Monday, March 20, 2023
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Modi govt has made a mockery of Covid crisis, high time it gets serious about real solutions

Medicare capacity has to be increased at warp speed. Many companies and business sectors already suffer from ‘morbidities’, a fresh setback could push them over the brink.

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At this time last year, the health ministry spokesman was tracking the progress of the “doubling” rate — the number of days it took for the daily tally of cases to double. The rate tracked a flattening of the curve of new cases, the peak being just under 1,00,000 in September, before it fell to barely 10,000. Other countries saw second and third waves of infection, but India shifted into triumphalist mode. Now consider the present doubling rate: Eight days to double from 20,000 to 40,000, 14 days to re-double to 80,000, and then 10 days to double yet again to 1,60,000. A fourth doubling seems on its way. With hospital beds, ventilators, and oxygen already in short supply, the future looks scary. What if, god forbid, the doubling rate remains broadly unchanged, and we get to something like 6,00,000 cases daily by mid-May? Apart from setting an ignominious world record, system overload would be guaranteed.

Nothing that the country has faced so far in the history of this terrible pandemic will compare with what it might confront in such a scenario. Lockdowns will almost certainly become frequent and widespread. Some lessons learnt from the experience of last year’s no-notice lockdown (done nationwide, when relatively few districts had reported Covid cases) may help avoid catastrophic outcomes this time round, if governments and employers credibly assure workers of sustenance at their places of work/residence. Since all employers will not have the capacity to do this, transport must be provided to help those who wish to return home to their villages. Civil society and volunteers should be encouraged to chip in. Ideally, this should be done before expanding the lockdowns, but time is short.

Fending off growing criticism, the government has moved belatedly to increase the supply of vaccines, but there has been no public response as yet to a vaccine manufacturer’s call for financial help to increase supply (which governments in other countries have given). Price control on vaccines has to be lifted, or prices renegotiated; it has to be worth the vaccine manufacturer’s while to produce more, and non-remunerative prices are counter-productive. Whatever is done now on this front, vaccination will not happen fast enough to stop this second pandemic surge mid-track. So, medicare capacity has to be increased at warp speed. It has been done before, here and elsewhere; it needs to be done again, raised by an order of magnitude.

Also read: Modi govt allowing foreign vaccines a welcome step, there are many economic & health benefits

The assumption of a smooth economic recovery is now in question as production chains get disrupted again. Many companies and business sectors already suffer from “morbidities”, and a fresh setback could push many over the brink. The financial help, credit support and other measures announced last year will have to be repeated if the damage is not to become permanent, and constrain the eventual recovery. The consumption support that has so far been niggardly will have to be stepped up — it is not just companies that need help, people also do. There may be no escape from increasing this year’s fiscal deficit, and level of public debt. These will be part of the price for mismanagement of the crisis.

Damage to school education, to literacy and even enrolment, seems inescapable — as surveys have shown. But every effort should be made to prevent students from losing an academic year. Board exams cannot possibly be held till the pandemic abates, perhaps in the late summer. Subsequent academic sessions will have to be crunched, and holidays shortened.

On all these fronts, the government has to focus on real solutions, not make a mockery of the crisis through “vaccine festivals” that produce a drop in the rate of vaccination. State government fudging of fatality numbers has to stop; the scale of the crisis has to be understood if it is to be properly tackled. We have seen too many instances of this “event management” mindset: Banging utensils from balconies, switching off lights, and burning candles for nine minutes at 9 pm, showering flower petals on hospitals from hovering helicopters, and so on. Meanwhile, containing infections at mass events like the Kumbh mela and election rallies has been entrusted to the gods. The hour is late, let’s get serious.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard

Also read: Poll rallies to Kumbh Mela — Modi-Shah’s conscience must take a look at latest Covid surge


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  1. Without masks and without distance regulations at election rallies by PM And his commander in chief Mr.Amit shah sent the message accros India that carona virus has ended due to divine policy of all knowing mr.mody..along with allowing more than ten lakhs doing shahi bath on single day for continous more than ten days send the message be merry and dance..carona is over for India

  2. Mr Mohanish Chitnis: In an outstanding comment below you discuss the boundaries of centralisation and decentralisation and the demarcation lines between what the Centre does and what States do. In other words, federalism.

    I loved your sober analysis Mr Chitnis – eschewing party politics but hitting at the crux of the matter: the broken, distorted, diluted and thoroughly perverted model of federalism as it operates in India today. And the devastating, deadly, disasters that come in the wake of subversion of the federal fabric of India. The Centre’s i.e. the sole decision maker Modi’s response to the COVID crisis epitomises this.

    The Seventh Schedule to the Constitution ( mentions 3 types of lists or areas of authority and power sharing between States and the Centre. These are:

    The Union List: The Centre holds more power, sometimes absolute power in these areas. The list covers items like defence, economic policy, border security, foreign affairs, corporate taxes, Reserve Bank of India etc.

    The State List: Areas where States had more power or exclusive power. Covered items like public health, sanitation, hospitals, public order, agriculture etc.

    The Concurrent List: Areas of joint power sharing between Centre and State. Covers items like criminal procedure, civil procedure, education, trade unions, trade and commerce etc. etc.

    The problem with Modi’s unilateral approach to the tackling of this public health crisis is that he has ridden roughshod over state rights. Decisions are made in Delhi by some cabal of sycophants with Modi in the centre. This cabal has exploited the health crisis to expand a Hindutva agenda, extend the BJP’s reach and the depiction of Modi as the Messiah and saviour. For instance, the decision to enforce the lockdown last year was taken by PM Modi with a 4 hour notice causing enormous hardships to migrant workers who had to walk back from cities. States were not consulted and there was no co-ordination with the various States to assess the impact of such a lockdown. Demonetisation, GST, were other examples of this autocratic approach that is the Modi trademark

    Successive politicians, starting with PM Indira Gandhi have not acted in the spirit of federalism as they have sought to usurp and arrogate state powers to themselves. PM Gandhi toppled recalcitrant state governments and played havoc on the autonomy of non-Congress states. The most egregious example being the feud with Akali Dal in Punjab over the Anandpur Resolution wherein the Akalis demanded more autonomy for Punjab but not independence per se. Ms Gandhi’s contemptuous approach to the Akali demands worsened the situation. That culminated in the escalation of the Khalistan crisis, boodshed and tragically, Ms Gandhi’s assassination.

    Narendra Modi though has taken this game to extreme lengths, in effect transforming a federal polity into an elected autocracy. Essentially copying the Indira Gandhi playbook, Modi has sought to transform India into a one party country. The Hindutva card perhaps gives Modi better chances of succeeding in that quest than Ms Gandhi in North India. But, Punjab, the Southern states, North East, Kashmir are not likely to swallow the Hindutva cyanide pill. The many fissures and fault lines in India are going to manifest themselves as the economy goes to dogs; capital flight intensifies; militant, violent Hindutva replaces Hinduism; pseudoscience such as cow science makes India the laughingstock of the world. After all, as Modi had predicted, banging vessels on balconies and lighting diyas did not halt the virus did it ?

    Unless, PM Modi respects the federal infrastructure of India, in particular the 7th Schedule and also takes States on board as EQUAL partners, he risks not only imperilling the population, but also the very unity of the country. But alas, the COVID crisis for Modi is an opportunity to expand his brand of divisive, deadly politics, the nation and the people be damned. Not very different from the other Howdy Modi demagogue Donald Trump.

    • Asinine comment.

      What little is left to State Govts like running hospitals and enforcing Covid behaviors they are failing miserably and instead people want to give sermons on Federalism?

      Why have all these useless CMs who give sermons on foreign relations but cant control if their own people wear masks or their hospitals have beds?

      But they want “vaccines” ? When vaccines were being defamed and questioned ? Called “Modi vaccine” and unsafe vaccine? People get what they deserve – the Modi Govt has fulfilled its responsiblity by providing PPEs, ventilators, licensed drugs to be manufactured in India and even approved 2 vaccines in record time despite navel gazers and fools quibbling over minutea. It has provided them FREE to frontline workers and subsidized it to the masses.

      Yet , our miserable and ungrateful wretches in India who cant be bothered with wearing a 5 ruppee mask properly want to examine the phase 3 data of Covaxin !? They want no lockdowms, plenty of vaccines and Covid relief packages – but won’t accept tax increases, high fuel taxes or even any personal responsibility??
      You get what you Fing deserve!

    • Even as an elected autocracy, India is unique : the PM relies not on the constitution but on the directions of an unelected body, the RSS. The RSS runs a state within a state. Like the army in Pakistan. The elected body, the BJP, is just a front for the RSS.

      ‘The many fissures and fault lines in India are going to manifest themselves as the economy goes to dogs; capital flight intensifies; militant, violent Hindutva replaces Hinduism; pseudoscience such as cow science makes India the laughingstock of the world.’

      They have already manifested themselves. It is just that BJP supporters are in denial, and they do not want to hold Modi or the govt. responsible, and they cannot bear criticism. In the current mess up, they ask what can Modi do, if the states don’t their do their bit, or the media don’t do their bit, or the people do not do their bit. Modi has been awarded a carte blanche, so you cannot ask whether Modi did his bit !

      The actual problem is Hindutva, and Modi is only a focal point. If he goes, someone with similar limited mentality like Yogi will replace. The problem is 50% of Indians bought into Hindutva, and the media bought into it (or rather were bought by Hindutva), ever since Advani advanced the case for getting things done using violent Hindu mobs. They have created a make-believe world where Hindus have been disadvantaged by minorities due to secular democracy (resentment politics), Hindus are now re-awakening and they will put down minorities if they don’t respect us in MY country, and greatness is being restored and we are the vishwa guru saving the world with vaccines (India is the pharmacy of the world). It is a mixture of self pity, inferiority complex and delusions. These are hall marks of a failing country. You don’t see such traits in Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, UAE or any aspiring country. Any corruption can be fitted in – demonetisation, Rafale, PM Cares – because Modi’s intentions are good and he has no family, he works 20 h a day, etc.

      ‘But alas, the COVID crisis for Modi is an opportunity to expand his brand of divisive, deadly politics, the nation and the people be damned. ‘

      I gauged from their initial approach to Covid that they will sink the country. The Markaz was taken as an opportunity to beat up Muslims. The BJP was frustrated with Muslims for resisting CAA-NRC, so it was an act of revenge. No country that is serious about tackling a health issue would have responded like that. Instead of threatening the Markaz people, they could have taken them into confidence. The BJP was so buried in their cesspool of hate, to notice a health crisis. Markaz had 3000 attendees, and it was before lockdown was formalised, so they were ignorant of the rule change ; at that stage, there were 500 infections daily; they arrested 233 of the Markaz people, and all were acquitted by the courts. Kumbh mela : 28,00,000 attendees; 1,70,000 cases daily; arrests 0. The minster explained this is different because it is OUR people. In other words, Hindus cannot spread Covid. This stems from the Hindutva ideology and brainswashing that teaches Hindus are entitled to do whatever in MY country. With that approach, we have a second wave of immense magnitude.

      The outside world is watching. The BBC and Jazeera and others have broadcast the Kumb scenes and correlated it with the second wave. It is bound to have a negative image for the country and investment. India will become the topper and other countries will be forced to put the vishwa guru on a red list. Now I get pathetic videos from the IT cell saying how scientifically the Kumb is being managed, how pilgrims are tested on arrival, and they are maintaining social distancing, and police and RSS are posted everywhere to maintain rules. This is their style of countering the negative image. Manufacture ‘positive news’.

      The pseudoscience such as cow science is thriving. Harsh Vardhan has commanded scientists to show significant progress in cow science for the 75th anniversary of independence. Other countries are looking for breakthrough in Covid science.

      • Blind men should stop giving lectures on vision. Modi govt had fulfilled what it was supposed to do in the first year, by ensuring vaccines /testing are made available in record time, Ensuring vaccination of state people was clearly the responsibility of respective Chief ministers and ensuring people follow safety rules, ensuring respective state hospitals was ramped up for oxygen and other required medications was certainly not Mod’s responsibility but individual states. Modi as PM cant plan for individual state responsibility and also to enforce rules are followed. Chief Ministers of delhi , Maharastra were the worst performers and since these are higly dense areas, it spread quickly to other states thru reverse migration.

    • There is something called state responsibility. Whatever little was left for the state govts to do, like ensuring vaccination, ensuring people follow covid safety precautions, they failed to handle. Modi’s fault was to give responsibility to individual states as he was being criticised for being autocratic. And his so called over eagerness to please all and prove he is all for federalism , proved too costly for India. He should have known, most of our chief ministers are incompetent. So where PM MODI succeeded in the first year as he handled himself with aid of experts, this time he failed cause he left it to the individual state chief minister and individual state machinery.

  3. There is nothing in the constitution to prevent state Governments from buying oxygen & vaccine.
    Infact as health is a state subject state Governments have that responsibility.

    Centre is supporting state Governments in possible means.
    If somebody wants to do petty politics, it is their job. No one can convince them

    • Mr KV Gopal: And just why the hell should Mr T.N. Ninan pay any heed to your “advice” ? After all, you do not say anything about your own credentials in either economics or politics to put yourself in a pedestal so as to advise others do you Mr KV Gopal ?

      • Likewise – Why in hell, Modi Govt should pay any heed to Mr. T N Ninan as he also has no experience in running a government? Therefore Keep shut and let Mr Modi do his work.

  4. Ninan is now critical of Modi, while his previous article expressed optimism on Modi’s plan for economic recovery. Like Shekhar Gupta, he oscillates between obeisance and discussing the reality. What made the course correction ?

    Is it only now that people have realised Modi and his entourage are not serious, never were and never can be ? I realised that from the way they handled Covid at the start of the the first wave. In the Markaz, the BJP saw an opportunity too good to be missed to bash Muslims. You cannot just blame Modi. The whole Modi media were engaged in it – Arnob, Sudhir Chaudury, Rahul Kanwal….The BJP’s IT cell was involved. And so where their bhakts and the public. It was an unprofessional approach, totally devoid of any serious planning to solve or foresee problems that Covid will bring. Contrast that with other countries. You do not have to be NZ or England. Just look at Kerala, they went about it professionally.

    Since the first wave, Modi handled it with a mixture of Hindutva inspired quackery (clapping pans, lighting lamps for 9 minutes, Covid papad etc. which Ninan recognises) and when the vaccine came, he used it to show off India is a world power (look we are the pharmacy of the world, we are not selfish like those westerners). We mistreat our people on Covid (minorities and ‘migrant’ labour) but want to pose as saving the world from Covid – which is just a cover up for the domestic mess the BJP created. Instead of planning for Covid, the govt. was preoccupied with CAA-NRC, fighting with students and women, and farmers, and getting into a tangle with China.

    In the final analysis, Hindutva and its acceptance by Indians is the reason India is in the vortex of this cesspool. Understood, Modi will stay another 3 years, and there is no recognisable opposition. Even so, unless Indians understand it is Hindutva that has sunk India, and its proponents are incapable of running the country, things will not improve. If you elect a chai wallah with a fake degree and only a pogrom as an achievement, what do you expect ? No other country is doing this.

    And yes, Congress or communists would have been more serious and would not have used Covid for Muslim bashing, and asked us to clap pans, light lamps for 9 minutes, shower petals with a plane and promoted Covid papad.

    • So many words to say nothing at all.

      You’re not impressing anyone, Akash, with your rabid anti-Modi hate. He’ll be re-elected in 2024, you can go crying back to your mommy.

      • There was no content in my message, but something troubled you to write a reply with no content !

        Bhakts say Modi gets stronger after every disaster for India. So you must be wishing for more disasters so your Fuhrer gets stronger.

  5. Blame all the Governments by all means. That is part of the job of the media in a democracy. In the same breath do not say that democracy is dead in India. Be real. The Governments by their nature have to take some blame, definitely.

    We the people, in a democracy, are always beyond reproach. Right? The media may not want to admit that it also has certain responsibilities like educating the public about their responsibilities, which it does not fulfill most of the time. Like road accidents are not always because the roads are bad or the traffic policeman was not doing his duty. Most accidents are the drivers’ fault. The sooner we the people (including media persons) also take more responsible for everything happening in the society, it will be better for the Nation. Be consciously aware of it and let there be no doubts on this.

    Besides highlighting the possible mistakes of the Government (in your “opinion” (which we all respect) ) also highlight the irresponsible behaviors of the public even if it includes you and me.

    Tail piece: “There are two types of people in this world; those who want to know and those who want to believe” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    • What has sunk India is Hindutva and not Covid per se. Other countries also have Covid, but they do not have chaotic, anti-science, primitive-minded people leading them.

      The media should have educated the people that India cannot be run with ‘Hindutva’, ‘Hindu first’ or Hindu theocracy. Instead, much of the media endorsed Hindutva. India is paying for it now.

      Much of the public embraced Hindutva and its baggage. Competition with minorities to show Hindu pride became the end-all, and even Covid was seen as an opportunity for that.

      It will not be minorities alone who will pay a price. Modi had said in an election that there should be more crematoria, and not just graveyards. His wishes have come true.

      You say public should also share the blame. Then they should accept Hindutva has brought India to this pass – in just 7 years. No point complaining about Nehru and 70 years. How many are willing to change ?

  6. who is not accepting lapses Mr Ninan gives examples of China and Isreal you got to be kidding me what is the population size of Isreal, and China will you believe anything that is coming there.
    Why didnt you mention Singapore how it has failed no country has done a good job, if maharashtra screws up it is Modi responsible if Kerala screwed up it is Modis responsibility.
    Mr Ninan and hil ilk at Business standard only love to be so sanctimonious. Yes things went wrong people are tired of pandemic but what about our vaccinated numbers 12 crores is that lousy, you guys vilified covaxin so lets be honest we all screwed up

  7. Can you please explain why do we need state governments if everything can be or has to be done by central government ? Just asking since you and your ilk blame Modi or his government for everything under the sun

    • The answer to your question may lie in Autonomy. For what all can the state government’s act independently without center’s permission/ intervention?
      e.g. can each State government have its own policy for purchase of vaccination? or Can they ask DRDO (DRDO is doing so currently in some states) to build COVID ICU centers in their states without consulting the Center or in a GST regime control its finances (inflows) or not have the power of not referring the case to the Supreme Court in times of emergency. There can be many more examples.
      Now I am not saying decentralization as a principle is violated only from the center or PM Modi. The State governments are culprits too, they too do not like to devolve power to the districts.

      In businesses, a CEO of a company fixes responsibility on the Heads of different units in a manner he/she chooses. These heads have a relationship with the directors/shareholders too but to the CEO is finally responsible. Similarly the State Governments in politics have relations with different organs of the “State” of media is a part. The Center, can act to align the States to its Vision . All this requires a lot of work.

      The relationship between the center and states (in due course districts and gram panchayats) is symbiotic. Our problems are managerial. The Head of the State is Accountable for Results externally to all of us outside of the government. What the center does in running the government is their ability to get things done.

      In case of COVID – it is about lives ( hospital beds, ICU units, medicines, oxygen and vaccinations) and livelihoods ( jobs, quality of life and no hunger).

    • Can you please explain why last year Modi took decision of lockdown at four hours notice without consulting state governments. When things go wrong you argue that states governments also responsible

  8. All Congress ruled states are performing badly on the
    Covid front. Their poor performance is pulling down India’s performance.

    • Not necessarily tru Pratik. The run rate has increased roughly from 110K-180K last 5 days excluding Maharashtra (55k to 67K). We can slice and dice the data statewide. It is indeed a national problem. Also this time around people are traveling. People are suffering. We may have to accept the reality as it – look at hard data. It is people’s problem, not of a political party. Anyone of us can get affected. Once 45plus are vaccinated, we do not know what the virus will do. The viruses generally adapt. It wants to survive too. What if moves in hordes to younger population? It will affect our children. 6 months ago it was about our parent s, now it is children. We will have to vaccinate fast. We have to. The administration and government has to respond. Numbers do not capture emotions, suffering, myopia and indifference.

  9. Irrespective of what Government does or doesn’t do, we have a real crisis daunting us; a crisis that overwhelms last year’s first wave scenario. Yes, the government needs to be vehemently criticized, the head of the nation more so; as the buck stops at the office of the Prime Minister of India. There is so much to criticize about the pompous boasting, self -congratulating mindset that blinded us from the inevitability of the arrival of the second wave. The consequent complacency is even more hurting now, as we realize that the critical space afforded to us on account of the downswing which commenced from September 2020 has been wasted and misused in election frenzies and religious congregations. We could have very well used this space in building up capacities to prepare ourselves against the calamities of the second wave. We thought rather irrationally that the second wave would escape us as we are the God’s ( if He exists) most favourite country. Alas, this all inevitably proved to be untrue. Was the second wave unpredictable? I don’t think so. We just had to visit pages of the Worldometer Coronavirus sites of various countries to know that second wave would be at least twice the size of the first. No one did that. Blaming the PM is an inevitable but inadequate response. We all have to firstly blame ourselves for the worst calamity in the century that we are confronting now. The only solution that appears to me is to bridge our divides and fight unitedly without playing any blame game, which would be the most futile exercise. Whether such unity would occur is a moot point. A necessary condition for this should be that the top leadership of the country should be candid enough to come forward and honestly accept the lapses. Most probably, this is not going to happen. Even the mildest criticism would be responded by showering vilification and abuses. We shall then again move in circles with the end nowhere in sight. This is a pessimistic view. But sadly, I can’t find anything better.

    • Very nicely written. Yes, I left India in 2007 and connected to some of the friends through social media – and agree with what you said – too much of pompous boasting and self congratulating mindsets (even among educated people) and they think that is the love for the nation. It all reflects on our actions and preparedness – and yadha praja thada raja

    • What you have said is mostly right.

      The problem is Modi, but it is more than that, it is Hindutva and its acceptance by India that has landed India in this mess. The RSS-BJP has a self destructive capacity, their energies are spent on making Indians fight, to give them power; and this is coupled with unscientific quackery, and unrealistic ambitions to be a world power. They are not like governments in other elected democracies.

      Any other govt. would have done better. Where Hindutva did not reign – Kerala- they were more professional and did a much better. They probably still will do better than Gujarat and UP if left alone.

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