Jaspreet Oberoi: Desperate For A COVID-19 Scapegoat Modi Supporters Falsely Point Fingers At The Farmers' Protest

The protesting farmers have now become a target, which should not be surprising as they have been irking the Modi government for a while now. 

Jaspreet Oberoi
April 29, 2021 | 4 min. read

With more than 300,000 new cases being reported on a daily basis and the total COVID-19 death toll touching the tragic figure of 200,000, India is acutely struggling to cope up with this calamity. 

As hospitals across the country are turning down patients due to lack of beds, space, and oxygen supply, thousands have died outside them waiting for their turn. While it is evident that the current situation is the result of the Modi government’s laxity, mismanagement, arrogance, and carelessness, concerted efforts are being made by his toadies to find scapegoats and put the blame elsewhere. 

The protesting farmers have now become a target, which should not be surprising as they have been irking the Modi government for a while now. 

The agitation against the farm laws is entering its sixth month, and after having braved Delhi’s cold winter, lashing rain, and scorching heat, they are now tasked with not only protecting themselves from the pandemic but also fighting the narrative of being the biggest culprits of the latest COVID-19 spike.

This started on April 6, when the Union Health Minister Dr Harshvardhan stated that 80 percent of COVID-19 cases in Punjab are from the UK variant of the virus and that the reasons behind the surge in fresh infections could be the Farmers’ Protest, along with marriages and local body elections. Though his comment was seemingly directed at the growing number of cases in Punjab, it was open-ended enough to be picked up and exploited by pliant media voices.

The BJP’s super friendly outlet, OpIndia, posted a piece claiming that the UK strain was found exclusively in Punjab at the beginning of March and has been only recently detected in Delhi, thus deducing that the variant had spread from Punjab to Delhi and the only way that could have happened is through the participants of the Farmers' Protest. It does not provide any reference or reports supporting the claim except pointing towards the earlier mentioned statement of Dr. Harshvardhan.

Contrary to OpIndia’s claims, Dr. Anurag Agrawal, Director of CSIR-IGIB (the body responsible for gene sequencing in India) has clearly stated that the ongoing catastrophe in Delhi is less attributable to the variants per se and more to the number of affected people and the low per capita availability of beds. 

It is also worth noting that almost a month before the OpIndia piece, a study by scientists at the National Institute of Virology, Pune proved that the UK variant of the coronavirus is not more transmissible than the variant found most common in India. It is obvious that the OpIndia team deliberately ignored this information in order to peddle lies and create hysteria against the Punjabi farmers.

The piece goes on to explicitly deny that the Kumbh Mela (organized and supported by the BJP state government of UP), which saw more than 5 million participants from all over the country, was a super-spreader event. It blatantly ignores public facts, such as thousands testing positive at the Mela and several participants including a seer, a politician, and a celebrated music composer dying of COVID-19 infections.

India Today, a mainstream outlet, has also been continuously spewing conspiracy theories against the farmers. They too, without providing any data or semblance of it, claim that the protest site is bound to become a super-spreader and insinuate that the farmers are against COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. They go on to blame the village Gurdwaras in Punjab as well, claiming that speaker announcements are being made from them urging and dictating people to not follow the COVID-19 protocols.

Now, after blaming the farmers for the spread of the disease, efforts are being made to also transfer the guilt of government mismanagement on them too. It is well known that the Indian government's lack of foresight, inadequate planning, and unwillingness to invest in infrastructure is the reason for the widespread shortage of oxygen but another right-wing mouthpiece, Swarajya, declared that the farmers camped outside Delhi are the reason why Delhi hospitals have not been receiving oxygen laden trucks on time.

A BJP MP from Delhi, Parvesh Sharma alleged the same which was vehemently denied by the leaders of the protest.  An investigation later proved the farmer leaders right and the truck driver himself stated that the roads were freed by the farmers and he did not face any roadblocks during his back and forth journey.

This kind of vicious propaganda and falsehoods when spread intentionally, is bound to create doubts and animosity in the minds of the populace against the protesting farmers. 

Amongst all this, the farmer organizations have taken it upon themselves to provide varied assistance to COVID-19 patients and their families in and around their protest sites in the national capital. They began the aid process by delivering food packets to COVID-19 hit families. Many of the volunteers at the protest sites are also qualified doctors who have started to provide medical services and advice to those in need.

The farmer organisations have assured to extend all support to the local administration in containing the spread of the pandemic and are taking steps to provide masks, oximeters, and thermometers at all the protest sites, besides organising vaccination camps.

We all need to know and understand that the farmers are fighting for their existence, which is in peril due to both COVID-19 and the Modi government. By running from one, the other will not just vanish. Giving up against either is not an option.


Jaspreet Oberoi was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @ijasoberoi.

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