If you are also wondering, like I am, what brought this frightening second wave of Covid infections upon India, I have one word for you. Complacency. Yes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government became complacent and went back to what they do best – elections rallies and winning states.
But what brought this complacency? Modi got blinded by the applause.
We all know how much Modi loves global praise. He wears it like a halo wherever he goes, he wants to convince voters that he, not India, is the real vishwa guru. He does this while hugging world leaders and walking on the beach with them for a samundar pe charcha photo-op. So when The Washington Post, BBC, NPR, Al-Jazeera and Fortune began writing articles about how well India had done in bringing infections down, bedazzling experts and defying scientists’ dooms-day predictions, it made Modi swell with pride. He took it to the next level. He became the giver of vaccines to the world. This was the “false confidence” that the government fell into.
What is worse, this was the time when many countries were reporting a new variant and a second wave. We should have prepared ourselves then. We knew it could come to us. But we had elections to win. And that too seven-phase elections in just one state.
So, we continued to deny that the new variant had come to India, and that there was even a possibility of an ‘Indian’ variant.
The election and a rallying virus
Whether no one saw it coming or no one wanted to see it coming in India will always remain the question of this century. But the sheer blindness shown by the government and people towards it is truly tragic. What’s also tragic is the response to this second wave as daily cases constantly breach the two lakh-mark. Compare this with a strict lockdown when India had just over 500 cases.
By January 2021, India started tom-tomming about succeeding in vanquishing the virus under PM Narendra Modi’s able decision-making. But people weren’t dying less because the governments (state or the Centre) were managing to save them through their robust healthcare infrastructure. India surprisingly showed a low fatality rate (death rate) of about 1.5 per cent. The Indian immune system just fought the virus better. And therefore, people survived. Epidemiologists around the world were discussing this.
India’s complacency was so ghastly. The Election Commission decided to hold the West Bengal assembly polls in April, which saw massive political campaigns with large crowds at Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda’s hair-raising rallies. Hair-raising, because lakhs of people attended them with no masks and no sign of social distancing. It appeared like Covid never hit India. What more?
Our prime minister and home minister led by example by not wearing masks. Not mentioning Mamata Banerjee’s rallies here will be seen as my prejudice. But the fight against Covid has been with the Centre from day one. The distribution of vaccines has been with the Centre from day one. The decision of a nationwide lockdown has been with the Centre from day one. And although health is a state subject, the Centre was specific in spearheading the fight. The fight against the pandemic could not have been more centralised. Which is why the prime minister and home minister were catching eyeballs for not complying with Covid protocols.
This centralised approach led to constant tussle with states with Punjab, Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi accusing the Centre of not supplying enough vaccines. In reply, the Modi government accused these non-BJP ruled states of playing politics.
India’s greatly fought battle against Covid seems to be having an anti-climax. We, both the government and public, brought it upon ourselves, behaving like complete dimwits despite seeing Europe, Brazil and the US, countries that faced multiple waves. We also ignored the warnings of epidemiologists who insisted that India would see a deadly second wave of Covid.
The government allowed the Kumbh Mela, and the media painted a merry picture of it all. Then the government allowed massive rallies instead of discussing the dangers of doing so. And the news channels went on crunching numbers, claiming winners through exit polls. Everyone forgot about Covid. Now Covid has given a tight slap to all. For a lot of people, it took pictures of burning pyres emerging from different parts of India to realise the pandemic was not over yet. An image of a Lucknow crematorium went viral. The authorities, instead of addressing the Covid onslaught, decided to hide it all by fencing the place.
India is now the world’s second worst-hit Covid nation. But we’re supposed to forget it all and do Pareeksha pe Charcha. We are just trying to wish away the coronavirus, as if it has been eradicated from India. The logic our leaders are giving — if we defeated it the first time, we can defeat it again.
But what they are refusing to look at is that India is now seeing multiple strains — be it the UK or the South African mutant. There’s also a new double mutation circulating in India. The second Covid wave is not like the first. Because those who have built immunity, either due to an earlier infection or through vaccination, can still be infected by the new strains.
All is not well. And behaving like ‘all is well’ will fetch us nothing but a tragedy that could’ve well been averted with decisive planning and decentralisation of Covid policies.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.
Edited by Anurag Chaubey