A former high-ranking officer of the Indian Army says the economic impact of coronavirus in India is substantial, as is its threat to the country’s internal security.
Lt. Gen. (Dr.) J.S. Bajwa is a retired Director General of Infantry in the Indian Army as well as the current editor of Indian Defence Review. He spoke to OneNewsNow about the spread of coronavirus across the South Asian country of India. He attributes the COVID-19 infection in the highly populous country to “foreign tourists visiting India and Indians returning from their visits abroad, particularly, Europe.”
January 30 brought the first case to the state of Kerala (South India) when a student who had been studying in Wuhan, China, returned home on vacation. In the days to follow, additional cases in Kerala were also attributed to students on vacation from China.
About a month later, says Bajwa, “a case was detected in Jaipur, Rajasthan, [when] a 69-year old Italian [was] visiting India in a group of 15 other Italians tourists.” Each of the Italians tested positive for the coronavirus. Of the first 50 cases, almost half of them stemmed from Italy.
At press time, India had reported more than 1,600 cases of coronavirus, resulting in almost four dozen deaths. The states of Kerala and Maharashtra have reported the most cases, according to Bajwa. In contrast, he says the northern states currently have very few cases.
As India began its fight against the virus, explains the former infantry officer, precautionary measures included frequent hand washing and social distancing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on March 20, “[seeking] the cooperation of the people to observe a 14-hour ‘people’s curfew’ (janta curfew) on [March 22], from 7 am to 9 pm.”
Later that same evening, says Bajwa, the prime minister called for a public show of appreciation for those on the front lines.
“[Modi] also requested that at 5 p.m. on Sunday all of us should come to the door or window of the house or flat and clap for five minutes to express the people’s gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifice and yeoman contribution of those on the front line in fighting the pandemic – namely, the doctors, nurses, hospital staff, airport officials, police, armed forces, [and others],” he describes.
Modi addressed the country a second time on March 23, during which he asked the population of 1.3 billion people "to ‘lockdown’ for 21 days to break [the] chain of the spread [of] the virus in the community," Bajwa adds.
The prime minister also held a video conference with the executive members of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), South Asia’s regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states.
While Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, did not take part, Bajwa notes that Khan assigned his health minister to participate. Shortly thereafter, a second video conference was held among all state chief ministers “to coordinate the execution of measures to alleviate the hardships faced by the daily-wagers, laid off workers and the citizens in general, due to the lockdown.”
Keeping law and order
In India, elected officials serve their government at the central (union), state and local levels. Consequently, Bajwa explains, it is the responsibility of the respective chief ministers to implement measures to make the lockdown a success. Local police are the first to help enforce the order. Under the directions of the district magistrate, the Armed Police Force can also assist the local police.
Further assistance can be requested by the Central Government (Union Home Ministry). Not only can the union government call the Central Reserve Police Forces into action, but also the Army. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Army has been deployed to set up “quarantine camps” in multiple locations throughout India, according to the former Army chief.
Additionally, 28 military hospitals have been “earmarked to take on cases in the event of a dramatic increase in seriously ill persons,” Bajwa shares. He finds it interesting that Indian Railways is “modifying a number of [their] coaches in trains to accommodate cases requiring isolation or quarantine.” And the remarkable benefit to using train coaches, he explains, is that “[they] can be moved and located at any place where local resources cannot meet the surge of cases of infected persons.”
A national security threat
A number of major challenges have confronted the nation. Bajwa identifies some of these as “an economy that has been severely hit, the panic outflow of Foreign Direct Investment Funds, imports and exports in shambles due to the unprecedented global economic scene, manufacturing sector shutting down due to the lack of demand, workers being laid off, [and] the housing sector [becoming] totally shut.”
Indian Railways has stopped all passenger trains. The railway is responsible for running 12,617 passenger trains on a daily basis, carrying 23 million passengers “to and from every nook and corner of the country,” Bajwa states. “[Additionally], all international and domestic flights which carries 260,000 passengers daily has also been halted.”
He adds that many workers no longer have a source of income and that the manufacturing industry faces “massive” challenges.
“If the situation persists [in India], it could seriously undermine the internal security in the country," he warns. “The outbreak of coronavirus has heightened the need to look at security in a more holistic envelope beyond just territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
The former Army officer contends “the prolonged agitations in India against the Citizens Amendment Act was funded and supported by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan through clandestine support groups in India, a section of the elite, and the embedded media who are Modi-haters.”
As a result, he isn't surprised by reports that Pakistan is moving people infected with COVID-19 into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), including the Gilgit Baltistan region. Bajwa considers their intentions “mala fide and insidious” – and a legitimate threat to India’s security.
Image above: Bamboo blocks a street preventing outsiders from entering the area in Belguri village, on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)