Rajiv Bajaj has said that the nationwide lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the economy "You flattened the wrong curve. It is not the infection curve, it is the GDP curve. This is what we have ended (up) with, the worst of both worlds."
The Managing Director of Bajaj Auto was in a conversation with former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi that was broadcast on social media on Thursday. This is Gandhi's fourth interaction with who's who of the business world as he tries to build a case against the central government led by Narendra Modi.
Speaking about the unlocking and impact of lockdown on the economy and the disease, industrialist Rajiv Bajaj referred to Japan and Sweden, who did not close their business but tried to propagate the cluster control method. In this system, Social distancing was encouraged, but shops and restaurants stayed open. Some students continued to go to school and borders stayed open to European visitors. It helped the economy continue to grow in the first quarter, unlike many other nations, but later deaths multiplied.
Bajaj also said some countries used the herd immunity thing. However, "when people hear about this in terms of being articulated as herd immunity, they tend to think that herd immunity means let the vulnerable die. "It doesn't mean that at all. They are missing the details, whether it is in terms of sanitisation, masks, distancing etc.
"Sweden, Japan etc. are following all these practices but they are not trying to go further into the unproductive zone. The 53-year-old, who had had in 2017 made it to India's 50 most powerful personalities, also said that we have followed the West. Rahul Gandhi has been instead asking the union government not to drive the lockdown the way it did, but be supportive and leave rest to the states but it has not been done so.
"It's surreal. I don't think anyone imagined that the world would be locked down in this way. I don't think that even during the World War, the world was locked down. I think even then things were open. it's a unique and devastating phenomenon," said Gandhi. India pressed the pause button for two long months, he could not fathom.
"The lockdown was really hard on the poor and migrants. They had nowhere to go," when Gandhi brought this up, When asked what he would have done, Gandhi told Bajaj, "The central government has to act as an enabler. It should have moved the battle to chief ministers, but what happened in India is that the central government has backed off now. It's too late now.
"It's a failed lockdown in India, it's the only country where the number of infections is increasing when the lockdown is being eased," Gandhi added. During the conversation, Gandhi called for a compassionate response and the urgent need for the government to listen to stakeholders and experts
On April 30, Gandhi held the first such dialogue when he discussed the coronavirus pandemic and its economic implications with former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan. Next his conversation was with Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee who had said India should come out with a large enough stimulus package to revive demand.
Unlocking and impact of lockdown on the economy
Last week he spoke to globally renowned public health experts - Professor Ashish Jha of Harvard Global Health Institute. and Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke. During a conversation on the economic fallout of the lockdown due to Covid-19, industrialist Rajiv Bajaj claimed that he was advised not to speak to the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi as it can lead to trouble.
When Rahul Gandhi praised Rajiv Bajaj for his braveness for speaking to him, Bajaj said, "I'm speaking with Rahul and the first reaction was from a friend, don't do it. I said, but why not?, 'Mat karna, this can get you into trouble'. But I said I may have said some things, perhaps a little too vehemently."
Bajaj said he had spoken to media houses earlier, but his friend advised him not to speak to Rahul Gandhi. According to Bajaj, his friend said, "nahi, media me bolna ek baat hai but Rahul Gandhi se baatein karna ek dusri baat hai". (It is one thing to speak to media, but quite different when you are speaking to Rahul Gandhi.)
"I pushed that actually a bit, I'll tell you very candidly. I said, we are going to talk about business, economics, lockdown, what to do, how to move forward, technology, products, he loves motorcycles and so we'll talk about motorcycles etc," Bajaj said.
While Bajaj did not tell who his friend is who advised him not to speak to Rahul Gandhi, but said, "So that person maintained, that why, why take a risk? But yes, that is the general mahol (current environment) and you know, my own father raised that point, in November, at the economic award function, where the home minister was there, the finance minister was there."
"So, you know, one hears a lot about this, but I try to ask people why this should be so because at least so far I have not faced any repercussion, so to speak, of this. But yes, what you say is true, this seems to be a general impression, which is sad because I think this openness is our strength and we must not lose it," Bajaj told Rahul Gandhi.
While Rahul Gandhi praised Rajiv Bajaj and said, "Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me, you know, what is your next interview? And I said, you know, I'm speaking to Mr Bajaj and the guy said, "oh dum hai bande me'. So I said, what do you mean? And he said, 'well he's got guts to talk to you."