By: K Raveendran
“This government has lost its mind. They talk of being a superpower, but what kind of superpower can’t even find oxygen for its people?” This quote from a Meerut man who lost his niece to Covid has been carried by The Economist to show the exasperation felt by the average Indian about the situation prevailing in the country. Just this one quote is enough to puncture all the bravado and chest-thumping that Prime Minister do at forums like the Davos and venues around the world on his favourite theme that the 21st century belongs to India.
The London weekly then goes on to describe how the government has melted away amidst the devastating second wave of Covid as the Modi Establishment has been betraying a sense of helplessness in dealing with the situation. The public, overwhelmed with anguish at death on so vast a scale, it notes, has been flabbergasted by repeated revelations of incompetence.
There is nothing startling about the magazine’s conclusion. It is widely accepted that the enormity of the second wave, with its dangerously high levels of death rate, is attributable to a string of failures by the Modi government and its refusal to heed to repeated warnings. Add to this Modi’s quixotic approaches and an organic weakness that prompts him to take the wrong decision at the wrong time as well as an inexplicable failure to take the right decision at the right time.
Just when the Indian economy was cruising along with impressive growth numbers, Modi destroyed the economy and the lives of millions of people in one-midnight stroke by announcing demonetisation for no rhyme or reason, ostensibly to fight black money, which the draconian measure only helped to flourish. He asked for death by hanging if he failed to deliver, but when he actually failed, he even refused to talk about it. It is a different matter that the great Indian values of tolerance saw him being pardoned for his monumental blunder and even rewarded with another term to rule.
In continuation of the same ‘shock and awe’ policy, he forced the country into an ill-prepared lockdown in the early stage of Covid infection, when there was no need for it and in the process heaped untold miseries on the people, especially the vulnerable sections by once again destroying the economy and the livelihood of people. His ‘stay wherever you are’ policy led to the biggest human tragedy of post-Partition, which had millions of migrant workers stranded in different parts of the country without food or proper care, forcing them to embark on the ‘Long March’ that history will chronicle as the most instance of government apathy.
A task force, constituted by the Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM) and Indian Association of Epidemiologists, and including two members of a key government-constituted advisory committee to contain the pandemic, questioned Modi’s assumptions that prompted the lockdown and its timing. “India is paying a heavy price, both in terms of humanitarian crisis and disease spread. The incoherent and often rapidly shifting strategies and policies, especially at the national level, are more a reflection of ‘afterthought’ and ‘catching up’ phenomenon on part of the policymakers rather than a well thought cogent strategy with an epidemiologic basis,” the task force reported back to the government.
The same wrong sense of timing that Modi suffers from is evident now when the ravaging second wave has taken India to a point where it accounts for half of all the world’s Covid cases, but the prime minister is following a strategy of complete abandonment. Hospitals turning away relatives rushing their loved ones in private vehicles, auto-rickshaws, bikes and whatever means of conveyance they can find, Covid patients dying on the road without oxygen supply, bodies lined up outside crematoriums and burial grounds bursting in their seams have become a regular sight of the national capital, but it took the judiciary to do something about it as the government looked away callously.
When the industry, political parties, health experts and public policy experts are all demanding in one voice the introduction of a national lockdown as the only option to contain the epidemic at this stage, Modi is sticking to his guns, saying that is no option because it will destroy lives and livelihoods. If only he had been mindful of such an eventuality at the beginning of the pandemic, he could have spared the Indian people one of their worst nightmares.
The prime minister believes vaccination is the only option available to the country at this critical stage when the deadly virus is mutating into more dangerous strains and threatening to unleash a third wave, which would be even much more difficult to deal with. But ironically, his government has washed its hands off what should have been the biggest such mission. At a time when he should have been in the thick of things, directing the operations to get the majority of Indians vaccinated, he has conveniently left the responsibility to the states. His game plan, no doubt, gives him an escape route from the tricky situation, but the public opinion, both inside and outside the country, is unlikely to forgive him for the lapse, the man infestation of which is already visible in the recent elections. (IPA Service)