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New Delhi, March 29, 2020
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to seriously consider the potentially devastating impact the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 24 to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) would have on the people, society and the country's economy.
"It is critical for us to understand that India's conditions are unique. We may be required to take different steps than other large countries who are following a total lockdown strategy," he said.
"The number of poor people in India who are dependent on a daily income is simply too large for us to unilaterally shut down all economic activity. The consequences of a complete economic shutdown will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from the Covid-19 virus," he said.
Gandhi conveyed to Modi his solidarity, along with that of millions of Congress party workers at this time of immense humanitarian crisis. "We are all doing our utmost to cooperate with the steps the government is taking to fight the coronavirus outbreak in India," he said.
"The world has been forced to take immediate, severe measures to contain the rapid spread of the Covid-19 and India is currently in the midst of a three-week lockdown. I must urge you to seriously consider the potentially devastating impact a nationwide lockdown would have on our people, our society and our economy," he said.
The former Congress President said it was important that the government consider a more nuanced and targeted approach that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration. Our priority must be to protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable from the virus and to clearly and strongly communicate to the young the dangers of their proximity to older people," he said.
"Millions of India's elderly live in villages. A complete lockdown and the resulting shutdown of our economic engine will almost certainly ensure that millions of unemployed youth rush back to their villages, increasing the risk of infecting their parents, grandparents and the elderly population. This will result in a catastrophic loss of life," he said.
Gandhi stressed the need for immediately strengthening the social safety net and using every public resource the country has to support and shelter the working poor.
"The financial packagee announced by the government is a good first step. But speedy delivery of the package is important. Please announce and enforce a clear road map with dates for its implementation. Large population centres will require equally large, dedicated hospitals with thousands of beds and ventilators. It is critical that we start setting up these structures and manufacturing the necessary equipment as fast as is humanly possible. At the same time, we need to dramatically increase the number of tests that we are carrying out and get an accurate picture of the virus's spead in order to contain it," he said.
Gandhi said the government's sudden lockdown had created immense panic and confusion.
"Thousands of migrant workers have been forced to leave their rented homes as they are unable to pay rent. It is important that the government intervenes and provides them money for their rent immediately. Factories, small industries and construction sites have closed, tens of thousands of migrant labourers are trying to walk to their villages and are stranded at various state borders. They are rendered totally vulnerable without their daily wages or access to nutrition and basic services. They are struggling to seek refuge as they march to reach far-away homes. It is important that we help them find shelter and inject money directly into their bank accounts to help them survive these arduous next few months," he said.
The Congress leader also said it was critical to set up a defensive wall around key financial and strategic institutions to protect them from the shock wave that is bound to come as the true impact of the virus and the economic shutdown hits the nation a few weeks from now.
"Our informal economy and immense network of small and medium businesses and farmers are going to be vital to any rebuilding effort. It is crucial that we engage them in a conversation, build their confidence and protect their interests with correct and timely action.
"We stand together with the government in fighting and overcoming this tremendous challenge," he added.