For an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, Arvind Kejriwal doesn’t seem to believe in the sanctity of numbers—that is if it comes in the way of his politics.
How else do you explain the huge discrepancies in the number of official deaths and those reported by Covid-designated hospitals, and cremation and burial grounds? Or the random increase or decrease in containment zones—from 102 in April end to 64 last Thursday and 86 two days later. This fluctuation in containment zone count is happening when the national capital has been witnessing a consistent spike in the number of coronavirus infections.
Incidentally, Kejriwal claimed in a TV interview early this month that 60 per cent of the deaths in Delhi were in three containment zones only.
But when it came to validating the claims, neither he nor his office had any details to offer in response to queries from ThePrint.
To be fair to Kejriwal, he is not the only chief minister who is equivocating about the facts and figures relating to the spread of the coronavirus. No CM wants to be seen as failing to contain the pandemic and this has prompted many of them to discourage aggressive testing.
Last week, Kejriwal government issued an order against conducting Covid test on dead bodies in violation of the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Why should the dead be allowed to worsen the fatality ratio for Delhi, which stands at 1.94 per cent or 261 deaths out of 13,418 positive cases as on Sunday?
Truth is, the mortality rate would itself become worse if one were to factor in the death figures from Covid designated hospitals, and cremation and burial grounds. Besides, like his West Bengal counterpart, Mamata Banerjee, Kejriwal also set up a death audit committee that lists Covid deaths only when the primary cause is coronavirus infection, and not in case of co-morbidities. The West Bengal government virtually wound up the committee after a Central team sought medical history of the cases, but Kejriwal has continued with it. These omissions tell the story behind the low mortality rate in Delhi.
And the blame game
These numbers also reflect the administrative skills of the child of the ‘revolution’ (Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement) that never was. Confronted with massive public health and economic challenges, Kejriwal has gone about trying to shift the blame on to others–from tacitly approving the Centre’s action against four Delhi government officials for what was obviously a political call to allowing migrant workers to gather at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal to a poorly disguised attempt at blaming hospitals and other institutions for discrepancies in Covid death data.
About two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told the nation that if the Mahabharat battle was won in 18 days, the one against coronavirus would take 21 days, Kejiwal assured Delhiites that with Lord Hanuman’s blessings, the human race would soon find an effective “sanjeevani” to treat the virus. A few days later, he exhorted them to spend half-an-hour every day to read one chapter of the Gita.
Meanwhile, he is reading out another set of numbers to showcase his government’s relief efforts, too. He maintains that the government has given free ration to 1 crore people, half of Delhi’s population.
It flies in the face of a survey by Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, a food rights group, on 28-29 April, which suggested that only 30 per cent of the fair price shops in the city were functional. In a plea to the Delhi high court, the NGO also complained of lack of transparency, pointing out that the government was uploading on its portal only the number of ration card holders without giving out their names or the amount of foodgrains given to them.
Kejriwal has chosen not to react to Union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s claim in the first week of May that out of the allotment of 36,367 tonne foodgarins for Delhi under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), “less than 1 %”—63 tonnes—was distributed among 12,600 beneficiaries.
But that wouldn’t deter Kejriwal from throwing more numbers. On 12 May noon, he invited suggestions from the people on what they thought should be the relaxations in lockdown, effectively giving them a little over 24 hours as they had to do it by 5pm the next day. The chief minister announced on 14 May that he had got 5 lakh suggestions. Lo and behold. Within the next two days, the government had studied and vetted all five lakh suggestions and submitted its recommendations to the Centre. It had to be the sheer genius of Kejriwal, if not a magical feat.
Numbers are key to Kejriwal’s politics
Big numbers have defined the politics of engineer-turned-income tax officer-turned-activist-turned-politician. In his third avatar, as anti-corruption activist, Kejriwal would cite scams worth hundreds and thousands of crores involving top politicians and industrialists. But those were the days when big numbers, especially those suggesting scams, could make you a hero in politics. Remember then CAG Vinod Rai’s ‘Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G scam’? Although nothing came out of it eventually, Rai went on to run the Board of Control for Cricket in India as head of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, which did much to his bank balance but precious little to the cause of cricket.
Nothing came out of all the allegations levelled by Kejriwal, too. But he went on to become the Delhi CM. By early 2018, he was on an apology spree to buy peace with late Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Kapil Sibal’s son and Bikram Singh Majithia, among others. Kejriwal was reeling off other numbers now—the amount of free water, free electricity, and so on.
Coronavirus has now turned his politics of numbers upside down as he looks desperate to keep the count low, even if he has to emulate the ‘Mamata Banerjee model’ of Covid management. The IITian seems to be getting caught in his own web of numbers. He can, however, count on the support from Narendra Modi government. The Centre had sent teams to West Bengal to what turned out to be a well-publicised and successful attempt to expose Mamata Banerjee’s attempt to suppress Covid data. Kejriwal government’s Covid data raises more questions, but the Centre has chosen to look the other way. It’s not for nothing that the Delhi CM has earned the sobriquet of ‘Chhota Modi’ with his party often called the ‘B team of BJP’.
Views are personal.