March has turned into June in the life of a pandemic and the Arvind Kejriwal-led government in Delhi is woefully unprepared to save lives. Worse, it is now deflecting blame on all and sundry, and fudging Covid-19 data to pretend all is well.
The whole point of a lockdown was to prepare the medical infrastructure for the coming onslaught of Covid-19 patients. We had seen as early as in March-April what things were like in Italy, Spain, and the UK.
We had long been warned of what happens in such situations: lives can’t be saved. Lives can’t be saved because there aren’t enough doctors, nurses, ward persons, oxygen cylinders, ventilators, ICUs, or simply beds. And when people die, there’s a shortage of hearse vans and funeral facilities.
On all these counts, we are forced to ask: what was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal doing?
Delhi wasn’t even the first to be this badly hit, it was Mumbai. If not other countries, Kejriwal could at least have looked at what was happening in Mumbai and prepared accordingly. Today, we don’t have a single makeshift hospital solely for Covid-19 patients. Mumbai has converted NSCI Dome into one, where’s Delhi’s equivalent of that?
Delhi’s wasted lockdown
Thanks to Arvind Kejriwal’s indolence, Delhi has wasted its lockdown. All that suffering the city went through was pointless. All those labourers who were being fired from their jobs and leaving for home — they needn’t have gone through all that pain. Delhi is in the thick of community transmission anyway — the ICMR can keep repeating that there is no community spread in India yet and Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia can use that to claim the same. But the Kejriwal government’s admission that it could not detect the source of infection in nearly 50 per cent of the coronavirus cases in Delhi tells us what no one would officially admit. The Delhi government hasn’t been able to mount a medical fight against an onslaught it knew was coming.
If Delhi’s preparedness has been a setback for want of co-operation by the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre or the BJP-run municipal corporations in the city, then Arvind Kejriwal should publicly say so. If this was happening five years ago, he would have blamed Modi without a hitch. Today, he has surrendered himself before the Modi government and finds other scapegoats, such as the ‘outsiders’ and the private hospitals.
If private hospitals today are overcharging Covid-19 patients or turning them away or deliberately not using their facilities to treat them, then blame Arvind Kejriwal for not sorting out these issues long ago because he was sleeping at the wheel.
At a time when he needs the co-operation of private hospitals, he is turning them into the enemy for political purposes. While private hospitals run by business houses do have a bad name, Kejriwal took out all his spite against the best private hospital in Delhi run not by any business house but a charitable trust: Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
When Delhi’s Covid-19 hospitals became a mess, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government quickly issued a mobile app, Delhi Corona. Enforcing new technological interventions comes with teething troubles. So the app doesn’t work. It shows beds but the hospital says beds are not available.
The problem here is Kejriwal’s inability to comprehend that the issue is not beds but all the special Covid facilities that come with it, such as air handling units. It takes at least a few days to convert a hospital ward into one that can deal with Covid, treating patients without infecting medical staff.
Part of the reason why Arvind Kejriwal didn’t think he would have a problem at hand is because he was initially able to get away with data fudging. When you can hide the data, you can pretend the situation is under control.
From early May, we have been seeing news reports of how the Covid death numbers from crematoria and burial grounds don’t match the official numbers put out by the Delhi government. For every two Covid deaths, the AAP says one has died. Similarly, on testing, as the positive numbers rose, the Delhi government lashed out at private testing labs and banned some, including the one at Ganga Ram Hospital.
We have also seen deliberate under-testing. On Twitter, a citizen complained that his sister-in-law, a doctor, couldn’t get a test for herself. The testing lab she went to was told to do only ten tests a day — ten.
In other words, even frontline workers are being denied tests. The AAP government has diabolically made the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) the scapegoat on the testing issue. It presents itself as a hapless implementing agency enforcing the ICMR guidelines on testing.
The truth is that health is a state subject and far from opposing the narrow ICMR guidelines, the Kejriwal government issued its own, making them even narrower, denying symptomatic contacts of conformed Covid patients the right to have a test.
This brazen violation of the Indian Constitution’s promise of the right to life was overturned by Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, and a politically neutered Kejriwal didn’t speak against the LG as he would have five years ago.
Kejriwal has made data fudging central to his Covid-19 policy, because in the past, data manipulation has reaped rich rewards for him in education.
In Delhi’s government schools, students not doing too well in academics are not allowed to take board exams, and told to pursue their studies through correspondence instead. This has helped Delhi government schools improve their pass percentage to an extent that it is able to put out self-congratulatory newspaper ads claiming government school students are performing better than those of private schools. Such skullduggery has gone unquestioned in Delhi politics. So why would data manipulation not reap Kejriwal similar rewards when it comes to Covid?
The answer lies not in data but outside the reality of graphs, charts and meaningless percentages. We have moved beyond lies — white lies — and statistics. When dead bodies pile up in hearse vans, nobody cares about data.
Hapless citizens have to run from pillar to post, first to get a test, then to get a hospital bed, then to get a funeral. The Supreme Court says Covid patients in Delhi are being treated worse than animals. None of this has anything to do with data. Arvind Kejriwal will soon run out of excuses. He has created a mess and this time the blowback is certain.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.