Its name provokes unprecedented fear. The double unknown has proved to be the worst-ever horror story. It has united the world in trepidation.
The fear has found expression in many diverse ways. If millions have shut themselves up, not even allowing fresh air to come in, there are hundreds of thousands who are out there on the streets of the National Capital Region (NCR) marching to an uncertain future.
What is certain about their trajectory is the real danger of a fatality either through contracting the novel coronavirus or embracing death due to poverty.
A drive through the Delhi-Ghaziabad Highway presents a story of forced exodus — partly due to the lockdown and rest due to the after effect of the lockdown. It is an unmitigated tragedy!
Men, women, children, young and old, have one common destination: home, what if it is several hundred miles away and there is no transport except God gifted two human legs!
Home is where the heart is!
The common refrain is: Home is where heart is and if death is certain it better arrive at a place where you have your near and dear ones around you.
What has come as the biggest collateral damage of the coronavirus lockdown is the shocking inability of the political class (even when it stood by and large united) to predict and prevent the migrant exodus in the Hindi heartland.
This is as much a governance failure of the union government, as much it is a failure of federal India. The complexity of the governance structure has also been bared. For a 300-metre stretch, there are three governments’ responsible: the union government, Delhi government and the Uttar Pradesh government.
It is of utmost importance that thousands and thousands of poor migrant labour are stopped in their tracks. Many of them are headed home on foot and empty stomach. It is a destiny that should never ever have been imagined even in the worst nightmare!
This writer saw hundreds of poor people stranded at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border near Vaishali cut this morning. There was absolute confusion. Police was seen making appeal for calm, but with no future in the virus crisis, safety of home miles away makes sense to these labourers.
But, at what cost? First and foremost, it defeats the social distancing enunciated by the lockdown syndrome. Worse, apart from an invitation to the disease, the padyatra to nowhere is a password to hunger and civil strife.
The sight of people walking the national highway to cross states is distressing. It also shows the fragility of the civil society and the inability or failure of the middle class to truly own the poor who have made mega metros their home only for a living.
The nation has let down the multitude of daily wagers as the lockdown has pushed them down further the path of penury.
True, emergencies result in unexpected losses. There is no doubt on the efficacy of the lockdown as the only way to tame the virus if not kill it.
But could this exodus have been averted? Yes, had our respective chief ministers and the union government been alert and not been bound by geography.
The novel coronavirus-provoked political oneness has been squandered with no concrete plan yet in sight for these workers headed home on foot.
Various chief ministers of relevant states need to connect now and allow movement. The prime minister must oversee the plan to ensure there is immediate relief.
Each relevant Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Member of Parliament (MP), minister and state head must be on the street to ensure that no one dies of poverty in this unprecedented crisis.
This more so in view of the near political oneness the nation has witnessed over the last week in tackling coronavirus.
The coronavirus political unanimity came first to light with the prime minister's ‘janta curfew’ address. The prime minister made a prayer that the nation pay gratitude to the frontline medics staff.
The nation responded with folded hands. Most importantly, save a few, there was complete political consensus on the need to make the junta curfew a roaring success.
There, however, was disagreement on the expression for gratitude. But with all major parties and politicians joining the 5 pm-5-minute thal ceremony, the nation got a new narrative.
Yes, for a change the blame game got replaced by the urgent need to work together. Two visuals stood out: first of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (who on his own got into the act 24x7 doing a daily presser with the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi); needless to say that the two have not had a memorable past.
The other big image was of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar out there in public view, pushing the thal along with his family members.
This portended well as India realised the extent of the damage the virus can cause given the precarious health infrastructure in the country.
Meanwhile, the virus continued to shock in Italy, Iran and Spain. India obviously is not immune to the challenge. The world announced lockdown with one nation after the other sealing its borders.
Expectedly, the prime minister was back on air on March 22. But unexpectedly, he announced a 21-day lockdown.
The decision shocked the nation. But unlike his earlier drastic decisions, this prolonged lockdown move received unanimous political support.
Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi wrote to the prime minister, endorsing his decision and extending all support. There was though an issue agitating the opposition. The government took its time but 36 hours into the lockdown, the Union Finance Minister announced a 1.7 lakh crore relief package.
The quantum and the approach (graded) remains debatable. But the focus on poor has been welcome by all. The coronavirus toll also has been within reasonable expansion as of now.
So, for a change, the near unanimity on the political landscape, gave citizens hope that India is perhaps better placed to fight the double unknown. But it has proved to be short lived.
What has, though, come as the biggest collateral damage of the coronavirus lockdown is the shocking inability of the political class (when united) to predict and prevent the migrant exodus in the Hindi heartland.
Coronavirus, hopefully, will die someday soon. But the images of the migrant labours seeking a life on the road will haunt.
They need a home outside home!