CM Uddhav Thackeray's dilemma: To shut or to open

Updated: Jun 29, 2020, 10:00 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

By Uddhav Thackeray's own admission, his government is in a fix over unlocking-related COVID-19 cases; he seeks the citizens' help to get over the danger that is not far from striking us even harder

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray

Dharmendra Jore"We are in a fix," said Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray about the necessity of unlocking that has resulted in a substantial spike in the COVID-19 cases in the state's hotspots and a likely possibility of shutting down everything if the people don't stop misusing the freedom and spread the disease beyond our imagination and handling capabilities.

Thackeray's speech on Sunday described a dilemma which he said only the citizens of the state could help him defeat. In the bargain, the CM guaranteed the people safety, assistance and healthcare at the hands of his stable government. He winded up with a warning, "I have left it to you. Do you want things as they were before? We will continue to take risks in opening up new things in a phased manner. Please don't assume that the lockdown will end from July 1."

Health before religion

Thackeray took pains to explain the noble intention behind Mission Begin Again (Unlock 1.0) and felt proud when he told stories of people's exemplary initiatives in preventing the pandemic.

After the Muslim community cooperated during Ramzan, the Warkari sect has gladly accepted the government's proposal that there will be no gathering next week in Pandharpur where one of the world's biggest pilgrimage congregations worships Maharashtra's principal deity, Vitthal. The tradition of carrying the palanquins in 200-800 km walkathons from several religious places to Pandharpur also took a break. Instead, just a few Warkaris travelled on a couple of buses carrying with them the padukas. Thackeray said he will attend the mahapuja on Ashadhi Ekadashi and seek Vitthal's divine intervention for eradicating the Coronavirus threat.

The Dahi Handi organisers in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region scrapped this year's extravaganza even before they were formally asked by the government. The less-religious-more-adventurous festival is the forte of deep-pocket politicians split between all major parties. Otherwise aggressive and at times lawless, the city's Ganesh mandals have agreed to keep a low profile. The idols will be maximum 4 feet in height and there will be no processions in the streets to bring in or send off the lord of wisdom. The CM said, depending on the progress of the pandemic through July and August, the Ganesh mandals and government should consult further to regulate the city's biggest festival. The organisers and the government will be put to a real test when the 10-day festival begins in the third week of August, in the city's streets and inside homes.

Will veiled threat work?

The CM issued a veiled threat of clamping down again, saying that he was asked to impose a lockdown yet again. But if we consider the last three months, the people don't seem to have taken threats from the governing netas seriously (though they responded very enthusiastically to certain measures that hardly were a scientific deterrent against the virus), not when we were locked down completely and also when the current situation in certain localities warrants a lockdown stricter than the initial phase.

People have various reasons, justified and otherwise — such as survival (even if it means risking one's life), personal and family compulsions and unyielding urgency — for violating norms or freedom. North Mumbai has been going through an experience dreadful than the lockdown period. So are Shiv Sena-friendly satellite cities in MMR. Residents there say their fear quotient is higher than what it was in March-April-May. But they won't be able to run families without travelling south, they say.

The commuting has become challenging and fraught with risks because unlocking has increased commuters and infection. Affordable transport facilities like buses and trains are limited. Sooner, the suburban trains will also transport the Central employees in addition to the state employees. We are told the capacity-full local train commute may complicate the MMR's epidemiology. We hope the frequency of local trains will increase to accommodate add-on commuters. Until allowed to board local trains, the private employees may continue to make BEST a way of life or spend on cabs.

As usual, Thackeray spoke spontaneously and was sincere in sensing a danger that is not very far from striking us even harder if the citizens don't collaborate with the government. "Do you want to get back to square one?" he asked while admitting that unlocking did increase COVID-19 cases. We are really in a fix. Aren't we?

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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