Sunday, 2 April, 2023
HomeOpinionModi owns India’s unfolding Covid disaster

Modi owns India’s unfolding Covid disaster

India's Covid tragedy was avoidable, and is largely the fault of a boastful, incompetent government. Yet, Modi may suffer few political consequences for his devastating missteps.

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India’s healthcare system is buckling under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic: The country registered more than 1,500 deaths and nearly 300,000 infections on Monday alone. Videos of crowded mortuaries and funeral sites, and grief-stricken relatives outside packed hospitals, are circulating among middle-class Indians. The Lancet says India could suffer more than 2,300 deaths every day by June.

As in so many of the pandemic’s worst-hit countries, this tragedy was avoidable — and is largely the fault of a boastful and incompetent government. Yet, 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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi may well suffer few political consequences for his devastating missteps.

Like those other leaders, Modi has spent more time diminishing the pandemic’s seriousness than combating it. In early March, even as cases in India rose alarmingly, he boasted that the country would serve as “the world’s pharmacy,” churning out vaccines for developing nations. His health minister judged India to have entered the “endgame” of the pandemic.

In a new cricket stadium named after Modi, tens of thousands of largely unmasked people turned out to watch matches between India and England last month. Many more unprotected people turned out for Modi’s recent election rallies in the state of West Bengal, and an estimated 3.5 million people have attended, with the encouragement of Modi’s Hindu nationalist colleagues, the Kumbh Mela religious festival.

The result? Faced with a crushing case load and an acute shortage of vaccines, India has stopped exporting doses and is importing new jabs from Russia. Indian states are desperately fighting over the supply of something as basic as medical oxygen.

The case of Donald Trump, the most prominent political casualty of the pandemic, might seem to offer a warning. Trump, too, never ceased to project an image of superhuman potency against the virus, melodramatically yanking off his mask after his own bout with Covid-19. Like Modi today, he refused to give up campaigning during some of the worst weeks of the pandemic, fulsomely congratulated himself on his response to the crisis, and blamed his political opposition and state-level leaders for any missteps.

Yet, while Trump lost to Joe Biden in large part because of his callous and clueless handling of the pandemic, the margin was disturbingly narrow. Other strongmen look more likely to survive politically — and to continue to add to the toll of needless deaths.

For his part, Modi not only enjoys much higher approval ratings than Trump ever did. He has also survived, already, blunders that would have wrecked any other political career: demonetization in 2016 and a botched lockdown last year that caused the biggest and most desperate internal migration witnessed in India since 1947.

Modi has flourished with the help of something Trump never had and the likes of Boris Johnson only sporadically enjoys: a compliant media. Indeed, one reason why complacency about the virus spread so widely in India is that Modi personally asked owners and editors of press and television in March last year to focus on “positive” stories. Evidently, as his website put it, “it was important to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumor.”

The current crisis does seem more serious than others Modi has faced. Until now, his claims — for instance, that Indian airstrikes in 2019 killed scores of terrorists in Pakistan or that withdrawing almost all currency notes in circulation punished corrupt businessmen — could never be adequately tested against reality, especially because Modi skillfully constructed each time an alternative reality with the help of loyal journalists and social media trolls.

The facts of extensive death and bereavement among India’s middle classes, and shortages of hospital beds and oxygen, cannot be denied so easily; they require no external verification. Even an illusionist as masterful as Modi will find it difficult to spin them to his advantage.

Still, it would be unwise to predict an early or full liberation from conceited and maladroit ideologues in India, or, for that matter, anywhere else. Johnson’s popularity, for instance, has rebounded because of the U.K.’s successful vaccine rollout.

Leading a shambolic Tory government, Johnson has presided over the premature deaths, unprecedented in peacetime, of more than 100,000 Britons. The break-up of Britain is fast becoming a real possibility as pro-independence sentiment peaks in Scotland, and one corruption scandal after another has erupted in recent months. Yet his approval ratings are now positive again and the Tories have extended their lead over the Labour party.

Johnson’s example suggests that not enough voters are ready to diagnose and punish outrageous incompetence in their leaders. The last few years have given us a grim warning that the spell cast by the demagogues of our times is profound.

It is based on fear and loathing of internal and external enemies, and secured by close personal identification with and deep psychological dependence on charismatic figures. As such, it transcends all conventional political calculations, and may not be broken by even a calamitous death toll. — Bloomberg

Also read: How Modi’s mantra of ‘cooperative federalism’ has unravelled under 2nd Covid wave strain


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  1. Dear Sir,
    It is very easy to have the advantage of hindsight and file out wisdom. Modi, probably realises this, and he exactly reacts the way to such criticism – with supreme silence, which it richly deserves. Run the govt for a day and then give your views!

  2. It is collective responsibility of all. The PM has constantly in last one year cautioned people, the state governments and all others concerned. He took a risky decision of complete national lockdown, then focused on awareness, vaccine research, lifting of lockdown, Vaccination, upgrading of medical infrastructure, and leaving further decisions to state governments. India is a large country, with a large population. Not easy to manage such a difficult situation. In my opinion, the PM has handled the situation in best possible way. I again point out that it is a collective responsibility..

  3. In British Khangress installed Hindu apartheid & genocide land, India, MUSLIM bodies such as WAQF BOARD can declare YOUR PRIVATE PROPERTY as theirs and you can’t even go to the courts!! They can also carry out Hindu genocide & riots at will & IF you raise your voice you are not secular & it’s & NOT A DISASTER enough!!

    Yet!! Pakistanis killing Hindus and destroying Hindu temples in Pakistan or in
    Kashmir/Kerala, Maharashtra.. is secularism & democracy according to majority of Indian media, so called secular politicians, Islamist’s & libarandus!!

    Tomorrow, Islam will declare parliament of India as their property and this would be only democracy & secularism & NOT A DISASTER!!

  4. When the 1st wave of Covid hit India, every political party be it the one in center or the state governments have been extremely competent in handling the situation with the coordination of the healthcare sector and have continuously been urging people to be cautious at every step, till date, every country in the world had its healthcare sector stressed to the tipping point, and unfortunately its the same in India too, its no body but the citizens of the country who are responsible for the complacent behaviour because of which India is in such a situation, and Iam a citizen of India, Its UNFORTUNATE and a SCAM that you blame one single person or party for the same. True journalism is of the past indeed.

  5. Media like print loses credibility with such articles when instead of journalism it is playing politics, trying to create the anti-Modi narrative. Efforts to play up the opposition parties’ agenda when none of those have shown any spine or capability in any aspects except cheap politics is bound to fail.

    • A basic truth pointing to utter incompetence of Modi can not be published! Credibility comes from Modi praise.

  6. Give credit for OPERATION WARP SPEED to Trump administration. The roll out of new vaccines developed through massive funding and support of Trump’s govt has made it possible for Biden to
    claim all the credit and for mainstream media to feign ignorance of the spectacular success of Operation Warp Speed.

  7. Rabid author says 100k deaths in UK. How is France, Italy, Spain and Germany doing? The first two have exceeded 100k and latter two fast approaching that number. Plus in all these four countries vaccination roll out in shambles unlike UK’s. Are these 4 countries ruled by right wing govts?

    Like bacteria feeding on a corpse, likes of Pankaj Mishra rubbing their grubby hands in glee — but will feed only on right wing corpses!

  8. As long as your narrative keeps on repeating UK , Johnson and Scotland, your main character in the narration remains OK. Nothing you say will change his status as you have really poor examples supporting your thesis.

  9. there are many Non BJP ruled states that have highest covid cases where there were not any elections like Chattishgadh, Maharashtra. you do NOT mention them. people do NOT wear mask. you do NOT mention them. always always biased media

  10. I live in a country whose population is around 25-million and not 1.3-billion. Here there’s growing infraction on medical infrastructure including at least two failed tests of vaccines of different brands. Most of the population is under strict observance of law such as instant lockdown of containment zones (even for a single case), hefty fines for those who breach regulations, contact tracing and strictly under local administration. Present the case of such a strict regimen since 24th of March 2020 in Modi’s India. Besides there is a struct shortage of medical infrastructure, insufficient number of Doctors, hospital beds and disobedience of Covid norms despite no orders that the pandemic has eradicated. Several State Governments finishing their terms did agree to the conduct of elections instead of seeking alternative approaches. Mutants of Covid appeared months ago and there is no diagnosis and vaccine for these mutants. And classic chest thumping by rogue politicians where a loss of few thousand lives is a routine matter to grieve over and forget after earning political points. This is what the author has done. Of course he has earned his wages by Modi-bashing. The truth is lying beneath the layers of political hypocrisy of the generation who Modi has successfully pushed into oblivion. The publication Bloomsberg is just one of them.

  11. One serious part of the enterprise was to build up India’s image in the world. That is not doing too well.

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