Covid Crisis: BJP’s image takes a beating
The charge by a team of experts that a “toxic cocktail” of dithering and poor coordination among people in authority had led to the exponential rise in the Covid-19 cases will be endorsed by those who are suffering in countries like India from the pandemic. But for these mistakes, hundreds of lives could have been saved and the country would not have had to witness the heart-rending sights of scores of burning funeral pyres and unclaimed bodies floating down the river.
For days, India is seeing how the colossal mismanagement of the crisis has led to a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and even vaccines, which were the last resort of a desperate population. Now, the state governments are floating global tenders for securing vaccines from abroad since the centre and the local manufacturers have proved to be unequal to the task of inoculating the people.
It is not only political and official dithering about what steps to take to tackle the disease which is responsible for the apocalyptical situation, but also a reckless disregard for Covid norms because of the belief towards the end of last year that the worst is over when the first phase of the disease started winding down. As a result, India celebrated too early, as the American Covid expert, Anthony Fauci, has said. The large election rallies and the mammoth gatherings for the Kumbh religious festival were a part of this premature “celebration”.
It goes without saying that these missteps have resulted in the BJP’s image taking a beating with some of its acknowledged supporters like the reputed film actor, Anupam Kher, criticizing the party as never before. Nothing has hurt the BJP more than the abysmal state of affairs in U.P., the state run by its poster boy chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, which was exemplified by the shocking visuals of a major hospital with no doctors or nurses where the patients were being “looked after” by the ward boys. So, it isn’t only oxygen or medicines which are in short supply.
The dismal conditions across the length and breadth of the country have persuaded 12 opposition parties to come together to ask the centre to arrange for free, universal vaccinations. But how is this to be achieved when the vaccines centres are closing down due to the dearth of stocks and those who had been told to come for a jab are told to go away. Not surprisingly, the increase in the time gap between the first and the second dose from four or six weeks to 12 or 16 weeks has been ascribed to the shortage of vaccines rather than to the latest scientific study which is said to have suggested that a longer gap increases the efficacy of the vaccine. Although Fauci has said that it is not a “cover-up” and is a reasonable initiative in view of the shortage of vaccines, the move does underline the lack of preparation for countering the virus.
Whatever the government’s response to the opposition’s letter, its political implication is obvious. For the first time since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, the opposition believes that it has the upper hand. True, its gains are based on dead bodies and patients gasping for breath for the lack of oxygen. But the tragedy is not of its own making. It is the government which is culpable.
Arguably, the government may have even made the task of its opponents easier by a crass display of insensitivity by continuing with the building of a new parliament and the houses of the prime minister and vice-president in the heart of the national capital despite calls for stopping the expenditure on what has been called a “vanity” project at the time of a medical emergency.
The criticism of the project in the opposition’s letter and a case on the subject before a court appear to have persuaded the government to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the people by putting up signboards at the construction site prohibiting photo- and videography. It seems to believe that what is out of sight will be out of the mind as well.
But such deceptive tactics are only likely to be interpreted as an evidence of the government’s guilty conscience. It knows that when all the attention should be focussed on fighting the pandemic, the stubborn persistence with a project involving hundreds of workers which can become another super-spreader hotspot of the virus is not a wise decision.
Moreover, as many as 76 scholars have written to Modi on the “extravagant project” in the midst of a “devastating pandemic” and called for a rethink on the enterprise. Even if the buildings now being built behind high fences come up in all their glory, they will not be able to distract attention from either the ravages of the pandemic or the plight of the economy. Reports suggest that India’s investment “grade” has suffered a decline with all the three credit rating agencies - Standard and Poor, Moody’s and Fitch - painting a dismal picture.
Up until now, Modi has survived the misery and agony caused by demonetization in 2016 and the exodus of thousands of migrant labourers from the cities after the declaration of the first lockdown in March last year when they walked hundreds of kilometres along the national highways to return to their villages. But it will be a political miracle if he weathers the present calamitous storm.