By Amit Khanna
Business and industry, irrespective of size and scale, are the lifeline of the economy. A lot is being said and written about the impending doom and gloom, massive job losses, lack of fiscal and monetary relief. Well, some of it is true but a lot of it is mere conjecture and polemic. Transplanting solutions from other countries is not the ideal way to remedy an illness or provide succor. A $3 trillion economy in a country of 1.35 billion people has little leeway, especially in a year where government revenues will be down by 30 per cent.
If you print notes and monetize your reserves, what will happen to inflation and the currency? Further, what happens if the crisis lingers on for a year or more which is likely. Some relief measures are indeed called for but all this talk of putting 5-10 per cent of GDP through deficit financing is a gamble which can go horribly wrong. There are no simple solutions. It is a game which will be learnt as we play along. There will be grave difficulties and suffering but we cannot wish them away in TV debates and Webinars. All will have to pitch in. Each one of us will have to do with less. The day the balance shifts in favor of livelihood against lives, we are in for an unimaginable tragedy.
AI, automation, 3D printing and robots will be passe. Big data and surveillance will be an accepted norm. Some business models, in fact businestses and professions, have outlived their utility and viability. The pandemic is only pushing their expiry date forward. It is the healthy businesses, large, small and micro which must be saved first so that tomorrow they continue to employ more and more and keep the wheels of the economy moving. Newer occupations are emerging. Redistribution of resources – natural and human, is imperative. The COVID-19 pandemic means a new ecosystem for both supply and consumption. Our needs as consumers, manufacturers, service providers, employees, citizens will change. Businesses must prepare for the change. This clamor of opening up to me appears unthought out.
There is large scale joblessness which will only increase in the months to come. We talk of repatriation of migrant workers. How do you take 30 per cent of your population back to the places from where they escaped to avoid utter poverty and despair? Let us concentrate on filling the gaps in our social welfare system. Let us provide food and at least minimum social security through Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) and Public Distribution System (PDS).
This is the time to leverage the India stock via JAM (Jandhan, Aadhaar, Mobile). Entourage economy (one person working accompanied by sundry hangers on) is not tenable. Fake celebrity will hopefully take a knock. Facetime, Skype, Zoom and Teams are a part of the normal as is working from home. Multiple shifts of and staggered hours at work, play, and entertainment is here to stay for a long, long time.
Society and lifestyles are bound to change. Diehard habits will alter. Imagine a world where health and safety will mean more than convenience. Pilgrimage and visits to places of worship, workplaces, factories, malls multiplexes, restaurants, bars, markets — wholesale and retail — schools and colleges, travel, hospitality, conferences, meetings, dining, weddings, funerals, family get-togethers, festivals, shopping and even hanging out, all will be underlined with precaution and trepidation.
Holidays will be tentative and to begin with closer to home and in less crowded places. Travel will be cumbersome with health checks, social distancing and staggered seating. We will still travel but with caution. Newer, less crowded destinations will emerge. Travel groups will be smaller. Amusement parks, fairs, and exhibitions and other public events will come with social distancing measures. Entertainment will slowly but surely shift to homes –TV and online. Cinemas will be for occasional outings for special films. More personalized content is the way ahead. Biased and partisan news, screaming anchors and tele-pontification will lose their appeal as viewers search for facts and information instead of bluster and dogmas.
We are headed into uncharted territory. Ingenuity and survival instinct of humans will come up with new ideas beyond just a cure and vaccine for the virus. Keep the windows of your mind open and let hope drive you towards a better day after tomorrow. Tomorrow is a misty morning.
(Amit Khanna is a writer, filmmaker and social commentator)