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Sunday, August 01, 2021

We lost the battle, can we win the Covid war?

The tragedy of the second wave has been deep, personal and widespread. The central government must be held to account

June 18, 2021 5:10:39 pm
The oxygen shortage was the outcome of a complete lack of planning and a bewilderingly false sense of complacency.

Written By Jayant Chaudhary

All of us have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us have been irreversibly challenged, unable to undo the wrongs wrought upon us. The battle against Covid has in many ways been fought by each of us individually, waged against both the virus, and our broken institutions. In a country systematically torn apart with ideological differences and ruled with an authoritarian fist, the current regime has only ensured one thing in its pandemic response: No matter what caste, community, or socio-economic background you come from, the structural breakdown hurts all of us equally.

At a personal level, I have been devastated by this pandemic. I have lost my mentor, friend, and father to this calamity. At the same time, my wife, mother-in-law and elder daughter have at different times tested positive for Covid. In my home state, I see so many people who I feel personally responsible for falter through a faulty system as the authorities keep up a happy façade with false promises and misleading social media updates. But even as the problem is systemic, the responsibility for failures cannot be put on to the “System”.

We have failed at many levels. The pandemic response has been non-existent. The vaccine rollout has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. The oxygen shortage was the outcome of a complete lack of planning and a bewilderingly false sense of complacency. We claim to be a “new India”, brimming with foreign policy outreach and an understanding of what it takes to be a global superpower. So, when the world was reeling from this pandemic, what hubris could the Centre possibly have fallen victim to, to think that we, unlike any other country in the world, would be unscathed and less impacted?

We have failed in so many ways, but the most disheartening aspect is the government’s lack of humanism, the failure to empathise. Instead of accepting mistakes and expressing remorse and solidarity with victims, it has been passing the burden and buck to the states. If the strategy is to deny the problem, no one will do anything to fix it! And that, more than anything else, shows us what a complete breakdown of governance, planning, and compassion we have all been witness to.

The nature of the pandemic is such that there are bound to be peaks and troughs. It is a foregone conclusion that this second wave will at some point conclude, as it has done in countries across the world. But what is equally certain is that without clear direction and planning from the central government, third, fourth, and fifth waves will be eventualities, not mere possibilities. The narratives will shift once this second wave ebbs somewhat. Our focus will be drawn towards the so-called success in containing the pandemic, prioritising the economic recovery, livelihoods, and the like. But each family that has personally gone through the pain and trauma wreaked by this virus can never forget. Unfortunately, millions of us have forever been adversely impacted by a loss that has no repairing. We will rebuild, life will progress slowly, but the trauma will be indelibly impressed upon us all.

For every instance of triumphalism and propaganda politics that will become the norm, remember this: This was no victory! It was a loss of unquantifiable proportions. The magnitude of suffering, uncertainty, and hopelessness is not something any press conference or tweetstorm can erase. We must refuse to resign ourselves to being mere statistics in a battle that we each have had to wage with virtually no institutional support.

For all of us, whether or not we have lost a cherished family member, this must be the inflection point. It must be the beginning of a new phase in our country’s development and polity where health and living infrastructure and standards are centre-stage. Where the powers that be are not callous, uninformed, or misleading. We must demand humane and sensitive governance as a fundamental, non-negotiable right. We must hold accountable those who brought us to this position with the sheer lack of planning and abdication of duties related to healthcare.

This is no ordinary failure of big government. Covid has not crept up on us silently or stealthily. For a country whose leadership has championed “foreign policy”, we can’t now turn around and say we did not know this second wave was expected in India sooner rather than later. We have been shockingly unprepared. We don’t have enough basic amenities to look after our sick, let alone prevent any future waves through mass vaccination. Yet, for those of us who have lost someone or had someone in our family fall seriously ill from Covid, it is we who deal with the guilt of wishing there was more we could have done. So many Covid patients and their families have faced not compassion, but the stigma of having tested positive. They have been shamed for falling ill from a virulently contagious virus, not because of any individual lapse in judgment. The guilt, shame, trauma — why should victims of Covid be made to feel these emotions? This should not be rationalised and accepted as a force majeure event. This is something that should have been addressed and fixed by a vocally confident central government that claims to have brought India to the upper echelons of development. What we have seen in the second wave disabuses us of that falsehood.

Accountability needs to be tagged and ensured. If we don’t react now to what could very easily be the most severe governance and healthcare breakdown in the history of our country, then we have failed ourselves. More importantly, we would have failed those whom we lost. I, for one, won’t forgive myself if I let that happen. And neither should you.

P.S. Even as I am writing these thoughts down, I come across a headline: “Yogi to remain a leader in Uttar Pradesh for 2022 Polls; Hindutva to be the main issue”. If, after all this, for the ruling party good governance, health, education and social development are not the primary poll issues, voters may have to wage and win the electoral war.

The writer is president, Rashtriya Lok Dal and a former MP

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