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Rajiv Bajaj has had some harsh words for India’s battle against the covid-19 pandemic. In an interview with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the managing director of Bajaj Auto said that our lockdown was meant to flatten the infection curve, but ended up flattening the economic curve instead. Bajaj was also critical of the government for adopting what he saw as a Western model of virus containment, rather than going the way of Japan or South Korea, which had not imposed draconian curbs and had kept commerce going.

Much of Bajaj’s critique appears to draw upon hindsight. When coronavirus began to spread its spikes beyond China, there was little clarity on the bug's characteristics. What was amply clear, though, was that it was a highly contagious pathogen. Given its long gestation period, an infected person could take weeks before showing symptoms, while spreading it around all this while. Some epidemiologists had warned that it would claim millions of Indian lives, given the country’s dense populations and weak health infrastructure. A complete clampdown on human movement seemed like a good way to stall corona contagion and avert a catastrophe.

That the country was caught ill prepared for a lockdown is evident now, and while it could be argued that many of its violations and livelihood consequences should have been anticipated, who could have calculated the odds of its success? True, corona cases are still rising, economic deprivations have caused deep distress, and businesses have got entangled in a web of controls as we try to unlock the country. It has been hard going. In such trying circumstances, Bajaj’s advice of letting people freely take their own precautions, as in Japan and Sweden, seems attractive. But it isn’t as if these two countries have escaped the ravages of covid-19. Every country has faced bad choices, and India has always had greater vulnerabilities.

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