POST CORONA — THE NEED TO RE-CALIBRATE(PART -II)
The threat posed by the outbreak of Coronavirus shall, undoubtedly, be overcome sooner, rather than later. The collective wisdom, efforts and resources of Medical Workers, Para-medics, Researchers, other Healthcare Professionals, Civil Society, Bureaucrats and Politicians et-al and the prayers of the entire humanity will make that happen — it is only a question of when and how soon.
However, what requires consideration and will undoubtedly acquire prominence and focus soon is the prospect of a drastic economic and social fallout of the Lockdown (hopefully not prolonged) observed almost all across the Globe. Even in countries that have technically not declared a Lockdown, the fallout will be severe, if not as catastrophic, compared to the countries which have declared a complete lockout. Already reports have started surfacing in the print, electronic and social media and unofficially (although seemingly reliable) of the mass exodus of migrant labourers and their families, facing job-loss and the frightening prospect of an uncertain future, to their villages and their pitiable state, given the lack of transport facilities and other amenities. Images of people crowding on highways at bus — stands etc., while heart-warming, make a mockery of “social distancing” and the purpose behind the National Lockdown. In certain quarters, reports have also surfaced of people committing suicides — all, almost certain, indicators and pointers to an economic slow-down and a social disaster of gigantic proportions awaiting to unravel.
Further, the Central and State Governments on their own either by suitable fiscal reliefs and economic measures, ramping up infrastructure or by other measures aided by the well-heeled and informed constituents of the populace have tried to deal with the current situation in the most optimum and effective manner. However, it is the post corona scenario and recovery process that also merit consideration and perspective planning so that we are prepared to deal with the situation as and when it unfolds. It is to deal with this that I wish to share, by means of this piece, a simple change to our behavioural pattern and though process that came to my mind.
It seems that the economic slow-down which the Country has been going through for the past couple of years, is primarily structural and not cyclical and was the result of a deformity in the demand side of the demand-supply equilibrium whereby the subdued demand arising out of inadequate purchasing power has led to sharply decelerated numbers for growth rates in Industrial and Agricultural Production and in the Services Sector. While the purpose here is not to dwell on the reasons and causes for the same, suffice to say the scenario is only likely to get exacerbated and worsen exponentially in the Post-Corona scenario.
With the wide availability of goods and services in India, catering to all strata of society whether poor, lower/upper middle class, rich, uber rich or even ultra rich, it is imperative that we spend only in India, to, in our own way, contribute to creating demand on a sustained basis for the goods domestically produced and services domestically rendered. Not only that, we should create conditions and an amenable atmosphere to encourage and welcome people from other countries to spend here. Let me hasten to add, I am not for one moment trying to wade into the Swadeshi vs. Videshi debate or to sound as a rabble-rousing jingoistic Nationalist but am motivated by plain common sense logic.
The above all encompassing statement might seem preposterous at first sight but will appear plausible if peppered with a real example. In recent times, the Travel Industry, the Hospitality Sector and the Tourism Industry has largely grown based on the increased tendency and habit of families to take frequent holidays, both domestic and overseas. While domestic tourism has grown at sedate rate, in spite of the redoubled efforts of the State Governments to popularize local destinations, it is, to my mind, the overseas travel that has jumped several folds and I am sure statistics would bear me out. The same has been occasioned partly by the “snob-value” associated with a foreign holiday and more importantly, by the relative economy with which several foreign destinations can be accessed, particularly in the Middle East and South-East Asia. To sound a bit cheeky even our celebrities, featured on page 3 when queried about their favourite holiday destination invariably pick up a foreign locale and very rarely has anyone of them zeroed in on a domestic destination. In a Country when celebrities acquire Demi-God status, the resultant perceptual effect on the common man can only be imagined. Of course, to be fair certain negative perceptions, particularly security, connectivity, infrastructure etc., while true to some extent, have, in some way, limited the growth of domestic tourism.
In the present scenario there is a radical and drastic need to completely alter the thought process and change the existing situation. It should be remembered that India, in all its celebrated diversity ,offers a vast array of choices to suit every palette, whether religious or adventurous, secluded or metropolitan, historical to contemporary and ranging from beaches to mountains to deserts and what have you and facilities to suit every pocket. For Indians “Atithi Devo Bhava” ( The Guest is God) is a credo and accepted rule of behaviour. Of course, there could be some infrastructural and security issues, as mentioned above, (brought into sharper, but unreasonable focus, by and overzealous and excited media) they have improved over time and are bound to only get better, if not state of the art, in future. Here the State, through its various agencies and arms will have to step in and play a more proactive role to ensure that the perceived negatives (both perceptual and actual) are ironed out.
For starters, let us all pledge to, for the sake of our suffering masses, to take, for the next couple of years, only domestic holidays. Here our celebrities and role-models( the “Page 3” impressionarios ) can play their part by mentioning only domestic destinations when queried on this count and try to remove the “low-society” tag associated with domestic vacations (am sure, if suitably informed and with a bit of research they can definitely find something worthwhile). Of course, the State has to ensure, with more than a little help from all sections of the populace, a seamless, efficient, comfortable, congenial, safe, hospitable, enjoyable and above all memorable experience.
I personally have travelled extensively across India, from the pristine beaches of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands, with their azure blue waters, to the soothing environs of Kerala, onward to the vast expanse of the Rann of Kutch(with its never ending white desert) , to the scenic greenery of the North East and have even seen the majestic Himalayas in all their glory during visits to parts of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir(a State, which I would definitely like to explore more and will definitely do so in the near future with conditions likely to improve) — of course, there is still a lot on my bucket list and have save for the occasional hiccup (which can invariably and in fact has arisen on a Foreign Holiday also)never encountered any major issue. The ease of communicating in a local language, availability of local food, convenience in navigating the local streets to zero in on the desired destination and of course the freedom to spend, somewhat more liberally in rupees and not be hamstrung by the exchange ratio make the holiday enjoyable and economical.
Imagine the exponentially multiplier effect this small but significant step could have on augmenting demand, creating jobs and ultimately the general economic sentiment. The same can be further supplemented by selling India as a safe, convenient, economical and hospitable Country to travel not just for tourism but also for other varied purposes. Over time India, with its pool of skilled medical professionals and availability of services at rates far cheaper than in other parts of World, has also become a favourite destination for Medical/Dental Tourism. The bouquet needs to be expanded for it to become a sought-after destination for business conferences, strategic meets, meetings of multilateral bodies, and even destination weddings. Mind you, it appears, and it is true to a large extent, the white skin still gets enamoured by and is floored by the old world rustic charm that India exudes and the kind of hospitality and welcome that we provide them, perhaps, but unfortunately, a relic of our slavish past. To enable this to become reality, our Government and business houses acting in their own spheres have to act determinedly, doggedly, earnestly and immediately to chalk out plans to ramp up the infrastructure and have the requisite systems in place — this process will aid the process of job-creation and spruce up the demand side of the economic equilibrium.
The above process might appear to be too deceptively simple to be effective, but when acted upon in tandem with other measures, which necessarily form part of any economic stimulus package, will definitely enable speedier recovery from the economic and social quagmire that we are widely expected to fall into. Simple behavioural changes, beginning at our door step can prove to be the bulwark for economic recovery. It is not for anything that it is said “ CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME”.