Covid is a human crisis affecting everybody, directly or indirectly, and creating an uncertainty for many about what lies ahead in terms of continuity of work, personal finances and family welfare.
Any natural disaster comes unannounced and this is true of the corona pandemic as well — its new wave of mutation was suspected but was never easy to size up.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it may be recalled, repeatedly warned the country during the unlock phase last year to take all Covid precautions. That many people chose to ignore them, for lack of understanding of the threat or because of an attitudinal flaw, was one factor that contributed to the severity of the ‘second’ wave.
Herd mentality drove people to aggregating together on religious occasions ‘for strength’ even when the situation demanded keeping away from crowds. Once a fresh wave broke out the Prime Minister himself lost no time in launching a nationwide effort to mop up needed resources and equipment with the help of experts and senior officials.
Considering the nationwide spread of the virus, it was logical for the Centre to encourage the states to feel free to explore avenues of producing oxygen, procuring hospital equipment and accessing medical stock, to supplement the central initiatives. Because of the huge variations in the intensity of the affliction across the country, the Centre authorised the states to determine the policy of lockdown and containment zone on their own.
The Prime Minister’s emphasis on the indigenous manufacture of a Covid vaccine proved to be of great help — the Centre took the import of vaccines in its own hands when decentralization of procurement did not produce satisfactory results.
The prospects of vaccination picking up has made the general public in urban centres optimistic — people appreciate a government that at least tries hard to deal with a challenging situation.
In their eyes, Prime Minister Modi’s leadership qualities remain undiminished. Social scientists and economic experts are trying to figure out what long-range impact the crisis would have on individuals, organizations and nations but any observer can pick up at least some pieces to reconstruct a framework of learnings and course corrections that is going to delineate what the ‘new normal’ would be in the times ahead.
A few things stand to reason in the areas of personal domain, organizational coherence and the larger understanding of life itself. These together can be taken as a ‘gift’ of the pandemic and accepted as an ‘upgrade’ for future living in general.
Freedom & Choice Of prime importance is the healthy attitude of ‘compliance’ that Covid lockdowns created among the people in regard to acceptance of some curtailment of ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ one was used to enjoying in the normal course of life.
At home or at ‘work’ — the concept of the workplace itself had changed — the environ pushed everybody towards a new awareness of ‘self’ and a ‘rediscovery’ of one’s role both as an ‘observer’ and as a ‘doer’ in the period of crisis. In the new normal that the pandemic is setting for all, three things are happening in particular.
First, a new kind of camaraderie has been created that unites the colleagues and family members who were not able to meet physically, much like ‘friends in distress’ sailing in the same boat. Secondly, an understanding of how immunity gained from good health was a basic safeguard against the virus, created a willingness to incorporate some exercise regimen, both physical and mental, in the lifestyle.
This is an upshot of the recognition of ‘self’ referred to earlier. And finally, the experience of ‘work from home’ may have produced different kinds of impact on different people but at a deeper level it has enabled an employee to get a fairly good idea of where he or she stood in terms of adding value to the organization.
Beyond the individual, the pandemic has materially affected business management and organizational working in a manner that is setting in new norms for the future. It was generally said that a leader was tested in a crisis but what the health emergency has done is to redefine leadership as also its mandate for the times ahead.
Issues of human resource development, delegation of decision-making, boss-subordinate relationship, emotional intelligence and importance of ‘nurtural’ leadership have all been opened up afresh. Working from home Working from a remote location and with communication limited to a virtual medium make it necessary and normal to decentralise decision-making to the extent possible and this puts credibility of the leader on test.
Another feature of the ‘new normal’ is the return of the old practice, that had fallen into disuse, of the productive organizations having a system of feedback from below for their own advancement. The post-Covid world is expected to settle down to a handling of personal, professional and social responsibilities in the light of lasting lifestyle changes the pandemic had forced on everybody, young or old.
The pandemic has proved to be a great equalizer on account of shared vulnerabilities and has brought back the indefatigable spirit of man to retain positivity through an overpowering spell of adversity, on the one hand and to be prepared to render some possible help to others out of compassion, on the other.
This would enhance the quality of life the world over as the pandemic becomes part of a historical memory embracing the entire humanity. Perhaps the most important transformational impact of the prolonged Covid emergency is on an entire generation of young students who were put in segregation and deprived of an interactive life they were so much adapted to.
The education system and infrastructure could not devise an acceptable via media — in India even classroom education was beset with ‘authority’ and one way instruction. It called for innovative redesigning of curriculum and personalised communication. The plus side of online education, however, had made a mark and even on the resumption of all that was happening before, the new practice will be perfected and assimilated in the classroom protocol.
The pandemic has devastated the nation’s economy and pending its meaningful revival put a large population under distress and even destitution. The administrative machinery of the state has learnt its lessons in micromanagement and the best strategy of post-Covid governance would be to launch Centre-state joint schemes to be implemented essentially at the district level.
The Modi government has already pushed digitisation of governance in service of the common man and will therefore be able to handle the challenge of reaching out to the citizens in distress in cities and villages alikeThis task has no political tint and the opposition therefore should be on the same side as the Centre in redressing the human suffering in the period of recovery from the Covid crisis. (The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)