File photo of PM Narendra Modi addressing an election rally in Assam | PTI
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to cancel his visit to India is not just a censure of India’s ability to handle its Covid crisis, it is a question mark on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, defined by his refusal to put science before faith in this grave hour.

This is the second time this year that Johnson has cancelled his trip to India – in January, the Covid lockdown at home forced him to drop out of the Republic Day celebrations where he was chief guest. That late decision meant that for the first time in 55 years, India did not have a chief guest on Republic Day.

But Johnson knew he didn’t want to go down in history as a latter-day Nero who played music as his beloved London was damaged by a virus.

Modi, on the other hand, went ahead with every election rally as the Covid graph climbed and appealed to a top seer about reducing participation at the Kumbh super-spreader only when the head of the Niranjani Akhada died. Only a few days before, foreign vaccines like the Russian-made Sputnik and several others were given emergency use authorisation – Sputnik and Dr Reddy’s Labs have been waiting at least since December 2020 for the green light.

It is also clear that the Modi government put all vaccine imports on hold because an “atmanirbhar vaccine” from Bharat Biotech was going to be the super bullet that dealt with infections. Nothing wrong with Bharat Biotech, of course, because vaccine development is no mean task – but the Hyderabad-based company has simply not been able to produce the required numbers, which has meant that the national vaccination programme has not kept up to speed with infection.

Now, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is saying that Bharat Biotech will produce ten times the current amount of vaccine by September – although this may be too late for states like Maharashtra, which is badly reeling under the surge events even as MNS chief Raj Thackeray urged the Centre to allow the state to buy vaccines independently but to no avail.


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The Bangladesh conundrum 

In fact, Jharkhand has also asked the Centre for permission to buy remdesivir, the anti-viral injection widely being used in Covid treatment, from Bangladesh. The neighbouring country is already exporting the drug worldwide and is willing to sell to India. (If you’re wondering why Bangladesh isn’t attracting copyright violation from Gilead, the US biopharmaceutical company that produces remdesivir, it is because as a Least Developed Country, Bangladesh is exempt.)

The Bangladesh example is both instructive and emblematic of India’s Covid response with the outside world. First, when the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi was shut down in March 2020 and the event termed a “Covid super-spreader”, several hundred foreign nationals, including Bangladeshis, were caught in its snare.

For several months, these men were held behind bars; when they were released, they were only allowed to go home after pleading guilty of violating the Epidemic Act and other visa regulations. Congregating without masks in a circumscribed space, as we know by now, is hardly a violation – otherwise thousands of sadhus attending the Kumbh Mela would be in jail.

Second, Bangladesh is one of 80 countries worldwide that has been a recipient of ‘Vaccine Maitri,’ an initiative that has ably showcased India’s soft power, in this case by supplying 644 lakh vaccine doses of which about half, 357 lakh, have been sold commercially.

In the autumn of 2020, in preparation for vaccinating its adult population, Bangladesh paid $60 million for 30 million doses to the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII). It has so far received 10.3 million vaccines – of which 3.3 million are a gift from India (2 million came early, then PM Modi went with 1.2 million when he travelled to Dhaka as guest of honour for the 50th anniversary celebrations of Bangladesh’s Liberation war, and then last week, Army chief M.M, Naravane took 100,000 doses).


Also read: There’s a need to hold up a mirror to Modi govt on Covid management, and this is the picture


Short of vaccine to play maitri-maitri 

Now, Bangladesh has vaccinated 6 million of its population with one dose and wants the Serum Institute to fulfil its pledge – for which the latter has received the money – so it can start vaccinating people with the second dose. But ‘Vaccine Maitri’ has run aground and the Centre has banned export of vaccines because of the domestic crisis.

So what happens to Bangladesh, with whom PM Modi has recently professed undying friendship?

For the moment, at least, Bangladesh is stuck between a rock and a hard place, although External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has said that India will fulfil its commitments. Sources say Bangladesh is wondering what to do next – should it start importing vaccines from other countries, such as Russia and China, which seem to have ample stocks? The question is, can people be vaccinated with one dose of AstraZeneca and one dose of SinoPharm or Sputnik, as the case may be?  

While Bangladesh is holding its breath, other countries have started turning up the pressure. The European Union has asked India to allow it to buy 10 million doses from the Serum Institute, while Britain is pressing India to export the remaining half of the 10 million doses it had ordered.

India’s international reputation has already taken a hammer blow with politicians like BJP leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat saying things like, “Ma Ganga will not allow corona to spread.”

If PM Modi fails to start listening to the scientific community to damage control the Covid surge, the cancellation of the UK prime minister’s visit will be the least of his problems.

The author is a consulting editor. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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46 COMMENTS

  1. From the title of the article, I thought that Modi had prayed to heavens for eradication of the pandemic. So, where is the question of putting faith before science? Surely, Modi has not directed anyone to use Ganga Jal in the place of vaccine. I am glad that the body of the article does not allege use faith in the place of science.

    It is difficult to shed sickular skin. This is not unhyphenated journalism.

  2. India is lucky to have Modi as its leader and Modi is lucky to have stupid opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and anti national media like ThePrint and Thewire. More they show their hatred of Modi more people support Modi.

  3. Hindutva is important than science. BJP’s mantra is faith, how can say no to Kumbha.
    50% hunger index still we claim we are super.

  4. How and why did you hire such a moron for thePrint?
    Please fire her.
    It will save the izzat of thePrint and also save some money.

  5. Most idiotic and slavish nonsense written by a journalist who has never been anywhere near a foreign policy negotiation. Boris Johnson not visiting is.hardly censure – it is prudence and courtesy given the ongoing pandemic. Bangladesh or EU are not in a position to dictate delivery. Only the UK, the original owner of the vaccine’s IP has any right to question the supply and SII is contractually obligated to fulfill the requirements.

  6. Dear Sir, NOW YOU UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LITERATE PERSON AND AN EDUCATED PERSON.
    FAMOUS QUOTE IS ” LITERACY DOES NOT MEAN EDUCATION…….BJP HAS LITERATE S IN PLENTY BUT EDU CATED VERY FEW ONLY.
    YOU CAN DECIDE WHOS WHAT IN LOCKDOWN WHEN YOU WILL HAVE LEISURE TO REGRET YOUR CHOICES?

  7. The author has really lost her marbles, please read what you’ve written – is there no editorial oversight/crosschecking happening at The Print? There is no relation between the heading and the content, forget about the content being of absolutely low standard.

    • Can you please explain your comments further? I, too, feel that there is no connection between any single word that you have taken the trouble to write.

      • Well for starters there is no connection between the heading – putting faith before science – and truth. Modi government’s policy has always been test, trace and vaccinate. I hope internet is there in the slums of Kaneda and therefore you can check for yourself about the veracity of it. But for a while let’s forget what Modi government’s stated policy is, let’s focus on what this column mentions – the author’s circumlocutions about the topic neither mentions science not faith. You should give it a second reading, provided the internet, slums, cabbies, Kanedda et al

  8. PM Modi has been damaging India’s reputation from 2002 onwards and has accelerated the process since 2014. Now bhakts and trolls don’t care because they get their kicks from seeing Modi (and his ministers) insult political opponents and religious minorities but other Indians who hold serious jobs, which require interaction with foreigners and scientific minded people, are already squirming at the nonsense happening in the name of Hindu religion in India. Soon NRIs will have to say that they come from Bangladesh when someone asks their country of origin, much like how Pakistani origin folks claim they are from India, to avoid embarrassment!

    • For some one taking a dip in the Ganges, to get God’s favor, does not have any other world. The frog in the well asks who is Biden, Where is USA and UK? The illiteracy out there is really astonishing for India to further develop..

  9. US do not have lock downs. At any point of time Modi did not say you can take it easy on precautions. It’s people who have lackadaisical attitude. What can Modi do? Instead of preaching to Modi why don’t you preach to people?

  10. Who cares what ignorant Westerners think about India? First they looted us,, enslaved us, vilified our society, demeaned our religion, erased our education, then divided us, supported our arch enemy, and refused to invest in our country. They censure our efforts to control illegal immigration and support terrorists who attack our monuments. They’re obviously ignorant and prejudiced, and that’s why your paper sells in the West. I have lived in the US for 53 years, I know.

    • Then why are Indians so much bothered about the global rankings given for various parameters by these very western think tanks and other agencies? If India gets a good ranking in ease of doing business, it is hyped to the skies but when some other agency ranks India pretty low in terms of human development index or freedom of speech or other metrics, they are considered to be defaming our country by making false allegations based on untried and untested methods. This is really great, is it not, Mr. Garg?????

    • East india company educated us with modern scientific practical education. Previously it was all about faith ,dharma, caste, and untouchability.

    • So why have you been living for 53 years in the US if westerners have looted us,, enslaved us, vilified our society, demeaned our religion, erased our education, then divided us, supported our arch enemy, and refused to invest in our country ?

      It seems you want to live in the west and support fascism and thugs in India.

      How can you demand anyone to invest in our country ?

  11. Who cares if boris has cancelled the visit ? Please get out of this colonial mindset first .

    The need to please whites doesnot make sense in this century

  12. All correct Jyoti Malhotra. In your previous articles, you were praising strong Modi who had decided that he will now allow Chinese investment if needed in India to make India strong enough to say ‘go to hell’ to the US when it degrades India in the freedom ranking. Why did not Modi ask the Chinese to bring their investment and set up a factory to make their vaccine in India ?

    All people need to understand that India’s ruin was not due to Modi per se, but due to his ideology, Hindutva. Even on Covid, we need to see this is where Hindutva will take you : Covid was an opportunity for Muslim bashing; then it was an opportunity to peddle pseudo science like gomutra, Covid papad and utensil banging as cures; and it was an opportunity to promote astrologers who brought the date of the Kumbh forward by 1 year.

    Hindutva is for violent self assertion, and is anti science, and that is why India is now the worst country for Covid. Of course, outsiders are watching. They may not know what is Hindutva, but they can see where India is. We are going to go on the red list of every country.

  13. Why do you want to be concerned about what other countries think? As Indians do our part and shut up. We do not need anyone’s approval.
    The Print is a third rated tabloid and nothing else.
    Not one article is positive about our own country.
    Take you foreign paid writers and bug off

  14. Really? Johnson not coming to India (and gosh, 2nd time in this year, the first was also India’s fault) is a big deal? This is called GMT symptom. Born in India but brains work in GMT.

  15. Did not expect this biased article, against Modi, from you, Jyoti.
    You are no different from old establishment journos.
    By far, India has done better than most of the other countries, if you compare apple to apple and taking into account all the parameters.
    You are not expected to be generous towards Modi, but journalists neutrality is Sine qua non.

  16. What a substandard piece. What evidence do you have to claim MODI is not listening to science? On the contrary Modi was one of the first to actually do so. Hastily I might add. This article is just a whole lot of BS and a case being concocted out of thin air. COVID has been damaging to all nations. Boris Johnson can take a Hike and so can the UK. I am not sure why it is interpreted as a beating for India. It only takes a Brown Slave to make such a conclusion.

  17. Some times we play the role of a friend and promise too much we cannot afford . We donut even think of our requirements. Such an over zealous commitments put our people in deep canon and people ought to die. We allowed Russia also for import. The only country left out is China with which we are fighting an unknown battle. One day we may start import fro China in case the situation goes out of hand

  18. Is NOT Rahul Gandhi, Lutyen media, leftist questioning why India is exporting vaccine and that is NOT mentioned here for political reasons ? Lutyen media is worse than politicians. even foreign countries understand the crisis, but NOT Indian leftist media

  19. ”The question is, can people be vaccinated with one dose of AstraZeneca and one dose of SinoPharm or Sputnik, as the case may be? ”

    The answer is , YES.

  20. This person has a 1 point agenda : anti-BJP propaganda & try hard to discredit the hon’ble PM.
    This negativity is really tiring. Who reads this trash?

  21. The author says: “Modi, on the other hand, went ahead with every election rally as the Covid graph climbed”. The author is being parsimonious with facts. Do you expect only the BJP to not do any campaigning when every other political party was holding mega rallies? Did the meaningless “farmer” protest rallies not contain congregations of lakhs of people? Why does the author refrain from mentioning those? The very title of this article is false and misleading. The government in fact put science and reason ahead of eveything – right from the early efficacious lockdown which succeeded in end the first peak of infections, to giving an impetus to vaccine manufacturing which made India the vaccine capital of the world, to ramping up testing, to supplying oxygen for medical purposes. The Kumbh Mela should not have been allowed – I agree. But it is not the lone cause for the spread of the virus. The author is displaying her dishonesty and prejudice.

  22. Media most of the world, is politically aligned, devoid of substance, truth and fair reporting. In countries like India, religion gets in making things uniquely distraught with lies, with allegiance to a particular religion, rather than facts, truth.

    Country like india where postal ballot is not even known, elections should not have been held in the first place. Note everybody was campaigning without any exception. When the indian media picks on couple of old men as the cause as though the rest of the political herd has been sitting in a couch at home, shows the trash that the media has become. All in the same boat

  23. Back then, Boris Johnson had cancelled Republic Day visit to India over COVID-19 crisis in U.K in January this year. Cancelling or postponing trips can’t be a yardstick to measure reputation.

  24. Anti-science mindset has been bane of the country in the last couple of centuries and is now costing lives.

    Dogmas of faith need to be relegated indoors and very low on the govt’s priorities.

  25. Dr Sanjaya Baru in his new book has spoken of the rise of anti intellectualism. Worn as a badge of pride, along with not wishing to use a spoon or a fork. This is what it looks like in a time of pandemic. A person like Baba Ramdev should not be getting official endorsement from the union health minister. Secretaries to government promoting Sadhguru Jaggi Vaudev’s Vedic chants. The India variant is making things more difficult for the rest of the world as well. India figures on the red list for travel. The Foreign Office should tap into its professional expertise and institutional memory more often.

  26. Facetious question : If Bangladesh – with a higher per capita income than India – is an LDC, why do we not qualify for that honour.

  27. No surprise that this author chooses to single out Kumbh Mela to berate the government, but not a word on huge gathering in the name of Kisan Agitation on the border of Delhi. This hypocritical approach demeans the authors reputation.

  28. A thinking mind goes numb when comparisons are made like the reason for Mr. X burping in the morning was because of what Mr. Y ate the previous night.
    The science and innovation respecting corrupt rulers have brought us down to the level that our vaccine production is held hostage to supply of specialized plastic bags, because the money that should have gone into that development, was being robbed from the taxpayer over years, ensuring that no one talked about it by keeping the media on the take out of that very loot.
    The pub culture, public hugging and mouth to mouth kissing with crowds of thousands at multiple places, day in day out is no different from the onetime KUMBH in terms of helping the spread of covid-19. Yes, it is not FAITH but just CULTURE.
    Faith is what is done by the uneducated and culture is when it is done by the so-called English-speaking elite (in India). No leader in world can win without taking the faith or culture along. How smartly he does it, is his success in leadership.
    Let us get real, at least our PM combs his hair.

  29. Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Modi has repeatedly proved in recent times in election rallies and handling of Covid-19 that he has taken the Indian Government to new low where it has remained a Hindu stronghold. And the Hindus in India do not know that there is no religion by the name Hindu. It is requested that P.M. and Health Minister stop fooling the Indians and allow the Doctors to frame strategies and policies.

  30. such a deracinated journalist. and equally hypocritical “abroad”.
    In the entire west (including Boston where i live), covid surge was observed during holiday season ( december and january) . so as per the journalist and her “west”/”abroad”, they can enjoy/entertain as per their culture ( holiday during christamas and new year) , but devout Hindus shouldn’t pray during Kumbh.
    iam sick of these people ..

    • They have a much better handle over things. they have better infrastructure. I’ve noticed that it’s mostly people sitting in the comforts of their nice and safe home (you in Boston) that make such bold statement. Would you have sent your kids or family to Kumbh at this time?

      • 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 & SCIENTIFIC enough!!

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

        Islam can declare parliament of India as their property and this would be SCIENTIFIC, DEMOCRATIC & SECULAR TOO!!

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