Politics of Pandemic in India

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By Prakash Waghmare
New York:
Current Covid-19 (Corona) situation in India is quite grave. There is no denying that the mistakes were made on multiple fronts which resulted into Corona taking awful tolls across the country. The central government’s errors were compounded by the State governments (govt). During the first corona-wave when the central-govt took over all the precautionary elements into its own hand, the State-govts cried out loud labeling it as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘dictatorial’. The central-govt ultimately gave in to their demands in the last quarter of 2020 and provided them instead, enough funds to fight this beastly virus. The money was supposed to be used for PPT kits, essential medicines, setting up bed-facilities and to procure Oxygen-equipment but nothing of that sort happened. The States showed complete laxity to take any proactive step, the moment they felt that Corona was receding. No one knows what the States did with their money. Maharashtra Govt in particular, which had 1/3 of cases and 1/4 of deaths started shutting down the bed facilities. When India was basking in the praise of the western world as the ‘role model’ for the containment of Corona, the Central and the State govts should have collectively started preparations for the impending second wave of the pandemic. This did not happen. Although in democracy, the elections are inevitable come what may, there should have been complete clamp down on rallies, however unrealistic this may sound. The central-govt should not have permitted any religious gatherings (including ‘Kumbh-Mela’ – April 2021), processions to take place, although Corona had started taking enormous tolls weeks before (February-March 2021) such gatherings. The collective lapses sent wrong signals to the public. Nevertheless, the fatal expansion of Corona squarely rests with ‘the public at large’. People not only disregarded the severity of Corona by not following mandated safety precautions, but also, started all their routine activities and celebrations, as if it did not exist. This had deadly consequences.
Covid-19 is a global phenomenon but in India it is being tossed around like a political football whose ultimate goal is, not only to project how the country is on the brink of ‘Armageddon’, but also, to emphasize how inept and insensitive the current administration is. The major players in this game are the opposition political parties and their surrogates. Scores of leading opposition political leaders who are now clamoring for vaccines, had earlier not only mocked the idea of vaccination, but also, had floated vigorous anti-vaccine campaign. The current shortage of ‘oxygen’ has everything to do with the lethargy of the State-govts. The Central-govt had sectioned 162 oxygen generating PSA plants for strategic areas across India but the States collectively set only 33plants and blamed the Central-govt for their own ineptitude. Make no mistake, in this game, some national and international Medias are also involved. Instead of reporting positive inspiring stories, they mass-marketed unflattering, exaggerated or sometimes even fake stories. The international Media has converged on India’s plight as if it is the biggest calamity the world has ever witnessed. When China, the birthplace of Covid-19 and the global capital of misinformation, recently planted a mischievous tweet on the social-media, it was summarily condemned by a major news organization in U.S. We all know how a leading New York tabloid, couple of weeks back, used a picture of a roadside dead body from some gas leakage somewhere, to support their claim, ‘how the people in India are dying on the streets’. This is not an isolated incidence. Scandal-sniffing notorious British press isn’t less offensive either. The international media-cartel has never publicized the complicity of their own govts in the current crisis. As per WHO, 87% of vaccines have been cornered by high-income countries and only 0.2% of vaccines have gone to poor countries. The Indian ‘netizens’ who also now include numerous private TV channels, have proved themselves equal to so-called ‘yellow journalism’ by exposing all the falsification and putting it against rock-solid proofs. When, opposition parties are harping on the sorry conditions in the country, it is worth noting that none of their cadre or party-workers are seen anywhere helping out the masses. In their stark absence, the people have taken things into their own hands. At this moment, lot of care giving is being done by numerous social or religious local organizations. All these organizations are collectively providing hundreds of thousands of meals to the needy people; setting up thousands of beds and acquiring necessary equipment & medications, where possible. Spearheading these efforts, nationwide, are RSS, VHP volunteers.
It is true that the healthcare system in India is simply overwhelmed at this moment by Corona cases. At the same time, it is very essential to analyze whether the current tragic phase is as ‘cataclysmic’ as the Media, think-tanks, and the govt-bashing pseudo-secular activists have made it out to be. When the western media is so eager to call the situation in India as ‘genocide’ or ‘criminal act’ without any regards to journalistic decency, where were they with the same verbalism when 3,500-4,000 people were dying each day in U.S. amid hundreds of thousands of covid cases? Let’s take a break and have comparative study with hard numbers. As of now, populations of India, USA, U.K. and ‘European Union (EU)’ are respectively 1,391 Million, 332.60 Million,68.18 Million and 447 Million. As of May 1,2021, the Corona cases they have are 19.60 Million, 32.80 Million, 4.4 Million and 30.29 Million. The death tolls are respectively 216,000, 576,700, 151,200 and 679,000. In short, statistically, although U.S. population is less than1/4 of India, it had 11 TIMES more deaths and 7 TIMES more corona cases. In U.K., although the population is measly 4.77% of India, it had 14.32 TIMES more deaths and 4.54 TIMES more Corona cases and though ‘EU’ population is less than 1/3 of India, it has 9.68 TIMES more deaths and 4.77 TIMES more Corona cases. Although the pandemic numbers of the highly developed countries look shocking in comparison to India, they are in no way comforting to what is unfolding in India, now. Each life is precious. The whole objective of this numerical exercise is only to put Indian pandemic in global perspective. It’s not just India, even developed nations like Canada, England and so many European countries are currently struggling with the acute shortage of vaccines and medical facilities. (My nephew is ER-Chief in a Toronto Hospital and one of my closest friends is overseeing a Hospital in London). Needless to say, the question that pops up in one’s mind is – ‘why then, the western world is finding Indian pandemic so monstrous when they themselves have fared so badly’ in reality? The reason being – India’s formidable stature as a rising world power under the leadership of PM N. Modi. This is their way of pointing out India’s vulnerability. Dr. Gautam Sen of ‘London School of Economics’ says,(as per the report that is available) – ”a professional international campaign has been launched in the context of Covid crisis in India in the hope of delegitimizing the Modi Govt and weaken it fatally … the goal is to instigate rejection of BJP in the forthcoming elections.”
India produces 70% of the world’s vaccine and a major chunk of generic drugs that U.S. needs. Even before under Trump administration, United States (U.S.) relations with China had started deteriorating, the American consumer-giants had already started eyeing India as the alternative manufacturing hub for their goods. By this time India had established itself as one of the biggest consumer markets in the world. When the new U.S. President Joe Biden bought 600 million dosages to play vaccine-diplomacy, his administration wasn’t fully aware of how much U.S. depended on India. During Trump administration, when U.S. badly needed millions of ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ dosages, it was India who had come to U.S. rescue. When President Biden prematurely arrested raw material supply for Vaccine production in India, it took his administration some time to realize what a blunder he had made. As numerous countries started coming to India’s aid, it not only reflected badly on U.S. as a selfish, isolationist country, but also, presented a Public-Relation nightmare for the U.S. giants doing business with India. There is no doubt that PM Modi and his team charmed the new President and smoothen out diplomatic wrinkles but that wasn’t the only reason why Biden administration reversed its earlier decision. The tripping point that delivered the goods in India’s favor came in the third week of April during an emergency meeting of U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken with 135 CEOs of major U.S. conglomerates. The CEOs reportedly convinced the new Administration that if the U.S. didn’t reciprocate India’s earlier goodwill gesture, it would have disastrous economic repercussions, especially when nationalistic fervor running so high in India. Moreover, lately PM Modi’s new motto of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant, self-sufficient, with self-esteem – India) had become worrisome to them. Nevertheless, the pandemic situation in India is definitely a matter of great concern which needs global efforts. After all one-fifth of the humanity and the world’s largest consumer clientele is at stake. In U.S., Indian diaspora is raising lot of funds through various organizations to fight Corona in India. Organizations, like ‘Sewa International’, ‘VHP of America’, ‘BAPS’, ‘Ekal V. Foundation’, ‘Share & Care’, ‘AAPI’ have collectively raised millions of dollars. Various American groups and organizations are also busy raising quite bit of money for India. It is very comforting to know that the people around the world are motivated to help India. One World! One Humanity! One Objective!
(Prakash Waghmare is a Prolific Writer, Social-Activist, Political Commentator)

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