All except the utterly cynical felt uplifted after the nationwide salute on Sunday by the Armed Forces, in their own way, to the warriors combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Anybody who leads fighters into battle knows the importance of high morale in achieving the desired objective; also, that of acknowledging good work at appropriate times. It may be noted that Prime Minister Modi has marked each phase of Indians’ united effort with a symbolic act of gratitude – be it after the Janata Curfew, the first phase of the lockdown and, now, the entry into phase three. The delight and pride on the faces of the common people as they viewed the flypast above their local hospitals went way beyond any mundane accounting of loss and profit. At the same time, the Armed Forces exhibited their ability to carry out such a complex and intricately planned exercise.
And it must not be forgotten that the event took place under the shadow of the Handwara encounter, in which officers and men of the Army and police were martyred. It was a grim reminder that even as the pandemic rages and threatens all of humanity, other threats to the country remain. In fact, Indian history’s grim lesson has been the danger of complacency in the face of a relentless enemy. It is not just the health, the economy, but also the fundamental structure of the constitution upon which the Indian Republic is established that is under threat.
The need of the times is to overcome all these challenges and emerge not just victorious but also stronger from the crisis. Many changes will result, particularly in the way human beings adapt to the new threats posed by the speed and enormity with which the pandemic has hit the entire world. COVID-19 will, ultimately, be overcome, but how much better prepared will the world be to meet the next unexpected challenge? It could be another virus, or an asteroid set to hit the planet, or nuclear weapons in the hands of suicidal terrorists. Will global mechanisms of cooperation emerge stronger, or face a meltdown as they seem to be doing now? Will there be a collective effort to rebuild, or will the gap between the powerful and the weak grow wider? Will authoritarian systems like those of China, Russia and the theocracies grow stronger, or will liberal and diverse nations like India prove their worth? These are serious questions that need to be answered, but not by the weak and unworthy, lacking self-confidence and belief.