By Nikhil Vaish
Much like George W. Bush once prematurely declared victory in Iraq, our Prime Minister started taking victory laps in mid-February this year when he proclaimed that “…the whole world was worried about India’s situation. But today India’s fight against corona (coronavirus) is inspiring the entire world…”
No matter that the World Health Organization, our medical fraternity, immunologists and scientists the world over warned that complacency could have devastating consequences for India. And that no country would be safe until at least 85% of the population is vaccinated.
On 7th March 2021, the Indian Health Minister boldly declared at a Delhi Medical Association gathering that “We are in the end game of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.” Adding that India was now the ‘world’s pharmacy’, boasting that we had shipped “5.5 crore vaccines to 62 different countries.”
What he failed to mention was that claiming the moniker of world’s pharmacy meant Indians would get fewer vaccines. India’s current vaccination rate is around 4.9%, which lags Brazil (12.8%) and Turkey (15.6%). At this pace, it will take another 600 days to vaccinate enough Indians to achieve herd immunity. Shortages have now become so acute that 94 vaccination sites were recently closed for three days in Bombay, even as India was reporting nearly 400,000 Covid cases daily.
It would seem that the BJP government decided having Mr. Modi strut on the world stage claiming to be the world’s pharmacy was more important than prioritising vaccinating our own citizens, as every other nation did.
Then, as if to prove that he is not just a man of words, Mr. Modi started holding massive election rallies across West Bengal. These rallies had thousands of people in attendance without masks or social distancing because naturally Mr. Modi’s aura was enough to strike fear into the heart of coronavirus.
Just over a week ago Mr. Modi tweeted from a rally saying “Have never ever seen such huge crowds at a rally” and added “wherever I look, I see people, only people”. It would seem that his aura has faded because in the past week West Bengal reported the highest spike in a single day, and instituted lockdowns due to an alarming rise in cases.
The next coronavirus showdown occurred in late March. By now the second wave was well under way and the double mutant variant had been identified, but Mr. Modi refused to cower. Instead, he appeared in full-page ads in national newspapers welcoming devotees to Kumbh Mela, an annual pilgrimage for Hindus.
A courageous leader might have cancelled a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people traveling from all over the country to wash their sins in the Ganges, but not our Prime Minister, destroyer of corona. He made sure the masses got their opium, even if it meant risking their lives.
The ads not only encouraged the young, old and infirm to attend but claimed that the festival was “clean” and “safe”. On being asked, the Chief Minister of the state told the media that the festival would not be cancelled because “Maa Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow. So, there should be no corona…” Incidentally, this man once compared Mr. Modi to Lord Ram. No word yet on whether India plans to export water from the Ganga, along with vaccines.
In Assam the Health Minister, also BJP, declared in April, “There is no Covid in Assam… there is no need to wear a face mask…” When his comments were mocked by the opposition and the media, he took to twitter inviting them to visit Assam, boasting that his state had eliminated Covid, unlike states run by opposition parties.
They must have accepted his invite, because as of this week Assam is witnessing an alarming rise in positive cases across the state. The situation is so bad that they have not only had to impose a nightly curfew but are having to source oxygen from Bhutan.
In Gujarat, Mr. Modi’s home state, an MLA was asked if the spike in cases there might be a result of local elections held in late February. He responded saying that “Workers of the BJP have done work, have done labour work and none of them has been infected.” We hear this former Science and Technology minister, along with the Chief Minister, state BJP chief and several other MLAs all tested positive for Covid-19. Clearly, they must have been shirking their work.
Yet another BJP luminary, a minister from Madhya Pradesh, recently explained to the media why Modi’s administration should be absolved of all responsibility for this crisis. He said that “Nobody can stop these deaths….People get old and they have to die.” Let’s hope he shares this wisdom with the WHO.
Over the last year, instead of building hospital capacity, oxygen plants and stockpiling life-saving medicines, as WHO and various health experts recommended, it seems Mr. Modi had his finest yoga mind work on developing a drug to fight Covid-19.
Coronil, the Ayurvedic wonder drug was launched with great fanfare in February, with the Indian Health and Union ministers proudly sharing the stage and endorsing it. Baba Ramdev stated that his “research-based medicine” showed 100% recovery for Covid positive patients, in an astounding 3-7 days. Turns out his research was conducted on only 100 people, unlike dumb Western studies that waste time recruiting thousands of participants for research trials. Indian ingenuity at its finest!
The yoga baba claimed that this marvel of science was approved by the WHO. We are still trying to confirm who exactly approved it because the World Health Organisation was quick to issue a tweet saying they have “not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine for the treatment of #COVID19.”
Even before this wonder drug was created, BJP leaders were not shy to offer Indians various remedies to boost immunity and protect against coronavirus. In July last year, the West Bengal BJP chief told people to drink cow urine. “This is India, the land of Lord Krishna, and here we worship cows. We will have cow urine to stay healthy.” We are reliably informed that those who took his advice are now, indeed, closer to God.
While Mr. Modi has no fear of coronavirus, he does tremble at the sight of a free press and lacks the courage to hold himself accountable to the people who elected him. By the time he finally appeared on national TV India’s healthcare systems had collapsed, crematoriums were overwhelmed and we had widespread shortages of oxygen, plasma, Remdesivir and other life-saving medicines, all across the country.
Mr. Modi is convinced that his long white beard and flowing designer garbs are enough to calm the nation and stop people from complaining about losing loved ones, because he was still unable to offer a plan of action to steer the country out of the worst crisis we have faced since our Independence.
He did acknowledge that the challenge before us is big and that “we have to overcome it with our resolve, courage and preparation” but was not able to explain why, more than a year into the pandemic, his administration was so woefully unprepared.
As infections and deaths continue to break new records each day, states have mandated strict lockdowns and banned all non-essential activities. However, Mr. Modi has made an exception for his Rs 20,000 crore pet project to redevelop a 3.2 km stretch of Delhi built by the British. The Central Vista project will needlessly tear down and rebuild several iconic landmarks and construct a new Parliament building.
Since the Central Vista is a vanity project, tied to his legacy, bids were fast-tracked and the entire process was conducted far from the prying eyes of the media, and awarded without a public consultation. Coincidentally, the winning bid went to a firm from Gujarat known to have close ties to Mr. Modi.
Yet, for some reason sanctioning oxygen plants took his government eight full months into the pandemic, just to start inviting bids. Only 11 of 162 plants have been built, and only 5 are operational. The budget for oxygen plants was a meagre 201 crore, while 917 crore was allocated to rebuild a Parliament building that everybody agrees does not need to be rebuilt.
As if mocking the plight of Indians desperately gasping for air, Mr. Modi’s Union Minister recently told the media that the blame lay with state governments who were not “controlling demand” for oxygen. It seems that in a country of 1.4 billion people our government believes that it is resources and not lives that are most precious and must be preserved.
One could forgive Mr. Modi if this crisis had transpired at the beginning of the pandemic when every leader was caught flat footed. Also, we know that unlike Western countries, it is harder in India to institute endless lockdowns, as the overwhelming majority of Indians are unable to zoom to work. For millions of Indians a lockdown can mean starving to death.
However, what cannot be excused, one year into this pandemic, is the fact that the Modi government did nothing to build capacity in the healthcare system, stockpile oxygen and other lifesaving treatments, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the virus would mutate and become more deadly. Mr. Modi surrounded himself with loyalists and instead of experts. He never assembled a Covid Task Force to monitor the situation or to develop plans to deal with outbreaks and surges, and transfer medical supplies and other things to areas most in need. He stood on the stage at Davos and took credit, boasting, “We worked on strengthening the Covid specific health infrastructure, trained our human resources to tackle the pandemic and used technology massively for testing and tracking of the cases.”
Mr. Modi has gone out of his way to behave like the pandemic is over and his administration has instead encouraged people to stop taking even basic precautions, refused to limit public gatherings, lifted restrictions on massive Indian weddings, religious festivals and election rallies and they have severely botched India’s vaccination rollout plan, choosing instead to ship desperately needed vaccines to far flung corners of the globe.
In less than two terms Mr. Modi has succeeded in taking a proud seventy-four-year-old nation from shining example of democracy and powerhouse of economic growth, to laughing stock of the world. The incompetence, complacency and ineptitude Mr. Modi and his administration have demonstrated during this pandemic rival that of banana republics and failed states like Venezuela.
We know Mr. Modi, cares deeply about his public image and legacy. He now assuredly holds a special place in the heart of every Indian who has lost a grandparent, parent, spouse, sibling, aunt, uncle or child due to his government’s apathy and ineptitude.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, was responsible for giving birth to India.
Narendra Modi will forever be remembered as the man who brought death to India.