Hospitals without enough beds, medicines and oxygen. People crying for help on social media. The vaccine rollout hitting a major roadblock. The pandemic’s second wave exposes the Modi government’s failure to plan and control a massive disaster
It sounds like unbelievable but it is true. On Monday, the hashtag #ResignModi trended with tweets roasting the Prime Minister over the Covid resurgence, while the BJP supporters remained subdued in what appeared a tacit acknowledgment of the scale of the crisis and the difficulty of defending the government’s role. By evening, the hashtag had notched more than 2.38 lakh tweets that bombarded cyberspace with cartoons and graphics showing Narendra Modi fiddling like Roman emperor Nero at a time the glut of Covid bodies has led to crematorium parts melting, pyres being lit on pavements and hospitals staggering the release of the dead.
Just a few months ago, this scenario was difficult to imagine.
The pandemic is now out of control in India. People are suffering. Narendra Modi’s image as a strong and decisive leader is damaged. And the situation is not showing any signs of improving in coming days.
On Friday, India added more than 300,000 new cases for the second consecutive day — a new record for any country anywhere in the world. No country had so far added these many cases for two consecutive days. On Thursday, India had reported 314,835 Covid cases and went past the previous global record of 300,310 reported by the US on January 2 this year. The US and India are the only two countries to have reported more than 100,000 cases per day consecutively. Brazil had reported its highest surge of 100,158 cases on March 25.
This shows the rapid and unprecedented pace with which the virus has spread across the country. If the number of confirmed cases is broken down in months, the catastrophic surge in cases in April becomes evident.
The medical experts are worried sick. Dr. Jalil Parkar, one of India’s leading pulmonologists, wears his exhaustion on his face. In between treating patients at the COVID-19 intensive care unit of Mumbai’s prestigious Lilavati Hospital, Parkar appears regularly on TV to give updates on the current, devastating second wave of the pandemic that is killing thousands of Indians. He himself spent time in the ICU last year and almost died after suffering multiple COVID-complications. Now, he confesses to losing his calm over what he is seeing unfold every day.
“Our healthcare system has collapsed. We have let down our own people in the country,” he says. “What can doctors do when our infrastructure is unable to take the patients, when there are no hospital beds or oxygen cylinders?”
Not just the healthcare system, the country’s image too is in tatters.
For image-conscious Narendra Modi, the foreign press’s reviews of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic must make devastating reading. Modi has gone from hero to minnow in fighting Covid-19 in the eyes of the world press as daily infections have soared to successive new records. After appearing to have skilfully ridden the first Covid wave with one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns, Modi has been engulfed by the second, according to the verdict of the foreign media.
Headlines like: “Modi flounders in India’s gigantic second wave,” in The Times, London, have been typical of the coverage that the Prime Minister has been receiving as the daily count of new Covid cases has barrelled past 300,000. The Times has blasted the government’s response to the latest coronavirus wave, saying it has “underscored the air of complacency and denial that have dogged his government’s response to the crisis.”
News outlets across the world have focused pieces – ranging from op-eds to detailed reports – on India’s situation and the lack of governance in key aspects that led to it. The national capital is held hostage by an unprecedented shortage in medical oxygen and burial grounds and crematoria across the country are running out of space at a time when with the kicking off of vaccination drives worldwide, the end to the pandemic had appeared near.
While global media reports deal largely with events and aspects of the crisis reported exhaustively by sections of India media, a study of them is worthwhile chiefly to note how India’s handling of the second wave has reflected worldwide. Among publications that have minced no words in holding the Centre accountable is The Guardian in England, which on April 21 ran a reported piece direly headlined ‘‘The system has collapsed’: India’s descent into Covid hell’.
The piece begins with Modi’s now infamous musing at a rally in Bengal, on the fact that he has not seen such large crowds before. COVID-19 guidelines prohibit large gatherings and call for social distancing.
On April 22, meanwhile, West Bengal goes into the sixth phase of its eight-step election. “In West Bengal, where Modi’s government has refused to curtail the drawn-out state elections that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to win, Modi and his home minister, Amit Shah, continued their public meetings and roadshows into this week even as queues of ambulances lined up outside hospitals across India,” the piece by Hannah Ellis-Petersen notes.
It also delves into warning given by healthcare professionals, which appear to have been ignored by the Modi government, thus leading to the crisis.
Modi’s opponents too are attacking him with force. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday slammed the Narendra Modi government over the ‘mismanagement’ of the second wave of the pandemic and said the Prime Minister ‘failed’ to provide leadership at a crucial time. In an interview, Ms. Vadra said “the lack of planning and preparation between the first and the second wave is the worst act of negligence and incompetent governance”.
“The Prime Minister has completely failed to provide a sense of safety, direction or leadership during this massive human crisis we are facing. It is shocking that just day before yesterday [Sunday], he was on a public stage addressing thousands of people with no COVID protocol and laughing while doing so. What is there to laugh about? The entire country is in tears,” she said.
“There are no hospital beds available, medicines are running short, crematoriums are full, frontline workers are exhausted…Where is the leadership? Where is the planning? Why are we short of facilities? Where is the money from the PM fund being used? Why has he done nothing to address the five major shortages of vaccines, beds, ventilators, oxygen and Remdesivir? Will he take responsibility for the bad planning and incompetence of his government?” she asked.
She said at a time when the government should be focussing on fighting the catastrophic situation, the Prime Minister continues to address election rallies. In a separate tweet, she said the government failed the country to provide oxygen despite being its largest producer.
The Modi government is not only failing at home, it is also not able to get support from its allies.
As India’s Covid crisis explodes, the US delivered a blow to India’s vaccination programme, indicating it would prioritise its own citizens before addressing India’s request for vaccine components. Responding to journalists, the US State Department spokesperson said, “we have a special responsibility to the American people”.
“It’s of course not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated; it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated.” The implied subtext was that Indians’ vaccination was less important. Foreign minister S Jaishankar has held a couple of rounds of discussions with his counterpart Anthony Blinken on the easing of the US export embargo. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla has held similar discussions with Wendy Sherman, US deputy se