At a time when Indians want to queue up to get vaccinated as fast as possible, the Narendra Modi government’s health ministry is boasting about the number of “SMS successfully delivered” and giving us poetry — “Safai, Dawai, Kadai, Jeetenge corona se ladai”.
Then there is the captain of the ship facing a massive Covid wave — Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. But his Twitter timeline for the past few weeks is rainbows and sunshine. He is playing a completely different numbers game and throwing out fast data to drown your questions. The accuracy of official data and the relevance of the data we are being given, however, has been called into doubt by many experts.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said it was sad to see the health minister “occupy alternative reality while the nation gasps for breath & the world sees Indians suffering.” Imagine if Dr Fauci was boasting about SMS’ sent in the US. Others called for our health minister’s resignation on social media platforms.
Also read: Collapse of the ‘vishwaguru’ in 60 days
Twitter stalking Dr Harsh Varshan
On 28 April, when India recorded over 3,000 deaths for the second day straight, our health minister tweeted a colourful graphic about the CoWin website, which is being used to book vaccine slots, and how it has successfully sent out 1.45 crore text messages. A true Marie Antoinette moment.
Pleased to note our world-class Co-WIN platform ensured smooth rollout of beneficiary registration for Phase 3 of world’s #LargestVaccineDrive
In just first 3 hours:
🔸80L+ people registered
🔹1.45 cr SMS successfully delivered
🔸38.3 cr API hits recorded@PMOIndia @MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/ZpUehAFMm4
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) April 28, 2021
Then on 1 May, when vaccinations opened up for the 18+ group, Dr Vardhan was praising his “friend” Anupam Kher’s tactless column on rising together against adversity.
The need of the hour is to fight this crisis as one, with a spirit of cooperation.
Must read this piece by my dear friend Sh @AnupamPKher Ji calling for an end to the ‘find & feast approach’ by people pushing vested interests in these unprecedented timeshttps://t.co/Q6ctBUGGQT
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) May 1, 2021
Since then, Harsh Vardhan has not commented or tweeted about the rising cases or deaths in India — just the number of vaccines, texts, and tests. According to government numbers, India crossed 4,00,000 daily cases for the first time on 30 April — the first country in the world to do so. And on that day, the health minister tweeted about vaccines, “steady rise in daily recoveries”, aid from the US and UK, and mild Covid cases, among other things. But he never acknowledged that India had crossed a massive threshold in terms of case count. And not in a good way.
Even when social media was full of cries about patients unable to get beds, medicines and oxygen, his timeline did not reflect any of the anguish that the rest of the country was facing.
People were live-tweeting their own deaths but Harsh Vardhan was busy celebrating marginal increases in vaccinations — all in colourful and rather garish graphics. His timeline is almost a brochure now for the health ministry, never mind the pandemic.
At one point, between 7 and 8 May, there was an increase of barely 2 lakh in vaccination numbers. But in usual fashion, it was promoted like some big accomplishment.
💉Cumulative #COVID19Vaccine doses administered exceed 16.73 Cr
🛡3.18 Lakh recoveries recorded in last 24 hours
⛑️Global #COVID19 relief material promptly distributed among States & UTs by GoI to strengthen their healthcare infra@PMOIndia @MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/qZMvhPZoYp
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) May 8, 2021
💉Cumulative #COVID19Vaccine doses administered in India exceed 16.71 Cr
💉More than 21 L vaccine doses administered today
💉More than 2.96 L beneficiaries from the age group 18-44 Vaccinated till 8 PM today#Unite2FightCorona #IndiaFightsCOVID19 pic.twitter.com/uz8if7wiEy
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) May 7, 2021
And this continues, the numbers that matter to Harsh Vardhan are vaccinations, testing and foreign help. All of these are important, no doubt. But instead of any meaningful data such as the rate of increase in vaccinations or testing, or which state has got what from the foreign aid we’ve received, or the vaccinations as percentage of population, we are celebrating wins that aren’t actually there. That’s what led to this terrible second wave — complacency and a misplaced sense of victory.
For a country that is suffering from its worst wave of the pandemic and an extremely high positivity rate, testing has been around 18 lakh for the past one week at least. (Something the health minister’s Twitter handle heralded as “India crosses a major landmark”). But there is a need to augment testing by a lot.
Every day, the health minister posts about the number of vaccines handed over to states and the vaccinations carried out but since 1 May, he has not talked about the fact that several districts are yet to start inoculating the 18-45 age group, especially in south India. And those that have started, play a game of fastest-finger-first for vaccine slots. Or that many above 45+ are struggling to get a slot for their second dose. Or that people are paying exorbitant amounts for these life-saving vaccines.
He has not even acknowledged that the country is facing an oxygen crisis. And yet, every little move the government makes to increase oxygen resources is publicised in full HD. Including a slow-mo drone shot of a train carrying a tanker of oxygen.
Working on war footing!
Another oxygen generation plant funded through #PMCARES operational. This one at RML Hospital, Delhi.
Thank you @DRDO_India for the quick, efficient & precise assistance. @PMOIndia #Unite2FightCorona https://t.co/ffUjWUFydf
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) May 6, 2021
Functioning like a
well-oiled machine!#COVID19 relief material received from Global Community is being efficiently allocated & expeditiously delivered by GoI to States & UTs…https://t.co/8AzHvcV0BK@PMOIndia @MoHFW_INDIA #Unite2FightCorona #IndiaFightsCorona
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) May 6, 2021
Also read: ‘Oxygen crisis to attacks on doctors, who is going to control this’: IMA asks govt to ‘wake up’
All in a day’s tweet
Stressed after reading all this? Eat dark chocolate with 70 per cent cocoa to reduce Covid-related stress — as recently recommended by Harsh Vardhan.
At this point, everything is about image restoration for the Modi government.
So, Harsh Vardhan, the health minister during India’s worst health crisis, tweets about PM Modi’s achievements, takes jabs at former PM Manmohan Singh in letters, talks about election victories, and attends the launch of Ramdev’s Coronil.
In all this, the people of the country have been left to fend for themselves, and are doing it to the best of their abilities.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)