At 6:31 am Friday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi began to speak at a public ground in Ranchi, Jharkhand about the benefits of yoga as a life-long discipline that must be cultivated by the body and mind. He inaugurated the 5th International Yoga Day with a live address on social media, announcing a special emphasis on #YogaForHeart.
In nearby Bihar’s Muzaffarpur – the distance between Ranchi and Muzaffarpur as the crow flies is about 300 km –children were still suffering from the deadly Acute Encephalitis Syndrome as the PM sat in vajrasana, his eyes shut as he focused inwards, then stood up, raised his open palms above his head, breathed in deeply, bent down and exhaled.
The smell of death is strong in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur, as my colleague Nandita Singh reports, its shadow just around the corner.
As of 21 June morning, when PM Modi and the world celebrated International Yoga Day, more than 120 children had died from the disease, their thin and malnutritioned bodies unable to deal with what is locally known as the “chamki bukhar”.
But there was not one word by Modi on the ongoing health crisis in Muzaffarpur.
Certainly, it was too early in the morning. In any case, Yoga Day had just begun. Yoga helps streamline your life, said Modi, in comments before the commencement of the mass exercises. “Shanti, sadbhava aur samanvaya vaali zindagi bitaane main madad karta hai,” he added. It helps maintain peace, wellness and balance in your life.
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On the @narendramodi Twitter timeline, since the Prime Minister returned home from Bishkek on 14 June where he met a galaxy of world leaders, there have been 30 posts around and about yoga – out of a total of 56 posts. Many are animated videos of Modi himself, performing a variety of asanas. Several are tweets and retweets of photos from various parts of the world where Yoga Day is being organised, including by Indian embassies. Peru. New York. Azerbaijan. Kathmandu. Kandy.
The world is being connected through yoga, via LinkedIn as well, and Modi is its sutradhar.
Of the remaining 26 posts since Bishkek on Twitter – as well as Facebook, his own NaMo page and app – here’s what the PM has been doing :
There are two posts on the brand new Mann ki Baat, one letter to all sarpanches, four posts on a meeting with NITI Aayog, two posts on an all-party meet, one post of him speaking at the start of the monsoon session of Parliament, a message on the ideals and vision of Sant Kabir, taking the oath on 17 June, felicitating newly nominated BJP working president J.P. Nadda, lauding Navbharat Times for its positive news, wishing Rahul Gandhi on his birthday on 19 June, speaking in Parliament, meeting presidents of all political parties (on matters like ‘one nation, one election’, marking Bapu’s 150th anniversary and the development of aspirational districts), greeting President Ramnath Kovind on his address in Parliament, tweeting to cricketer Shikhar Dhawan that he will be missed, and two posts on meeting MPs over dinner.
But Modi has remained very quiet on the Muzaffarpur encephalitis outbreak.
If you were to get your news by just following Modi on his social media accounts, you would have no clue that one of India’s worst health crisis in some years has been unfolding over the past week.
Certainly, Modi sent health minister Harsh Vardhan to Muzaffarpur on 16 June, after which NDA partner and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar also visited the hospital where children have been dying. Irate parents have called for Kumar to resign.
But we still don’t know what Modi’s plans are. Whether he has given orders to the Union health ministry – which has, in the last few days, formed a committee to inquire into the reasons of the outbreak – on how to control it, whether someone has spoken to the World Health Organisation or whether he has called Nitish Kumar asking about the situation.
What is this terrible, horrible silence in Muzaffarpur that has got everyone so badly tongue-tied, including the prime minister?
Is this about politics, the fact that Nitish Kumar is in coalition with the BJP and that it is anathema to publicly criticise your own? Is this because the MP from Muzaffarpur, Ajay Nishad, is from the BJP and because he won a closely fought election, he cannot be taken to task by the BJP?
Here’s more. Ajay Nishad has not rushed back to his constituency where children have continued to fall ill all through the week, but remained in Delhi. As he told ANI, “It is to be seen how the number of deaths be brought down to zero. I believe that we should concentrate and work on 4G – Gaon, Garmi, Gareebi and Gandgi (village, heat, poverty, dirt). This disease (acute encephalitis syndrome) is somewhere connected to these factors.”
It seems as if Nishad knows PM Modi likes acronyms, because they make complex and wordy ideas simple. Certainly, the Muzaffarpur MP is a good student.
One must now ask what the PM thinks of him and his continued absence from his own constituency? If governance is going to be Modi’s byword this term, perhaps he should begin with Muzaffarpur. The people who have brought him to power on such a huge mandate – and some of whose children are now dying because of 4G reasons – expect nothing else.
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