The jury is out on the performance of netas

by April 22, 2020 0 comments

While the Chief Ministers function as generals, the Prime Minister remains the supreme commander. The bottom line is that unless they show their leadership qualities, they will not be able to win the next elections

The time has come for State chieftains to show their leadership qualities in handling the Coronavirus pandemic after the lockdown ends and the country starts going about its business as usual.

The days ahead are crucial for the economy of the country as well as for our fight against the virus but there is a healthy competition among the Chief Ministers to excel in dealing with these issues.

It is heartening to note that most States have risen to the challenge and each Chief Minister is trying to tackle the pandemic in his/her unique way. Their response has been quick and positive and they are leading from the front. 

For instance, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has set up a committee of experts, including some Nobel laureates, to advise her on the relief measures to be taken in her State.

Similarly, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has shown that his “Bhilwara model” could be emulated by other States to contain the pandemic. The “Kerala model”,  too, has won praise from all around the country.

There are others like the Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, Telangana’s Chandrashekhar Rao, Punjab’s Captain Amarinder Singh  and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik who have done a good job of handling the Corona crisis. Interestingly most of the non–NDA Chief Ministers have done quite well.

The Centre, too, has realised the importance of some lockdown relaxations in sectors like agriculture and construction. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also left it to the States to decide about further relaxation of the shutdown guidelines as most of the Chief Ministers  had told him during a video-conference with them that there was a need for a staggered lockdown exit as the economy was suffering. 

The Chief Ministers will face huge challenges in their respective States after the lockdown ends in May. For them it is a double whammy. On one front they have to contain the pandemic and on the other they have to find resources to deal with the situation. 

At the April 11 videoconference with the Prime Minister, most Chief Ministers of Opposition-ruled States expressed grave concern over lack of resources and depleting revenues, as well as the huge slide in the economy.

A calibrated exit from the lockdown is needed because the revenues of the Centre and States have collapsed due to the shutdown and its extension. In fact, most States claim that they will not be able to meet their salary bills beyond April. They have sought special assistance from the Centre to sustain the battle against the Coronavirus.

For instance, Mamata Banerjee has demanded a national package of around six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to counter the pandemic’s impact and as relief for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector.

The Punjab Chief Minister has demanded a three-month crop loan waiver. Gehlot has sought a Central relief package for his State’s tourism and hospitality industry, MSMEs and all the weaker sections of society. Tamil Nadu has sought Rs 4,000 crore for augmenting health services. Others have demanded their Goods and Services Tax (GST) share immediately.

Pending Central assistance, some Chief Ministers have gone ahead and started to lift their States out of the mire with their own resources.

Kerala took the lead by announcing a Rs 20,000 crore package to kick-start the economy. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was one of the first to assure a guaranteed income to daily-wage labourers.

In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik has set up three fully-equipped Covid-19 hospitals and in Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel has ensured extra rations for all. The list of initiatives goes on.

On its part, the Centre has the big problem of finding resources to deal with the unprecedented crisis. The slide in the economy is a big worry as almost all the sectors, including civil aviation, manufacturing, agriculture, infrastructure, travel and tourism have been impacted and it will need a huge stimulus to uplift the economy.

The Centre has to pump in at least four to five billion dollars urgently into the economy. It has so far provided only 0.8 per cent of the GDP as a stimulus and part of this is appropriated from existing State funds linked to construction labour and mineral development.

The Coronavirus has shown how unprepared India was to tackle a pandemic like this. Many States do not have adequate hospitals, enough healthcare personnel, medical equipment and testing kits.

By and large most States are depending on the Centre for the supply of testing kits and they can perform their duties well only when they get the equipment. Hence, improving the health sector is very important and must be done on a war footing if we are to win this Corona war.

Then there is the agriculture sector. The Centre has relaxed the lockdown for farm labourers. But the States that are depending on the migrant labour from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other States will have to ensure that they can retain the workers for the harvest season. Meanwhile, Punjab does not have gunny bags to pack the harvest in and Singh has written to Mamata to send them over  speedily. This will benefit West Bengal’s jute farmers and weavers.

On the whole, while the Chief Ministers function as generals, the Prime Minister remains the supreme commander. The bottom line is that unless they show their leadership qualities, they will not be able to win the next elections. The jury is out on their performance rating.

(Writer: Kalyani Shankar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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