As Modi Govt Fails, India Becomes a Burning Covid Hotspot

India's Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, visits the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi to review the Covid-19 preparedness on April 16, 2021. Photo: PIB
India’s Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, visits the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi to review the Covid-19 preparedness on April 16, 2021. Photo: PIB

COUNTRY REPORT: INDIA

While India has become a burning hotspot of coronavirus, the explosive situation in India will continue to have long-term consequences for other parts of the world. This report outlines the Indian government’s lackluster response to the Covid calamity during the past one year.

By Rakesh Raman

Report Highlights

  • Along with Covid-19, bureaucratic carelessness and political corruption are killing people in India during the pandemic.
  • Concealment of data related to Covid infections and deaths is exacerbating the already explosive situation.
  • Covid infections are mostly killing poor people while the rich and influential people are being saved.
  • Overdependence on vaccination is slowing the patient care systems.
  • Complicit courts failed to control and tame the rogue politicians who spread the virus in crowded election rallies and religious events.
  • Deteriorating Covid situation is a result of false claims, superstitious advice, and disinformation by PM Modi.
  • The failure of government politicians to control the Covid contagion amounts to crimes against humanity and deliberate genocide of people. Delinquent leaders must be prosecuted in international criminal courts.
  • If one is unsafe, all are unsafe – across the world. Therefore, Covid transmission from India to other parts of the world must be stopped.

The U.S. and a slew of other countries have offered to help India tackle the Covid-19 calamity, as the Indian government headed by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has surrendered to the surging infection. 

As a result of Modi government’s failure, India has virtually become a colossal cremation ground as the country is not able to control the coronavirus (Covid-19) contagion which is causing countless deaths and widespread misery. 

“Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific Covid-19 outbreak. We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes,” said the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a tweet on April 25.

DISTURBING NUMBERS

Although it is believed to be a case of natural disaster, in India the tragedy is exacerbated by the inaction and clumsy handling of the pandemic by Modi, who is an uneducated religious demagogue rather than a wise administrator.

While the Modi government is not releasing the actual data, it is estimated that currently at least half of India’s population is infected. But this fact is not reflected in official figures because the country is testing only a fraction of the actually infected persons.

According to reports, as of April 2021, an estimated 1.5 million samples are being tested every day in India’s population of 1.4 billion. But this is again a piece of misleading data, because there are numerous false negative and false positive test results and the tests are not able to detect the new virus variants.

It is believed that millions of people are getting infected even after getting tested because the community transmission is happening rapidly across the country. There is no real data available on the number of deaths, as the government is hiding the numbers whereas cremation grounds – where mass cremations are taking place – are not able to handle the dead bodies. 

Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the U.S.-based Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, and an advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Bank, had earlier warned India that in its worst-case scenario, 60% of its total population (or nearly 85 crore or 850 million people) will get infected with the deadly virus. [ Watch related video on BBC site. ]

In fact, Modi and his negligent colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are responsible for this catastrophic situation. Last year, Modi had welcomed his mentor and former U.S. President Donald Trump – another despotic leader – to a crowded rally in India when coronavirus was spreading. Infections increased, but the official paraphernalia and dishonest media outlets blamed Muslims for spreading the infection. 

Leading writer and social activist Arundhati Roy said that the Modi government is exploiting coronavirus to ramp up its suppression of Muslims. She compared the Modi government’s tactic to the one used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. “India’s treatment of Muslims amid coronavirus is almost ‘genocidal,’ Arundhati Roy said in an interview with German news channel Deutsche Welle (DW).

However, Hindu leader Modi and his team of incompetent ministers and complicit bureaucrats were never held accountable while coronavirus kept spreading in the country.

DOWNPLAYING THE COVID IMPACT

Both the anti-Muslim leaders Trump and Modi kept downplaying the effect of Covid infection and patted on their own backs for controlling the virus which was actually causing devastation in the U.S. as well as India. When Trump asked Americans to consume disinfectants to deal with the disease, Modi advised his blind followers to bang the kitchen utensils.

As both these autocratic leaders ignored the advice of health experts, the virus has inflicted the maximum damage in the U.S. and India, which are the top 2 worst-affected countries.

There was, however, a relief for Americans as Trump was defeated in the 2020 election  before he could inflict more damage on the Covid-infected country. But the misery for Indians continues because there is hardly any possibility that Modi gets removed in the absence of an effective opposition in India. 

As Modi is a despotic leader, he is virtually running the government alone and directing the spineless government officials to hide data related to Covid-19 infections, deaths, vaccination, and scarce healthcare resources. He is telling blatant lies to conceal the real calamity from the pandemic. So, the data that the Modi government is releasing shows only a fraction of the damage in the country.

These are not only the dishonest government functionaries who are withholding the actual data, but it is learnt that the government is asking even the social media sites to remove critical content. 

Twitter, for example, has withheld from public view around 50 tweets which mostly criticized Modi’s handling of the pandemic. Reports suggest that Twitter succumbed to the government’s diktat which asked the microblogging site to take down the content. Similarly, the Modi government on April 25 asked other social media sites to remove posts and content that it alleged were communally sensitive and spread misinformation about Covid-19 protocols.

While the Indian media is largely dishonest, it does not report the correct level of Covid disaster in the country. The foreign media, however, is writing critical stories to condemn Modi and his government for causing widespread misery in India.

The Australian, Australia’s leading newspaper said, “Arrogance, hyper-nationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis of epic proportions in India, with its crowd-loving PM basking while citizens suffocate.” The title of the article is “Modi leads India out of lockdown… and into a viral apocalypse”. The Modi government issued a loose and vague rejoinder, which could not change the reality.

DATA DECEPTION

The misleading Covid data also appears in the cases per one million of the population and the number of deaths. India shows only about 12,000 cases per one million people while cases per one million in the U.S. are 97,000, in Brazil 68,000, and in France 80,000. The reason for the lower number of reported cases in India is that the data is not accurate or people are not being tested.

Similarly, the number of deaths are being underreported in India. While coronavirus has affected about half of the Indian population of 1.4 billion, the country is reporting just about 200,000 total deaths in the past over one year. This is equivalent to only 0.014% of the deaths in India’s population. In comparison, the U.S. is reporting 0.171% deaths which is almost 12 times more than the deaths in India. Other countries are also reporting significantly higher numbers of deaths.

It is quite possible that India is hiding its Covid deaths in overall deaths. As nearly 12 million people die every year in India, it is easy to count even a million Covid deaths as normal deaths and undercount the Covid mortality.

With all these data frauds, the government is trying to protect Modi’s image which he has built with expensive publicity. Today, there is no forum in India which could challenge Modi’s autocratic decisions. Indian courts are scared and mostly complicit in state crimes and police work as a mob army to brutalize those who raise their voice against Modi and his government. Particularly, the Supreme Court of India has been working largely as a party office of BJP and the judges behave as the mouthpieces of the government.

There are numerous reports that reveal the carelessness and complicity of the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly failed to hold the Modi government accountable in a number of cases during the past few years. According to a recent analysis in The Wire news service, Covid has exposed the Supreme Court’s utter disregard for the plight of ordinary citizens.

The high courts too are delinquent, as they only issue some vague warnings to the government, but never take legal action against the bureaucrats and politicians in the government. In fact, courts can’t dare to challenge the criminal negligence of the Modi government, which has failed on all fronts during the past few years.

In order to compensate the courts for their complicity, the judges are being given privileged Covid services while hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens are dying for lack of care in hospitals. For example, a five-star hotel was selected as the Covid care centre for judges and judicial officers of the Delhi High Court and their families. But the poor citizens of Delhi are finding it difficult to get admission in hospitals and places to cremate the bodies of their family members who die of infection.

Later, however, the court said it had never asked for Covid facilities at the hotel and ordered the city government to withdraw its decision to assign 100 rooms at the hotel exclusively for judges and their families. 

Moreover, bureaucrats are so incompetent that they do not take the right decisions and most corrupt journalists work as spokespersons of Modi’s BJP. Consequently, coronavirus is silently killing people and the reality is completely concealed. In the absence of correct official information, people spread and trust rumours.

INCOMPETENCE OF MODI

As Modi lacks understanding of any subject and he is a poor communicator, he could never inform citizens about the enormity of the pandemic and his government’s plans. Strangely, Modi never holds a press conference to answer relevant questions about coronavirus in India. Worse, Modi has not held even a single press conference during the past over 6 years of his tenure.

It is largely believed that since Modi is not properly educated, he can only interact in Hindi language with the lapdog media members who ask only those questions that Modi wants to answer in his TV interviews. But he cannot sit in front of professional journalists in an open press conference, because Modi can’t utter even a single sentence properly in English language.

As Modi is making India a Hindu Rashtra (a nation only for the people who belong to the Hindu religion), he frequently uses names of fictional Hindu gods – such as Ram Ban (Lord Rama’s arrow) and Laxman Rekha (Laxman’s prohibition line) in his monologues on coronavirus.

Instead of planning for better healthcare facilities during the lockdown period, Modi behaves as a Hindu sect preacher. For example, in a dumb video message, Modi asked all Indians to light candles, lamps, and torches to fight coronavirus. Earlier, he had asked people to hit their kitchen utensils.

Strangely, some blind Modi followers who do not believe in any kind of scientific reasoning and academic solutions follow Modi’s reckless advice while the intellectual class in India is feeling increasingly disturbed with Modi’s repeated trickery.

Situation is equally gruesome in Indian states, as they are also led by naive politicians like Modi. The chief ministers of states are arbitrarily imposing and lifting lockdowns that could not help contain the virus transmission. Since politicians themselves break the Covid-prevention norms, the citizens also flout the rules blatantly and move without observing the safe-distancing guidelines and without wearing the masks.

But even after causing such a devastation in India, Modi is not satisfied. Of late, according to a report in The Print news site, tens of thousands of largely unmasked people gathered to watch matches between India and England in a new cricket stadium named after Modi.

The report adds that many more unprotected people turned out for Modi’s recent election rallies in the state of West Bengal. Worse, an estimated 3.5 million people attended, with the encouragement of Modi’s Hindu nationalist colleagues, the Kumbh Mela religious festival.

Doctors hold Modi responsible for spreading Covid infection, as he participated in crowded political rallies and allowed Hindu festival Kumbh Mela during the pandemic.  The national vice president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Dr. Navjot Dahiya called Modi a ‘super spreader’.

“While the medical fraternity is trying hard to make people understand the mandatory Covid norms, PM Modi did not hesitate to address the big political rallies tossing all Covid norms in the air,” Dr Dahiya said.

Like a boor, during the past over a year, Modi has gone to two extremes: from callous lockdowns to careless crowds. In fact, a human rights activist Harsh Mander said that Modi’s 60-day coronavirus lockdown, announced with four hour’s notice, was: “A crime against the people of India. It is and must be recognized to be a crime against humanity.” He was referring to the abrupt lockdown that Modi had imposed on March 24, 2020 that led to a social unrest and unprecedented economic downturn in the country.

As the Modi government failed to plan and implement the lockdowns, hundreds of thousands of poor migrant workers are leaving the cities to go to their native places while the lockdown is in progress. As they defy the social distancing guidelines, millions of people in India will get infected with coronavirus for which Modi alone is responsible.

DESPOTIC DECISIONS

However, there are no consequences for Modi for his cruel decisions mainly because the political opposition is terribly weak and almost extinct and the courts lack courage to hold Modi accountable. 

According to The Print report, this Covid tragedy was avoidable — and is largely the fault of a boastful and incompetent (Modi) government. Yet, according to the report, judging by the fate of other bungling far-right politicians such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, Hungary’s Viktor Urban, and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Indian PM Modi may well suffer few political consequences for his devastating missteps. 

However, analysts argue that in order to save Indians, now India needs a wise and educated leader who is not a product of extensive and expensive hype. A leading writer Ramachandra Guha said in a recent article that the crisis-hit India needs a leader who listens, not one focused on building his brand. In the year that the nation has been at war with the virus, the personality cult of Modi has steadily expanded, he added.

The chattering classes also believe that coronavirus has come as a blessing in disguise for Modi and his partymen who are leveraging the pandemic to suppress all kinds of dissent and strengthen their political positioning. Last year, for example, the Modi government used the coronavirus excuse to drive away thousands of protesters who were demonstrating against the discriminatory citizenship laws – such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). 

Now, under the garb of containing the Covid contagion, the Modi government is trying to push out thousands of farmers who are protesting against the contentious farm laws introduced by the Modi government. Farmers – along with their families – have been protesting on the outskirts of New Delhi since November 2020.

SECRET COVID FUND AND CORRUPTION

Coronavirus is also a lucrative affair for the Modi government, which collected enormous funds under the secretly floated PM-CARES Fund. The Fund was created to combat Covid-19, but the Modi government refuses to reveal the amount of money collected and distributed through this account.

A group of former civil servants has highlighted the lack of transparency in the PM-CARES Fund, while the Modi government refuses to reveal the details of the Fund and does not entertain the requests filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It is estimated that the government has collected money equivalent to millions or billions of dollars under this secret Fund.

It is believed that Modi and BJP will use the Funds collected through PM-CARES Fund to buy voters, manipulate electronic voting machines (EVMs), hire crowds to artificially populate Modi’s election rallies, and purchase legislators of opposition parties in horse-trading deals to topple governments unscrupulously. 

As corruption is already rampant in the Modi government, besides the PM-CARES Fund, there is a possibility of corruption in the purchase of healthcare products and vaccination deals. A new report released by the U.S. Department of State has revealed that widespread corruption is happening at all levels of government in India. 

The report released on March 30 says that the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. But most government officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the past year, the report says.

Among other corrupt acts, it was reported recently that the Modi government was promoting spurious drugs of small-time companies to treat coronavirus. According to reports, India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan endorsed a product of a local outfit Patanjali, which falsely claimed that it is offering the “first evidence-based medicine for corona” approved by the WHO.

But WHO rejected the claims, saying that WHO has not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine for the treatment Covid-19. After WHO’s clarification on February 19, Patanjali – owned by Ramdev who is close to PM Modi – retracted its misleading claim.

In this apparent quid pro quo case where Ramdev helps Modi and BJP in politics, the Modi government has tried to promote Ramdev’s untested (or may be harmful) medicine Coronil, which can be fatal on Indian consumers.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), a leading association of doctors in India, has censured Modi’s health minister Harsh Vardhan who appeared in an event to endorse Ramdev’s Coronil.

“If Coronil is effective for prevention, why is the government spending Rs. 35,000 crore (US$ 5 billion approximately) for vaccination,” asked the IMA and demanded details of the so-called research or trial on the basis of which Ramdev’s company Patanjali had made the claim.

“Being a health minister of the country, how ethical is it to release such falsely fabricated unscientific products to the people of the country?” asked the IMA in its  statement. The IMA also objected to Ramdev’s derogatory statements about allopathic doctors and modern medicine.

According to a Times of India news report of February 23, at an event held on February 19 in New Delhi, health minister Harsh Vardhan and transport minister Nitin Gadkari were present when Patanjali founder Ramdev claimed that a medicine called Divya Coronil tablet is part of the treatment for coronavirus.

Later, according to the report, Ramdev claimed on several news channels that the medicine has also received certification from the WHO and can be exported to as many as 158 countries. As the Modi’s ministers are promoting such dubious products in the Indian market, they are part of the government-run scandal around coronavirus treatment.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing RMN Poll, 82% people say that Modi is not handling the coronavirus crisis effectively while the infections and deaths are increasing rapidly in all parts of the country.

Over the past one year, Modi’s false claims ranged from “21 days” to conquer coronavirus to complete eradication of the disease. Now, Modi is shamelessly claiming that India is a leader in vaccination when only 1.6% of the Indian population has been vaccinated in the past couple of months, and there are concerns over the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines being distributed.

Since Modi and his clique have failed, countries such as the U.S. France, Australia, Pakistan, and the European Union have offered help. In the current situation, which is deteriorating, India needs hospitals, doctors, oxygen, vaccines, protective gear, and whatnot because the Modi government could not arrange any of these resources. 

While it will be difficult for the other countries to supply all this paraphernalia, they should send some automatic cremation furnaces to India, as the country is facing an acute shortage of cremation facilities to dispose of bodies of coronavirus victims. 

And it will still be wise for the incompetent Modi government to outsource all its governance to some foreign experts who can save Indians from the ongoing and future calamities.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.

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