were. But in distress people want to return home. And for that strategy had to be changed."
It’s the Centre’s dominant role that has created friction with the West Bengal government. Today at the meet, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee struck the first open discordant note in a PM-CM meet. She charged the Centre with indulging in politics in a state which shares borders with three countries. She reminded the Centre to respect the federal structure and complained that the multiple advisories and missives from the Centre were causing confusion.
The Centre will view this rising clamour over central dominance undermining state autonomy as a positive development. If it allows states more powers with facilitation and coordination from the central government, the state governments may have to start playing a more accountable and active role.
This will be the Centre’s second signal of slow distancing. Last time, unlike the first two avatars, the PM didn’t go for an address to the nation. Instead, a home ministry communique announced a two-week extension with extensive guidelines.
Now, through its CMs of states like Gujarat, the BJP-led central government is pushing for opening up the states and economy. Thus, putting the onus of an extension of varying degrees on the states.
The same goes for other measures like the opening of trains. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, in the meet, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to resume the passenger train services, which were stopped as part of preventive measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. On the other hand, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray asked PM Modi to allow operation of local train services in Mumbai for essential services staff. Tamil Nadu CM Palaniswami urged the prime minister not to allow regular air and train services till May 31.
Source: India Today