When the COVID-19 pandemic hit India in early 2020, global experts predicted that the world’s second most populous country would face a tsunami of cases.
All had rejected India saying that its “weak health infrastructure” would not be able to cater to the vast masses.
But India proved every doomsday prediction wrong with its effective response to the growing challenge, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Be it the oxygen cylinder crisis or the shortage of essential medicines due to non-availability of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) from China, India rose to the occasion and faced every problem with its quick decision making.
Priyam Gandhi-Modi, In his book ‘A Nation to Protect: Leading India Through the COVID Crisis’, provides a definitive account of how India emerged from the deadly crisis under the strong leadership of PM Modi.
In an interview with WION, she talked about her experience and what inspired her to write the book.
WION: How did this book happen? What was your biggest inspiration for writing this?
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: When COVID-19 spread to many parts of the world, India was considered the next hotspot with predictions of doomsdays to the tune of piles of corpses on the streets. Some have even said that the global fight against the virus will take a few steps back because of India. It was no secret that due to decades of carelessness, we had inherited a weak health infrastructure and lacked almost all the equipment any nation needs to fight the global pandemic. But as time passed, the Prime Minister took the country forward and citizens, bureaucrats and leaders lined up to follow his instructions.
India’s response began to strengthen, taking us to a point where we can say with confidence that we have managed the response far better than most of the wealthier countries that were far better equipped. This ‘Story of India’ should have been told.
WION: In your own words, can you describe how India’s COVID response was different from other countries?
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: Decisive leadership of the Prime Minister. His insistence on incorporating the vision of states, all chief ministers and ‘all government’ is what sets us apart.
When he made decisions, he never backed down on them, never turned back and kept a direct channel of communication open with people, building trust.
WION: Can you share a bit about the writing process and how long it took you to compile this work?
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: For nearly six months, I have been talking to various people who have led the nation’s response, from the government to private individuals, experts and industry leaders. I’ve tried to incorporate all those opinions and feedback to strengthen the story.
WION: Your views on Government of India’s collaboration with private organizations to combat COVID-19
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: If it were not for the massive effort on this cooperation, we would still be dependent on other countries – masks, tests, PPE kits, ventilators and vaccines. This pandemic has shown us the value of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant) and how it can bring us freedom, security and strength.
WION: Your views on India’s vaccination campaign as compared to other countries
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: The backbone of our vaccination campaign has been our COWIN platform, which has ensured equity, proper mobilization of vials and careful management of administration. While Western countries were issuing pieces of paper for proof of vaccination, we were issuing a QR coded, foolproof certificate on mobile phones.
The Indian government operates with the knowledge that our vaccine supply is going to be back-loaded, which means that our suppliers will be providing a much larger dose in the second half of 2021. That is why, we have secured our most vulnerable population first. In fact, even the prime minister waited his turn to get vaccinated, pumping in discipline in the effort.
WION: After working closely with PM Modi, can you tell us something about your interactions with him?
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: Like most others, I had made certain assumptions about him because of how sections of the media portray him – authoritarian, someone who makes unilateral decisions, intimidation etc. However, they all quickly fell apart when I saw that he was as human. Like all of us – full of similar feelings.
Their answers were detailed, eye-opening and certainly played a big part in putting all the information everyone was giving me in context.
WION: What are your future plans? Any new book we should be waiting for?
Priyam Gandhi-Modi: Many things are in the pipeline but we will see where they go. It is too early to talk about them at this point.