Learning from the pandemic (Column: Spy’s Eye)

A redeeming outcome of the corona crisis is that it has successfully pushed India onto the path of self-reliance and national unity.

The R-Day Parade this year made a powerful impression of India being 'one nation' -- militarily strong, scientifically advanced and culturally rich -- that stood by its own mettle.

One year down the line, the launch of two India-make vaccines with the government planning to inoculate some 30-crore people over the next few months, as announced by the Prime Minister himself, puts India ahead of many other nations on the way to post-Covid recovery.

The challenge of the pandemic was formidable and the world is rightly acknowledging the leadership of Prime Minister Modi in not only handling the crisis upfront but guiding the nation in multiple spheres, from the resumption of economic revival to an orderly and priority-driven rollout of the vaccine.

It is remarkable that he has kept the governance in place and the pace of development projects going unhindered, amidst a constant uproar of the political opposition against 'some inadequacy somewhere' that could be discovered in the government's performance.

The return of agitational politics is not surprising considering the fragmented nature of the opposition inside the Parliament and the consistency that Modi government had shown in defence and foreign policy, leaving only domestic issues to be exploited for this purpose.

The disruptive 'Kisan rally' at Delhi on January 26, particularly the vandalism at the Red Fort, illustrated this trend.

Covid had impacted the entire spectrum of national life, from development to security.

It is interesting to examine if there are any learnings from the pandemic in these spheres. On the economic front, it is evident that the indigenous core of the market here is already on a course of revival and sustainable development because of the locally driven 'demand', 'sourcing' and 'supply chain', notwithstanding the enormous loss of jobs at various levels caused by the lockdowns and the subsequent slowing down of all businesses primarily due to stoppage of movements.

Global players were able to maintain their activity levels but it is the MSMEs and the unorganised sectors that typically formed the core of Indian economy and took the hit.

Fortunately, these also are the segments that have been quick in finding their feet again and regrouping for resuming production and trade.

It is in the context of the revival of the economy that the biggest learning from the pandemic, an 'evolution' of management, has become particularly evident.

Evolution is always a positive development because it is a sign of progress achieved through new experiences.

Three things stand out as a marker of this progress and the notable aspect of these is that they were all going to become a part of the new normal in business and entrepreneurship.

First is the acceptance of the alternative location of the 'workplace' at a quiet desk at home, in place of a noisy business 'headquarter', that allowed for an environ free of distractions where better concentration guaranteed a higher work output.

This is going to stay as part of the new normal even after the goal of economic recovery was achieved -- its significance for cost effectiveness would remain relevant.

Since this would always involve an online activity, the security set-up of the enterprise will have to give extra attention to the protocols of cyber security and data protection applicable to operations conducted from remote locations.

In general, the new practice of doing business at least partly online is changing the education sector where even when the 'classroom' teaching returns this practice will prove to be a productive supplement facilitating better use of time as also an enlarged outreach for the student.

Further, the country has made a definite advance towards online medical consultation which would come to stay as part of the health services provided by the government -- its utility as a business model for private practices is already getting established.

Secondly, the pandemic has underscored a higher valuation of upskilled or reskilled human resource and reminded the nation of the principle that the individual was the centre of all productivity.

Producing more with the same number of hands and using 'multitasking' for creating a standby resource for handling a sudden gap caused by a contingency, have emerged as new points of awareness.

A third learning in terms of working methodology coming out of the experience of Covid is the reiteration of the forgotten concept that an efficient organisation should not be bogged down in an excessive vertical hierarchy that only slowed down decision-making and created warpedness around accountability.

The pandemic has caused a certain compulsion about business organisations becoming 'flat' in that sense and having to welcome delegation of decision-making responsibility for better output and quicker delivery.

That the leadership of the organisation will allow people closer to the ground to take decisions locally and yet uphold them, is an evolutionary shift attributable to the corona crisis and hopefully this would become part of the new work culture.

The pandemic has defined leadership in a manner that those who can ride a change and not just face it, stood out -- and this is good for business and other spheres.

A leader would think of course correction and innovative diversification and as already mentioned assume responsibility for any decision taken on delegated authority.

In a real case, a flourishing publishing establishment swiftly invested substantially in production of quality masks and started meeting a growing demand for these from within the government and organisations outside.

This diversification proved very rewarding. The recovery of business substantially depends on the first mandate of leadership -- a leader has to be well informed in an ongoing fashion about the market, the competition and even about the environ of governance in the country including law and order in order to take knowledge-based decisions.

Importance of business intelligence has therefore increased manifold and so is the case with the new normal that emphasises ensuring good delivery even with fewer working hands.

The pandemic highlights the importance of productivity enhancers and methodologies that facilitate cost effectiveness -- these have to be identified and adopted.

As far as joblessness is concerned, this is inversely proportional to economic recovery and rise of entrepreneurship.

On the security front, the pandemic produced three distinct crime trends -- a sharp increase in online frauds including manipulation of bank transactions to swindle innocent customers, rise in neighbourhood crimes particularly assault on women and girl child in an environ of confinement where the offender perceived that police response will be slow and uncertain on account of the corona restrictions and 'money grab' incidents of looting ATM or a jewellery shop as also cases of snatching during the 'unlock' -- at least partly because of the huge lay off and unemployment resulting from the pandemic shutdowns.

The crisis has further brought out the importance of the local machinery of the police station and the need for closer police-public relations under the supervision of the seniors.

The pandemic gave an opportunity to the government to rectify police functioning and make the latter an instrument of public service -- something this country had always looked for.

An important element of police reforms is the policy of zero tolerance towards 'rogue' policemen.

Finally, the corona crisis has tested the systems of governance across the world -- in matters of decision-making ability of the political executive, play of the welfare state and the role of the domestic governance in taking care of the affected people and establishing an environ of control and stability amidst the unsettling socio-economic impact of the pandemic.

The government of India headed by Prime Minister Modi lived up to to its image of integrity, quick grasp of the situation and bold decision making in guiding management of health facilities, economic recovery on the principle of 'vocal for local' and planned distribution of the vaccines internally developed in quick time.

In comparative terms, India has done very well in 'riding the crisis' and retaining a sense of optimism about the potential for progress on all fronts.

The pandemic has strengthened the outlook for India being 'one nation' regardless of caste, community and regional divisions and our democracy being people oriented.

Attempts of some quarters to politicise the responses of the government have generally not succeeded because people of India had always demonstrated 'wisdom of the crowd' in evaluating the performance of the country's leadership.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)



Source: IANS