Jaspreet Oberoi: Modi Has Failed The COVID-19 Test
Indians have been repeatedly at the receiving end of the Modi administration’s shoddy policy implementations, but never has this incompetency been so closely linked to people’s health and mortality
April 19, 2021 | 4 min. read
A couple of months ago, COVID-19-related headlines were brimming with praise and accolades for the Modi government in India. There were talks about India pulling off the world’s largest vaccination program, taming COVID-19, tackling it better than the developed nations, and donating vaccines to needy South-Asian countries.
This was happening as the daily count of COVID-19 cases plummeted to the thousands from around a hundred thousand cases per day in September 2020.
While the reasons for the sudden drop in the infection rate remain a mystery, multiple theories emerged at the time. India’s warm and wet climate, a younger demographic, and citizens with robust immune systems were a few of the popular theories. Those favoring Modi credited his government for strict lockdowns and mask mandates and labeled these two as the main reasons for India’s better COVID-19 management.
As a result, in his usual populist manner, PM Modi went ahead and prematurely claimed victory over COVID-19 and labeled India’s fight an inspiration for the rest of the world. One of the top government officials, Indu Bhushan, the CEO of Ayushman Bharat, the body responsible for the healthcare needs of the economically weaker population, announced the end of the pandemic and called government spending on vaccination programs wasteful.
The Reserve Bank of India added to the cheer by projecting solid recovery and an early end to the dark times of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, all of the optimism and self-congratulation sounds incredibly reckless and foolish today.
The COVID-19 cases and the related deaths in India have increased exponentially and it is experiencing its worst numbers since the beginning of the pandemic. Starting April 6, 2021, India has continuously reported north of 100,000 cases and, in the week of April 12, it crossed 200,000 every day.
The domestic vaccine supply, which was earlier touted as excessive and bountiful, is now inadequate. Many vaccination centers are out of supply and thus forced to close shop. In Mumbai alone, 108 vaccination centers were shut down due to a lack of available vaccines, and in the state of Odisha 700 centers were reported closed.
Thus, despite local production, India is lagging in the COVID-19 vaccination efforts. The share of the total population of India that has received at least one dose stands at a meager 7.42 percent as of Apr 15.
So what went wrong? How did the fairytale turn into a dystopian tragedy?
The truth is that India’s COVID-19 fight has been derailed by an irresponsible, arrogant, and opportunist leadership, supported by a pliant and spineless media.
In the ongoing state elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Assam, Modi and other BJP leaders have addressed hundreds of crowded rallies without masks and social distancing. With the BJP’s blatant disregard of public health measures, the public is bound to assume that everything is normal which has led to the masses losing their fear of the pandemic.
While country-wide, patients are laying outside hospitals gasping for breath, and crematoriums are running out of firewood, the Modi-led BJP is pandering for the Hindu vote by promoting the Kumbh Mela. Here, 50 million people from all over the country are congregating in Haridwar in a festival funded by $620 million USD of taxpayer money.
When questioned, BJP leaders have defended the event by invoking faith and religious beliefs, totally discounting valid COVID-19 concerns.
It is not that the Modi government is completely ignoring the threat posed by the virus. Wherever and whenever it suits them, they are making noise about it. According to the latest reports, the BJP government in Haryana is planning to take stern action against the protesting farmers who are currently camped at multiple sites along the Haryana-Delhi border.
Lastly, the government’s strategy on vaccine production and procurement has been extremely patchy and erratic. Originally, they decided to rely on two domestic manufacturers and did not care to secure any foreign supply.
When the production at those two plants started, without forecasting their own needs, India started exporting the vaccine heavily, primarily to satisfy Modi’s shallow desire of projecting India as the world’s pharmacy and a medical powerhouse. As a result, India is clamouring today to secure vaccines from foreign manufacturers like Sputnik, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson.
Since 2014, the Indian population has been repeatedly at the receiving end of the Modi administration’s inefficient and shoddy policy implementations, but never has this incompetency been so closely linked to people’s health and mortality.
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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