Former union minister P Chidambaram, one of the sharpest critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP-led government, has backed the "Janata Curfew" in a column published today in The Indian Express and said he is "duty-bound" to support the PM in the fight against coronavirus or COVID-19.
"I am duty bound to support the PM and I shall do so. In effect, he has asked the people to fight the enemy with moral armaments. I am afraid that the virus is not like Clement Attlee imbued with high moral values. I am pretty certain the PM will be compelled to come back in a few days with tougher social and economic measures," Mr Chidambaram, a senior Congress leader, writes in the column.
"I plead for a temporary lockdown of all our towns and cities for two-four weeks."
The former finance minister has expressed concern about the fallout of coronavirus on the economy. "The PM implied that the current economic slump was triggered by COVID-19; that is not true. The beginning of the decline of the growth rate of GDP pre-dates COVID-19."
Businesses will be affected, Mr Chidambaram points out, factories have laid off workers, casual and temporary jobs have been axed, smaller producers have suffered cash flow problems, raw material supply has been affected and credit has dried up. "All these are the natural consequences of an economy in a rapid decline. I had blamed the government for its failure to formulate policies and take the right measures to arrest the decline. That criticism remains valid. However, the government cannot be faulted for the outbreak of coronavirus," he says.
"Nonetheless, the government is responsible for managing the economic fallout due to coronavirus. Its first duty is to protect employment and wages."
He suggests that the hand-out under the PM-KISAN scheme be doubled to Rs 12,000. He also says the government should find Rs 5,00,000 crore towards mitigating COVID-19 over the next 6 months. "This is a moral and economic imperative and we must find the money and spend it," Mr Chidambaram writes.
The Congress veteran's views mark a shift from his usual searing takedowns of the Prime Minister and the government on the economy.
Yesterday, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had said the government seems to have "underutilised our public and private sector capacities" in fighting COVID-19 despite "ample time, early warnings and lessons from other nations".
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been strongly critical of PM Modi. On Saturday, he wrote called coronavirus a "sledgehammer blow to our brittle economy".
He tweeted: "Small & medium businesses & daily wage earners are the worst hit. Clapping won't help them. Only a massive economic package that includes direct cash transfers, tax breaks and a moratorium on loan repayments, will."