India celebrates their series win over Australia with the Border-Gavaskar trophy at the Gabba
India celebrates their series win over Australia with the Border-Gavaskar trophy at the Gabba Image Credit: AFP

Entire India and indeed the entire cricketing world is agog at the incredible tenacity displayed by the Indian Cricket Team during the just concluded India-Australia Test series.

The script could not have been more inspiring. From humiliation in the first test match — bundled out for just 36 runs in one innings — to emerging triumphant in the series despite losing the best batsman and bowlers due to injuries and playing the final test match with debutants and rookies.

Consider this. India needed to chase down 325 plus runs on the final day of a Test Match, in the 4th innings, at a ground where it had never been done before, ever, and where Australia had not lost a test match in over three decades. History was not just defied but rewritten by a bunch of players who not just confronted the Gabba but conquered it.

Or consider another stat. In the 13 Test series that India has played against Australia in Australia, considered to be the toughest overseas destination for any touring team, it has won just two — the 2018-19 series and now the current 2020/21 series. On the previous 11 occasions, it lost 8 and drew three times. The previous teams had some of the greatest legends of the game yet they never prevailed. The wins have come with only the current lot of cricketers.

So, what has changed? As Greg Baum, the sports columnist of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: “About this Indian team, it can truly be said that nothing changed from first Test to fourth except nearly all the names and the results”. He was writing of course about the Indian cricket team but his prognosis could as equally apply to India and Indians of today in general.

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For evidence, consider how India has handled the COVID pandemic year 2020 and how it has emerged in 2021.

A recurrent theme in the Western press during the early days of the pandemic was that India, with its relatively underdeveloped health infrastructure as compared to the western world, would be the worst-off country by the end of the year. Some even predicted as many as 500 million COVID-19 cases and over 2 million deaths.

There was breathless reporting, some of it even gleeful, during the early months about India’s so-called mismanagement of the pandemic, as opposed perhaps to the way the Western democracies were managing. Many country-models were offered as the ideal solution by the commentators — none of these were the Indian model. While prejudice was certainly a factor driving many of these views, in part the India before 2014 was also informing such commentary. For India before 2014 had not really set many world standards in managing public affairs.

As the year 2020 ended though, there was a marked change in such negative commentary about India. While those who are ideologically vested in never writing anything positive about India stopped commenting altogether, others did start looking at India differently. The stories were no longer about looking at India’s inadequacies but rather at India’s demonstrated strengths.

Proving the critics wrong

Eric Bellman of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “India is set to embark on the world’s most ambitious vaccination program. It’s more qualified than any other nation to do this. Success could prove democracies can work and become Narendra Modi’s legacy”.

Within India itself, long time critics of Prime Minister Modi started acknowledging the obvious. Swaminathan Aiyar told the Economic Times, “I will only say that I have turned out to be wrong to the extent that I did not believe the economy could revive to this extent without a stronger fiscal stimulus.”

Aiyar was commenting on the tremendous bounce back of the Indian economy and acknowledging that the Indian government’s handling of the economy during the pandemic, initially criticised by commentators like him, was spot on.

Mihir Sharma, a long-time trenchant critic of almost every Modi government program and policy wrote in the Business Standard “So far, the government has been both restrained and sensible in its macroeconomic response to the pandemic. Unlike some others around the world, it has understood that trying to stimulate demand during a public health emergency is counterproductive. It has been rewarded for its good sense by seeing the economy slowly return to normal on its own.”

What has led to this rather stark reversal in assessment of the way India has handled the pandemic year?

As of 20 January 2021, India has a total of 10.5 million COVID cases and 152,700 deaths. Nowhere near the projected 500 million cases and 2 million deaths. On per million basis this is equal to 7,637 cases and 110 deaths. Equivalent numbers for other countries. USA: 74,614 and 1,238; Sweden: 52,622 and 1,045; UK: 50,921 and 1,344 and France: 44,961 and 1,092.

Most countries that had at one point of time managed to contain the pandemic are witnessing a second and third wave of cases necessitating new lockdowns and control measures. India, on the other hand, had steadily managed to control new cases. As of 18 January 2021, the 7-day moving average of new cases per million population for some countries: UK: 664; USA: 628; Sweden: 481; Germany: 201; Russia: 159; Japan: 47 and India: 10.6.

Almost one year into the pandemic, it would be impossible to sustain the argument, as some initially tried to do, that an open democracy with free press like India, is somehow hiding the numbers. There is no other way but to acknowledge that India has got most of it act right. In a nutshell this would mean the following.

Innovative Janta Curfew

India got its lockdown timing, which prevented the virus spread from ever entering the exponential phase, right. The people were prepared in advance about the impending lockdown through the innovative Janta Curfew (voluntary lockdown) and the actual lockdown was announced when India had just 550 cases!

At the beginning of the pandemic, India had zero PPE manufacturing capacity. Within a few weeks it was not only self-sufficient but also exporting to other countries.

When the world needed HCQ as prophylactic as well as a therapeutic, it was India that became the pharmacy of the world.

There was economic dislocation due to the pandemic but the targeted government policies prevented it from becoming economic distress. The digital infrastructure of Jan Dhan bank accounts and biometric Aadhar linkage, created by Modi government, enabled the Indian government to reach the poor and the needy through direct cash transfers almost instantly.

India got the unlock process right as well. The economy is back on track with, for example, the manufacturing growth index registering the highest numbers in almost 8 years.

The experts are united that the fiscal year 2021-22 would witness India registering GDP growth in the high double digits. But even during the peak of the pandemic, India received the highest ever FDI, affirming the confidence of the world investor community in the Indian policymaking.

India affected the quickest mass behavioural change in modern history by convincing a nation of 1.3 billion plus to adopt to wearing masks. As the Walk Street Journal observes, “(India) has managed to encourage and enforce almost universal acceptance of masks without much debate. From the moment the pandemic landed in this South Asian nation, politicians and health experts have been united about the importance of masks, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

And finally, India launched its vaccination on 16 January 2021, less than a year before it took its first action to contain the virus. Both vaccines currently being rolled out have been manufactured in India. And again, the world will not just be looking at India as the pharmacy of the world but will also be studying its model of mass vaccination at scale and speed.

India taking the lead

But this is not all. While doing all this in 2020, India also conducted successful and orderly elections at various levels across the country, enacted spate of far-reaching economic reforms and put into practice India’s Aatmnirbhar Bharat paradigm by procuring, for the first time, India’s indigenously developed fighter planes for the Indian Air Force.

2020 has been a tough year for the entire world. All systems, all administrative machineries, all assumptions were severely tested. Very few managed to get their acts together.

No one remain unscathed. But among large democracies that are diverse, open, free and connected to the entire world, India has presented a model which no one expected it to do so. So, what has changed about this Team India that it defied world expectations?

To paraphrase Greg Baum — About this Indian team, it can truly be said that nothing changed from 2014 to 2021 except nearly all the names and the results. 2014 is the year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office and has since gone about building a New India.

The Indian Cricket Team that won in Brisbane is in fact reflective of the spirit and attitude of the rising New India — one that is not daunted by the challenges confronting it but rather revels in meeting them head on.

This New India, just like the players in the Indian cricket team, is young and fresh and undaunted by adversity and unhindered by any past baggage. It is hungry for success and will fight till the end and will not rest till it achieves it. It is this New India that will define this new global decade and with it the new global order.

Akhilesh Mishra byline
Image Credit: Gulf News