Early this week, a few of my colleagues and I had a meeting with a senior official of a large, Seattle-based philanthropic organisation. When he realised that I was, originally, from Kerala, he wanted to know why Kerala did better than any other state in India and any country. I was not surprised by his question because Kerala’s record in fighting Coronavirus was nothing but outstanding for the whole world to emulate.
Let me quote some statistics, compiled from various sources and sent to me on WhatsApp by two of my friends:
1. Lowest death rate in India and highest recovery rate. World average -5.75 % India 2.83% and Kerala -0.58%
2. Highest number of Covid Testing in India based on population density.
3. First in India to establish Covid Testing Kiosks (WISK)
4. First in India to try Plasma Therapy (Convalescent Plasma Therapy) even before many countries around the world.
5. Every District has at least Two Covid Special hospitals
6. First state in India to make law on Epidemic Control. (Kerala Epidemic Diseases Act)
7. First State in India to start Tele-Medicine
8. First State in India to provide Tele-Medicine, Expert consultation for Indian diaspora
9. “No one without Food” – First state in India to start 1400 Plus Community Kitchens across the state.
10. Highest number of Migrant Labour Camps in India – 5500 Plus
11. 15541 Camps and Shelters in Kerala out of 22567 in all over India.
12. First state in India to appoint 300+ Doctors and 400+ Health Inspectors on war footing within 24 Hrs time
13. First State in India to declare stimulus package of Rs 20000 cr Financial Aid
14. First state in India to provide One Month Food without any consideration of APL/BPL
15. “Break the Chain” Campaign – First in India for Hand washing, Sanitising and Social Distancing.
16. First State in India to provide Mid Day Meal at home for Kindergartens (Anganwadis)
17. First State in India to expand Internet bandwidth and connectivity for Lockdown situation.
18. CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s strategic thinking is better and faster than any CEO’s – Mumbai Mirror – Times Group
19. “What Kerala thinks today, India must think tomorrow! Good to see more and more Indians acknowledge this” Rajdeep Sardesai – India Today
20. CM Pinarayi Vijayan- The Standout Performer, Seasoned Administrator – Editorial by -The Indian Express
21. “Why straight-talking Pinarayi Vijayan and Andrew Cuomo are getting the admiration they deserve” — The Telegraph
22. “Aggressive Testing, contact tracing, cooked meals”- How the Indian State Kerala flattened its Coronavirus Curve- The Washington Post
23. First state in India to conduct Daily situation analysis headed by Chief Minister
24. Only State in India to conduct daily situational briefing on public health and protective measures and programs by Chief Minister, Health and Revenue Ministers and Chief Secretary
25. Best Public Health Care Facilities in India (First 13 Numbers belongs to Kerala)
26."A ‘Kerala model’ worthy of emulation- Deccan Herald.
No, I did not mention any of this to the Seattle person. Instead, I told him that Kerala had the best health infrastructure in the country, built over a hundred years, and people who are the most educated and socially aware. I also mentioned in particular the role played by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja.
I described in brief how the lady, popularly known as Shailaja Teacher, had been going from place to place ensuring that things were happening on the ground. She had her facts and figures on the tip of her tongue and could satisfy any journalist probing the state of public health in the state.
The duo’s performance was such that it approximated what the former American President and thinker John Quincy Adams defined as the characteristics of a leader. He said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. How was this translated into action in Kerala?
Let me narrate an anecdote. I have a relative who lives at Thumpamon in Pathanamthitta district. She was studying at Vellore when Coronavirus spread in the state. She had no physical complaints. She was advised to quarantine herself at home for 28 days.
A sticker was stuck on the gate of her house mentioning that a person was quarantined inside. Everyday, the girl would receive three or four phone calls from various government and municipal agencies. One of the calls was invariably from the office of the district collector of Pathanamthitta. The calls were to ask her whether she had any sneezing, cough or fever. She got fed up answering all the callers that she was fine.
Just two days ago, I saw on television Shailaja teacher informing the CM that there were 85,000 plus people advised home quarantine in the state. Imagine each of them receiving three calls a day. It works out to more than 2,55,000 calls.
Twenty eight days later, the sticker was removed from the gate and she was declared free from Coronavirus. Her aunt and my sister described the collector in these words, “He is a young fellow and he has been working day and night fighting Corona like a possessed person”.
Why did PB Nooh work like a maniac? He had a reason to do so. Over a month ago, his district was in the news when a family which arrived at Ranny from Italy was believed to have visited many places, possibly, spreading the deadly virus.
I am not singling out one DM. Every Collector and every health official worked like a team to bring about the achievements listed at the beginning of this article.
Now, listen to another incident. Faridabad is a town in Haryana, one of the richest states. For those from the South and Central India travelling to Delhi by train, it is the first port of entry. Many of them rejoice when they see Faridabad signboard for they know that in a few minutes they would be in the national Capital.
Recently when word reached KJ Alphons, MP and former minister that a few hundred migrant labourers were stranded there without food, he contacted the District Magistrate of Faridabad. He knew how the bureaucracy functioned because he was once the Collector of Kottayam when the town was declared as the first cent per cent literate town.
What he heard were bureaucratic responses, “we are looking into the matter, we will study the matter, we will take necessary steps, we are expecting a report etc etc”.
The district magistrate would never have faced hunger in his life. Also, he would not have realised that a person needed at least two square meals a day.
Finally, Alphons had to threaten the DM that he would take up the matter with the Haryana Chief Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office. I do not know what happened subsequently.
Instead of asking the DM to feed them, if he had asked Deepa Manoj of the Distress Management Consultative (DMC) of which he is the great mover and shaker, food packets would have reached those people in a matter of hours because the DMC has a team of dedicated people who consider public welfare as personal welfare.
To return to Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan is not a great speaker like Kaniapuram Ramachandran or Mannath Padmanabhan or CM Stephen. Nor does he speak English like Shashi Tharoor or NK Premachandran but he is a good communicator. He has been addressing a Press conference every day at a particular time for the last one month. He is flanked by the health minister and the Chief secretary, among others.
Journalists can ask him questions from the comforts of their office or home and he answers their questions quietly and politely. That is when someone asked him about the problems migrant workers, christened “guest workers”, were having because the hotels and restaurants were all closed.
That is how he announced the plan to organise feeding centres all over the state. It was not a one-day affair. Day after day, meal time after meal time, sumptuous food is cooked and served to tens of thousands of people.
There are also lighter moments at Vijayan’s press conferences. One journalist brought to him the problems senior citizens faced because all optical shops were closed. He took quick notice of it and ordered opening of such shops on one day a week.
In distant Delhi, a friend of mine wrote about her problem when a reading glass came off the frame and she could no longer read anything. All she could do was to take a picture of the broken spectacle, sitting on a book.
Vijayan’s Press conference is a two-way process. He gives information to the Press. He also gets information about the ground situation from the kind of questions that the journalists ask. That is why Vijayan’s weekly Press conference has become a great institution.
Now, let us go back in history. Mrs Gandhi as Prime Minister was surrounded by a coterie of politicians and sycophants. She was constantly told that her Emergency measures were a great hit with the people and that she would win hands down if elections were held. Finally, she ordered elections in 1977 in the snug belief that she would return to power with a larger mandate. She lost in her own constituency.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now in Mrs Gandhi’s condition. He has no contact with the common people. He meets only some officials and some cronies. Nobody has the guts to tell him the truth. They are all sycophants.
His Cabinet consists of men and women who have no power to take any decision. Modi did not allow even the BJP chief JP Nadda to sit beside him even when he addressed party workers on such a solemn occasion as the 40th anniversary of the BJP.
What happens as a result? Do you remember his last address to the nation? After paying rich tributes to Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was born a Hindu and died a Buddhist, Modi made the fantastic claim that even before a Corona case was reported in the country, airports stopped foreigners from leaving the airport without undergoing 14 days of quarantine.
The fact of the matter is that the first Corona case was reported in Kerala on January 30. More than three weeks later, Modi travelled to Ahmedabad to receive US President Donald Trump who did not undergo any quarantine.
Again, it was weeks later that all the Tablighi Jamaat delegates arrived from countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore etc. Not one was quarantined at the airport. Then what happened?
Modi in his first dramatic speech announcing lockdown from the midnight of that day asked people to stay wherever they were. There was a joke about a person who did not return from the toilet because he literally obeyed the Prime Minister!
Yet, Tablighi Jamaatis were blamed for staying together at Markes building at Nizamuddin. Had the PM made such announcements while addressing a Press conference, at least some journalists would have pointed out that his statement did not square with the reality.
That is precisely why even leaders like Trump who cannot speak a single sentence correctly make bold to address Press conferences regularly and not read out the texts that appear on a teleprompter as in the case of the Indian Prime Minister.
Modi may not even be aware about the negative impact his speeches make when his claims are interpreted as outright lies. That is why transparency is important in a democracy. Mahatma Gandhi was a great communicator. He travelled the length and breadth of the country. He listened to people. He sent replies to every letter he received.
Gandhiji did not allow himself to be surrounded by a coterie of people like Mrs Gandhi during the Emergency and Narendra Modi now. Modi did not even call an all-party meeting to discuss Covid because he and his advisers, probably, think that they are expendable. They seem also to believe that PM-CARES Fund alone matters.
To conclude, Narendra Modi and Pinarayi Vijayan are a study in contrast, not just ideologically but in the way they conduct themselves. While Modi follows what the path leads to, Vijayan goes where there is no path and thereby leaves a trail.(Published on 20th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 17)