Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' defence industry outreach webinar via video conference, in New Delhi on 27 August
Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Twitter: @PMOIndia
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From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise on 25 March of “defeating corona” in 21 days to Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan’s assertion in the Lok Sabha on Sunday that “irresponsible behaviour” by Indians is driving the pandemic — this is the story of how the Modi government keeps changing its Covid story to steer clear of blame.

This even as India crossed one negative Covid milestone after another and is now the global second. As of Friday, the country has 58,18,571 cases and has seen 92,290 deaths.

For the past six months, the Modi government kept roadmaps fuzzy and analysed control strategies only in hindsight with little credible data to support its claims. For instance, the government is now using multiple “projections” to claim that the 68-day lockdown prevented up to 29 lakh Covid-19 cases. However, it is not willing to share projections about where the pandemic is headed in India and what are the eventual numbers that the country could be looking at over the next few months. Such numbers are needed to design state responses and ensure public compliance. But there is ‘no data’.


Also read: Modi got all the credit for lockdown. Now, he wants states to share risk of unlocking India


‘No data’

In his statement in Parliament last week, Harsh Vardhan had said: “It has been estimated that this decision prevented approximately 14–29 lakh cases and 37–78 thousand deaths.” These are projections by organisations such as Boston Consulting Group, Public Health Foundation of India and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, among others. The only forward-looking statement came on Tuesday when NITI Aayog’s Dr V.K. Paul said that with the winter and festival season coming, an escalation in Covid numbers is expected.

The break-up of RT-PCR and antigen tests — a crucial factor in the pandemic — have not been shared either despite repeated queries. The number is important because antigen tests tend to give false negative results, which is why there have been multiple communications from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) about the need to retest symptomatic antigen negatives using the RT-PCR test.

However, as the numbers kept getting bigger and bigger, new metrics were introduced to keep the narrative ‘positive’. The coronavirus pandemic was measured in deaths (“highest rate of recoveries”) and cases per million (“one of the lowest in the world”). But when it came to tests, the chosen unit was tests per million per day, so as to not give away the fact that India’s 49,834 tests per million is lower even than countries such as Brazil, Russia, Columbia and Peru.

Now that all eyes are on a vaccine, Indian companies, unlike those in the US, have not shared their blueprints. For example, while Harsh Vardhan assured Parliament that a vaccine would be available by early next year, there is no clarity on a timeline for an interim assessment of results. The Serum Institute of India, which is all set to start Phase III trials of the Oxford vaccine, refused to reply to an email questionnaire sent by ThePrint. Dr Balram Bhargava, replying to a question, said on Tuesday that a vaccine would need to have a minimum efficacy of 50 per cent to be approved.


Also read: Why Modi’s ministers are sounding like Mahabharata’s Yudhisthir


‘Defeat corona in 21 days’

On 25 March, the first day of India’s nationwide lockdown, PM Modi had addressed his constituents in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. He had said: “Remember, the victory in the battle of Mahabharata came after 18 days. Today, the entire country is battling the corona crisis. It is our endeavour to win this battle in 21 days. At the time of the war of Mahabharata, Lord Shri Krishna was the sarthi (charioteer). Today we have to win this battle against corona on the strength of 130 crore people. The people of Kashi also have a large role in it.”

This was also the time when India’s avowed aim was to break the chain of transmission — a complicated and difficult proposition in a disease as infectious as Covid-19. Defending the Janata Curfew a few days before the national lockdown, joint secretary (health) Lav Agarwal had said on 20 March: “The second point of PM Modi’s address (to the nation on 19 March) was how to stop transmission of the disease in the country. He said social distancing is one way to stop transmission… he said Janata Curfew by the people for the people through which we can promote social distancing as a practice… this one-day effort, this one-day practice… will help us in a big way in breaking the chain of transmission.”

However, cases continued to rise even as a new ‘villain’ — members of the Tablighi Jamaat — emerged. During the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament, too, the minister of state for Home Affairs told the Rajya Sabha that the Tablighi event in Delhi’s Nizamuddin led to many people being infected. That is also when the government communication started focussing on ‘doubling time’ — a metric usually used to assess how good a financial investment is. It was first used on 17 April when Agarwal said: “Before the lockdown, the doubling rate was three days. Going by the number of cases in the last seven days, the doubling rate has been 6.2 days. In 19 states and Union Territories, the doubling rate is less than the national average.” However, by May, the argument was starting to get problematic because while the doubling time was increasing, the numbers were getting too unwieldy to claim victory just by using doubling time.

So, on 4 May, Agarwal’s daily briefing took a new turn. He said: “It is critical to understand that infectious diseases spread in geometric progression. Lockdown, physical distancing, containment — through a combination of all these we have increased the doubling time from 3.4 days to 12 days. Lockdown and containment is yielding results, the challenge now is (to) better it as we continue to ease out with continued support from the community.” On several occasions, he even said that India’s endeavours may ensure that the country may never reach a peak — a peak in an infectious disease signifies the point from where cases start coming down.

A few months down the line, PM Modi’s national addresses on the coronavirus have disappeared, as have phrases like ‘the chain of transmission’, ‘doubling time’ and ‘India’s peak’. The Mahabharata war isn’t mentioned anymore.


Also read: Divided by a virus — why the pandemic makes it look like nobody is in control in India


‘Irresponsible people spreading pandemic’

Although the Narendra Modi government had given the states the responsibility to unlock, and thereby a share of the criticism, the onus is now on Indians only.

The narrative about the coronavirus pandemic spreading not because of any failings of central or state governments but because of irresponsibility started being spun from some time last month. On 25 August, when India’s total cases stood at 32,34,474, Dr Balram Bhargava, DG, ICMR and secretary in the department of health research, replying to a question about whether young people are driving the pandemic, said: “Irresponsible people who do not wear masks and do not practise social distancing are driving the epidemic.”

In his reply in the Lok Sabha on Sunday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan took the same thought forward when he said: “I want to appeal to all of you — to emerge victorious over Covid, there is a need to practise caution. You have seen many among us got infected. The reason for that is irresponsible behaviour, the behaviour that is necessary for Covid — wear a mask, maintain social distancing that the PM calls ‘do gaj ki doori‘, don’t bring your hands to your face, and other respiratory etiquettes. But as unlocking happened, people thought all is well and they got relaxed.”

The Modi government isn’t to blame anymore, neither are the states. It’s you — you who lived through a crippling lockdown, job loss and economic hardships in the hope of defeating the coronavirus.

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. Journalists have it the most easy. Just blame others, especially Modi. No doubt, Modi declared lock down and took credit as a bold leader. States have to declare unlocks and take blame for the consequences. But, is it too much to expect the people of India to care for their own lives and adhere to the guidances? Are we that dumb or irresponsible? Probably, the latter. That’s the only point on which the article is right. Don’t let your heart blead for Tablighis.

  2. This is THE MOST SENSELESS ARITICLE COMMENTING THE GOVERNMENT FOR ALL THE IRRESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOUR OF THE CITIZENS.

    WHEN ” THAIWAN ” CAN STAY CORONA FREE ” THAT TOO BEING SO NEAR TO CHAINA ” WITH A DISCIPLINED HEALTHY PRACTICES !
    ” WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR CITIZENS ” ? TO MAINTAIN SELF PROTECTIVE HEALTHY HABITS ?
    When LOCKDOWN ANNOUNCED you Cried for FOOD , JOBLOSS , NON AVAILABILITY OF BEDS etc,etc, etc infinite times etc for everything .
    RUNNING A DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT ” IS NOT A MAGIC SHOW ” TO PROVIDE EVERYTHING ASKED BY THE PUBLIC .
    ” DEMOCRACY ” MEANS UNITED GOVERNANCE WITH THE COOPERATION OF EVERY CITIZEN IN THE COUNTRY , NOT BY LEG PULLING TACKTICS BY PEOPLE FOR PERSONAL ULTERIOR MOTIVES .
    BLAMING THE GOVERNMENT STATE OR CENTRAL FOR THE UNRULY / UNHEALTHY / IRRESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOUR OF CITIZENS .

    IS IT NOT THE PRIME RESPONSIBILITY OF EVRY CITIZEN TO PROTECT AND SAFEGAURD ONE ‘ S OWN HEALTH ?
    THE ANSWER WILL TELL US HOW MUCH CULTURED WE ARE .

    EVEN NOW IT IS NOT ” TOO LATE. ” TO CURTAIL CORONA . MAINTAIN HEALTHY HABITS ” RIGHT FROM THIS MOMENT ” THEN SEE THE CHANGE IN THE COUNTRY .

    ARE we Ready For This ? The Answer says WHAT WE WANT IMMIDIETLY .

    With Best Wishes For Bettermnet Always ,

    Yours sincerely ,
    SHIVA KUMAR.T.N. B.Sc.L.L.B.A.M.I.B.M.
    DIRECTOR ,
    YOGAVASISTHA SAMSODHANA KENDRA ,
    No 13 , 5th CROSS , NR COLONY ,
    BANGALORE. -560019.
    Mobile/WhatsApp. : +919483271683

  3. Actually Modi is the GREATEST leader the world has ever seen. He said v would win the Covid war in 21 days. If v didn’t fight properly how is Modi to be blamed? Govt doesn’t have data on how many migrants died. Who told them to walk to their houses? is Modi responsible? And the GDP had spiralled down, because people didn’t work during lockdown. So how Modi is responsible? So it’s true that Covid has increased rapidly in India due to our irresponsibility. Modi is not responsible for any of the Govt’s faults. It’s all our fault

  4. In a country of 130cr people, when the government says wear a mask and go out only for essential reasons, we have everyone Including the politicians moving out unnecessarily without masks, instigating people and thn we have he beautiful media, ever ready to tarnish the image of our great country and government only showing the increase in corona cases and not showing the unruly crowd and instigating politicians. Its just TRP that the media needs and thats best achieved by tarnishing the Prime Minister.

  5. When Corona virus started its journey, nobody had any idea of what its reach would be, how its behaviour would be….. it is only now that govts and some people atleast are understanding the extant of damage it is likely to wreak…. I am sure Modi, like most of us believed that it could possibly be a short affair… so his talk was more of a motivational by nature… Eight months down the line , govts and fairly good number of us have realised that the virus can only be controlled over a period of time but may not be completely eliminated and that time is some time away into the future… that control and that elimination will require responsible behaviour from the citizens…. but is it happening….. in large parts it is a NO…. where people would rather go to Gurudwaras, Mosques, Churches, Temples than take necessary precautions… what can one expect…. how long can any govt go on spoon feeding its citizenry…. someday, the citizenry should also live upto its responsibilty….I think we have been mollycoddling our citizens too much…. so what the health minister has said is the COLD TRUTH….

  6. Just blame modi for everything and earn your bread..IS it not people responsibility to take care of them self??what is this author trying to say?

  7. Yes people are irresponsible and so are political leaders. None of them shown any example of responsible behaviour of social distancing and mask wearing in public. TV and news paper sho this every day. So so many politicians are falling sick. Still doing all kind of rallies and gatherings. Throughout the world all best touted countries have failed miserably in their own once successful strategies. Only China did the best to curb this.

  8. On hindsight, when we remember Modiji’s Covid speeches on television asking us to sing from balconies and clang on stell vessels, he did rather sound like a village elder than a leader of a technologically advanced country.

  9. The singular achievement of Modi sarkar is that during these 6 and half years great Indian institutions built over decades with sweat and toil have had their reputations smashed to smithereens. RBI, Election Commission, Defence forces, Supreme Court, Parliament, National Statistical Commission – no institution has been able to maintain any credibility. ICMR is just the latest entrant to this long list. So called nationalist Indians are not even bothered that national wealth and national reputation is going to the dogs under Modi sarkar. Modi hai to mumkin hai.

  10. Its the job of the journalists to “only” criticize. as they are not required to give the path that they would have taken, if they were in the position of the PM.

  11. No government is clean yet Modi, to whatever extent has been, to some level, sole social and capitalistic reformer for sure putting aside political and personal agendas.

    Agendas – Everyone on that spot has ! One cannot deny and No country, No parties will be without it.

    Corona – Well, in a country with billions of population, to control masses in all a challenge. And with so many sectors, and demographics with unequal levels , no strategy will fall in place straight through. Modi is not a Messaih. He can do his best to prevent and state porotocol to follow. What more?! If Economy staggers, people blame govt. Even all worked for best, if mumbers rise due to people’s inability to follow norms, people blame govt.

    Where is the Self responsibility too?

    Government as said both sides have their own games but who would be the lesser of evils and would yet deliver some results, protect country from terrorism?! Modi does.

  12. How did you comment against Modi? Even if India gets destroyed and becomes worse than central african nations, I will support Modi. GDP, employment etc is just in your head. Covid was handled brilliantly.

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