In a discussion with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bajaj said the the economy has been decimated and instead of the infection curve, the GDP curve had been flattened.
Rajiv Bajaj, Managing director of Bajaj Auto, said the lockdown to contain the Covid-19 outbreak in India has ended up flattening the wrong curve. In a discussion with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bajaj said the the economy has been decimated and instead of the infection curve, the GDP curve had been flattened. This kind of draconian lockdown was not seen anywhere in the world, Bajaj said.
He said benchmarking our response and approach against the West (France, Italy, UK and US) was a mistake and being an Asian country we should have looked at the East, but we not only went West but went ‘Wild West’.
“Nobody was willing to explain the math… We have fallen short of disclosure, facts, logic and truth,” Bajaj said. All it did was put fear in the minds of people and make the contagion into a fatal disease and now reversing it is a herculean task and to get fear out of the people is going to take a long time, he added.
TB, pneumonia and diarrhea killed more people in India and thousands see starvation deaths in Africa but as the disease struck in the heart of the developed world and made bigger headlines so people wondered if this could happen to them then there was no chance, Bajaj said.
“We had a porous quasi lockdown and ended up with worst of both the worlds,” he said, adding that when you see what is happening with businesses and masses, the experience was a bitter one.
Gandhi said instead of West or East, an Indian solution was needed and his party wanted a decentralized bespoke response with central government as an enabler but the top down approach has led to the disease growing after the lockdown and it had failed. Bajaj agreed and said it was now passing of the buck and not passing the strategy.
The discussion with Bajaj was part of Gandhi’s series of interactions with economists, experts and academicians such as former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and economist Abhijit Banerjee on ways to deal with the outbreak and its impact on the country and its economy. Bajaj said people warned him about talking to Rahul Gandhi and that it was a risk and could get him into trouble but he felt he had been vocal across media about his point of view and he had nothing to fear. People do not speak because 90% of them have something to hide and cannot afford to speak, he pointed out.
Gandhi said while the US, Germany, Japan and South Korea made massive infusion of money to save the economy, India should have been more compassionate and supported everyone to save the economy.
Bajaj pointed out that across the world what governments have handed out had gone to people and organisations, around two-third of this was done through direct benefit, but in India this was only 10%. Why have we not chosen to put more directly into the hands of people, Bajaj questioned. Gandhi said his party, the former PM and FM, were all shocked that there was no effort made to put money directly into the hands of the people.
Strong initiatives, even if they were for six months or a year, were needed to lift the mood of the people, Bajaj said. Even after opening up, things are yet to return to normalcy and there is still no smooth, concerted, rhythmic movement with everybody aligned to an approach to move forward, he said. A clear narrative from the Prime Minister is needed, as people listen to him, on how we are going forward and how things are getting under control, he added.
Indian manufacturing will have to specialise and go global by offering a package of European design, Japanese technology and Indian prices, he suggested. We are very open as a country, we demonstrate more openness to understand and learn and we are very open as people and this openness should never be lost, Bajaj said.