Saturday, Dec 03, 2022

Nothing can erase Indians’ memories of Covid devastation

Randeep Singh Surjewala writes: Celebration of vaccination milestone is mere propaganda to distract from government’s abdication of duty during the second wave of the pandemic

Oxygen is provided to a Covid-19 positive patient in New Delhi (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey)

It is a sign of a leader losing his grip on electoral reality when he starts buying into the myths of his own creation. However, when that propaganda seeks to whitewash the deaths of lakhs of fellow citizens, it is unforgivable and even criminal. Especially when a large number of those deaths were avoidable and caused as a direct result of the government’s incompetence and negligence.

The Modi government is back to doing what it does best. In its latest propaganda blitzkrieg, it is attempting to rewrite the narrative of the horrifying devastation during the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic by seeking to direct attention towards the vaccine drive. This attempt is condemned to failure. Let us explain to the Prime Minister why.

Every Indian lost someone they know. Every single person remembers the utter collapse of the healthcare machinery as they struggled to get hospital beds, ventilators and medicines for their loved ones, friends and acquaintances. Friends and family members infected with the coronavirus were gasping for breath as procuring an oxygen cylinder became a near-impossible task. The scars of that time are so deep that they can perhaps never heal.

Why is the Modi government to blame? Because it was Prime Minister Modi who prematurely declared victory over Covid-19. It was also Prime Minister Modi who bragged about exporting remdesivir and life-saving vaccines abroad. It was PM Modi who placed electoral campaigns above the public good and addressed dozens of rallies, despite the warnings from experts. Above all, when the second wave ravaged the country, the Prime Minister simply did not come forward to lead. Forget the average citizen, supporters of the ruling party begged desperately for its intervention as their loved ones died due to lack of medical care. All pleas fell on deaf ears and the government remained missing in action.

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What the government and the Prime Minister’s acolytes chose to do instead was to go after spirited individuals, opposition leaders and Youth Congress workers, who attempted to fill the massive gaps of administrative failure by providing assistance to anyone who needed it. The BJP government’s invisible hand was apparent in the police enquiries on those who were procuring supplies and distributing them for free. The individuals and organisations marshalling their resources in the service of the nation were raided instead of being applauded. When government representatives finally did emerge, it was to place the blame on the states. No one was convinced.

The Modi government will also be remembered for attempting, at first, to argue that the Covid-19 pandemic did not constitute a “disaster” that would attract provisions of the National Disaster Management Act. And when it was chastised by the Supreme Court and compelled to take action after numerous delays, it announced a paltry sum of Rs 50,000 per Covid-19 death as compensation. In which country of the world is a human life valued at Rs 50,000? Not surprisingly, even this has not been paid. This is what India remembers.

And this is to say nothing of the economic devastation that the pandemic wrought. According to one study, 59 per cent of MSMEs and startups were expected to either shut down or scale down. Across the nation, Indians saw their salaries slashed, livelihoods were lost, savings were eroded by medical costs. Their woes were compounded by galloping food inflation and retail inflation. All the while, the Modi government continuously raised petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices to unheard of levels. It now appears that cruelty and fleecing the citizens have become a state policy.


There is another pattern on display here. Prime Minister Modi is yet again declaring victory prematurely. Only 21 per cent of Indians are fully vaccinated (putting India in the 19th position in the world). To put this in perspective, the government must administer 106 crore doses in less than 70 days in order to fully vaccinate the entire 93 crore adult population by December 31. This would require them to administer 151 lakh doses daily as against the average 35 lakh doses being administered. The strategy and the way forward are unknown to even those in the government.

There are other equally important questions which remain unattended and unanswered by this callous government. There is no plan in place to vaccinate the nearly 30 crore children between the ages of 4 and 17 years. There is also no clarity on booster shots for senior citizens, doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, police personnel, sanitation workers and others engaged in crowd management interactions or duties. Is there even a policy on booster shots for vulnerable sections?

No matter how invincible the Prime Minister seems now, his government’s tenure is guaranteed to be remembered as a cautionary tale, not least of the risks of electing demagogues. And he knows this. This desperate barrage of propaganda cannot salvage his legacy, nor will it get him the exoneration he so desperately craves.


This column first appeared in the print edition on October 25, 2021 under the title ‘Outside the propaganda’. The writer is the communications in-charge and general secretary, Indian National Congress

First published on: 25-10-2021 at 04:15:06 am
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