On March 15, 2020, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and YSRCP president Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy dismissed the spectre of corona virus as “not a big threat” and prescribed ‘Paracetamol’ as the only medication for Covid-19. He felt there was no need to “press the panic button”. Around that time, the world was gripped with the novel corona virus pandemic infecting millions of people around the world including the origin of the virus – China’s Wuhan. But Jagan thought the virus originated from South Korea. He can be pardoned for his ‘slip of tongue’ or ‘faux paus’ caught that he was with the civic body poll whirlpool.
A few weeks after the slow and gradual entry of the virus into India, the Opposition TDP and other parties warned Jagan of the seriousness of the threat. But in his first public comments about the virus, on March 15 Jagan told the public he wasn’t worried. “Not at all,” he said. “There is no need to get panic about corona virus. Its impact is majorly on senior citizens aged above 60.” He was busy holding press conferences and pressurizing his Cabinet colleagues to attack the State Election Commission and its commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar for putting off elections citing corona virus outbreak. Jagan’s Cabinet became an echo chamber for yes-men.
Throughout the week following March 15, Jagan dismissed Opposition TDP president and former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s alarm about the virus as new “hoax”, blamed “the SEC decision to postpone the elections at the behest of TDP” even as the virus started spreading in India. Jagan, perhaps, took the SEC decision to defer civic body polls as a personal attack on him and his authority as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. The whole week he was either busy attacking the TDP boss Naidu or insulting the chair of SEC by attributing caste motives or meeting Andhra Pradesh governor Biswabbhusan Harichandan ruing about the SEC decision on elections or moving the Supreme Court challenging the SEC decision to put off civic body polls.
“In case anybody coming from other countries is found suffering from cold, cough and fever, bleaching powder should be sprayed on their belongings and things they use,” he said at a hurriedly held press conference soon after the SEC postponed civic body elections in AP
Meanwhile, Jagan’s Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhara Rao, who initially seemed casual in his approach, immediately swung into action and announced closure of schools, shut all public transport and closed all non-essential services.
The Indian stocks markets, like elsewhere, tumbled like a pack of cards and the pandemic was threatening to be a full-blown economic panic, but Jagan remained in a state of stupor. As epidemiologists and health experts begged Indians to self-quarantine and cancel social events, many of Jagan’s colleagues and supporters echoed his cavalier attitude. The disease, meanwhile, continued to spread throughout the country, some detected but largely undetected. Jagan remained in his stupor, worried himself and the State that Andhra Pradesh will lose 14th finance commission funds of Rs 5,000 crore if elections were to be postponed. This despite, Naidu’s appeal to Jagan to take the virus seriously and that the state government can always present its case to the centre that the elections had to be postponed due to the extraordinary circumstances arising out of corona virus.
Chief Ministers of different states moved quickly to declare states of emergency and closed schools and non-essential businesses malls, cinema halls as a precautionary measure to contain and tackle the spread of virus.
On March 20, Andhra Pradesh reported its corona case when a 24-year-old tested positive in Vijayawada after returning from Paris. Jagan appeared to awaken at last to the severity of the crisis. He finally showed some political maturity by declaring the complete lockdown, closing schools, shutting non-essential businesses and transport, sealed interstate borders. But in the six days that followed, AP reported around 10 cases by March 26. “While we are happy that only 10 positive cases have been reported in the State, we need to control this further spread of the virus,” he said at a press meet.
On March 22, Jagan admitted that the virus was indeed “bad.” He urged his people to stay away from public places, bars and restaurants and avoid groups of more than 10 people. “Each and every one of us has a critical role to play in stopping the spread and transmission of the virus by staying indoors and maintaining social distancing,” he said.
He then decided to set up a high-level Cabinet sub-committee, mainly comprising five ministers and 10 IAS officers, to monitor and contain the spread of corona virus in the state which by then had reported 11 cases. Further, the Cabinet has decided to extend the lockdown declared by the government till April 14 from the current March 31.
On March 20, AP reported its corona case. In less than two weeks, the Corona tally in AP is around 89. On April 1, more than 30 positive corona cases were reported in the hitherto unaffected districts of AP including West Godavari and Kadapa, the home turf of Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy and his later father Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and former CM. The week before SEC put off elections and the week after was a crucial period when Jagan and his partymen were in slumber, the next two weeks are a critical opportunity to turn things around. The coronavirus cannot be stopped, but the number of new infections can still be slowed. We may be able to reduce the number of new cases, prevent hospitals from being overrun, humanely treat those who fall ill and reduce the total number of deaths that sweep the nation. Jagan may yet play a central role in a successful response to this pandemic.