New Delhi: Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome.
Familiar words? Yes indeed. Dr Manmohan Singh’s stirring address while presenting the Union Budget on July 24, 1991. It was a monumental economic crisis India faced in 1991 and Singh’s heroics scripted India’s remarkable turnaround from a precipice.
And yet, these words may easily have been uttered by Narendra Modi in recent days. They well encapsulate India’s remarkable pushback against the pandemic after the second wave threatened to ravage – even destroy – the country. In fact, the crisis Modi confronted in April and May this year was far greater than anything finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh confronted in 1991. Three decades later, in 2021, Modi was faced with both – a pandemic and a pandemic-induced economic disaster. In other words, both lives and livelihoods were at stake, truly an unprecedented, a once-in-a-lifetime, crisis.
Now, as I write this, there’s a dramatic transformation in the ground situation in India. The pandemic has receded from most corners of India. It’s perhaps an impact of localised lockdowns and some natural immunity developing across the country. But, crucially, the mammoth vaccination drive unveiled by the centre in tandem with the states may help tame the pandemic.
Indeed, with India vaulting over the 100 crore jabs milepost, it’s a remarkable fightback, a Phoenix-like comeback for the country. Only a few months ago, the tidal second wave of the pandemic threatened to devour India. So many, so many, precious lives were lost as Covid became a living reality for all Indians. There’s perhaps no Indian who did not have somebody to mourn for between April and July this year. I personally lost three school friends to the pandemic. And it was a ghar, ghar ki kahani across India.
And perhaps equally significant is the economic revival, the green shoots India has seen in recent days. India may well grow in double digits this fiscal and is on the cusp of becoming the world’s fastest-growing major economy once again. So, both the pandemic and the pandemic-induced economic slowdown have been contained – at least for the time being.
RESTORING INDIA’S CREDIBILTY
It’s crystal clear that the official Covid estimates were a gross underestimation of the ground realities. ICMR’s sero surveys revealed the staggering undercount of the Covid tally in India. The undercounting factor is an eye-popping 100 and 134 in U.P and Bihar. Indeed, there is enough anecdotal evidence to support ICMR’s findings. I remember calling a friend in Prayagraj in May to mourn the loss of a common friend to Covid, only to discover that he and the rest of his family were all down the virus – in fact, I was told there was a virtual curfew in parts of Prayagraj as many families had locked themselves up in their home to avoid getting infected!
It’s in this backdrop that India’s pacy vaccination in recent months needs to be seen. Even the world was horror-struck at the ferocity of the second wave in India.
By rolling out this massive vaccination drive, India may have stifled the possibility of a third wave. And, also, restored India’s credibility as a rising power in South Asia that can protect lives and livelihoods of its citizens. Not only have we inoculated over 70 crore Indians – at least with one dose – the government also gave free ration to 80 crore Indians to tide over the Covid-imposed lockdowns and restrictions.
India has shown it has the will to stand up to adversity, the worst crisis humanity faced in centuries, and prevail. That’s why I was reminded of the words of Dr Manmohan Singh while delivering his epochal Budget speech in 1991.
MODI’S “MAKE IN INDIA” COMES ALIVE
Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a rousing appeal to the world community at the United Nations in September to make Covid vaccines in India, as an extension of his “Make in India” campaign. Well, I believe the world is already making vaccines in India in large quantities. Covishield, the vaccine that 90% of Indians are being administered, is a global brand, owned by Astrazeneca and Oxford. Right now, it’s being administered mostly to Indians but all that will change soon.
Once, the entire adult population is vaccinated, surely India will begin exporting Covishield in bulk to other countries around the world. The mammoth vaccine production facilities we are building – we are already making 20 to 25 crore Covishield doses a month – can be used to bridge the yawning vaccine inequity across the world. And Covaxin too may flood foreign shores once we have vaccinated all our children – maybe in another six to eight months.
So, to paraphrase this, India’s vaccine drive is a massive advertisement for India’s “Make in India” campaign – it could make brand India visible across the globe, adding credibility and heft to India’s aspirations to emerge as a manufacturing giant, a possible counterweight to China. Indeed, it may even be a turning point for the “Make in India” initiative, which so far has not made the impact it was envisaged to have.
INDIA’S COVID HERO
Finally, let’s also raise a toast to the man who has made this mammoth vaccination drive possible. Adar Poonawalla, Serum boss. His footprint in India’s vaccination drive has been much greater than was seen initially.
In the vaccination blueprint chalked out by the government, Serum was expected to supply about a third of all the doses India would need (34.7%). Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin was expected to account for about 25% of the doses. Now, as it turns out, Covishield has produced 90% of the vaccines India has consumed. True, Covishield price at one point appeared to be inflated, but that controversy appears to have been settled with some deft negotiations on pricing between the centre and Serum.
Every crisis throws up new heroes. Adar Poonawalla has been the man of the moment for India during the pandemic.
(Rishi Joshi is Executive Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.)