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Covid tsunami sinks India as Modi's image takes a beating

Spiraling cases and deaths across the country have silenced the PM's cheerleaders and diehard admirers

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: April 26, 2021 10:29 AM GMT

Updated: April 26, 2021 12:21 PM GMT

Covid tsunami sinks India as Modi's image takes a beating

A man from an NGO wearing a helmet resembling the coronavirus moves around a market urging people to follow safety protocols during an awareness drive in Siliguri, West Bengal, on April 25. (Photo: AFP)

The second wave of Covid-19 has come as a forewarning for India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The spiraling cases and deaths across cities and towns, making India currently the world’s worst pandemic-affected country, have now apparently silenced Modi’s cheerleaders and diehard admirers.

His critics are already predicting doomsday. Many have gone vocal demanding the prime minister's resignation. On social media and in general discussions, the refrain is that the limit of good governance under Modi has been reached.

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This is the first time Modi has been on the receiving end and he may have to pay a political price. It is also the first time that India has experienced a catastrophe of such magnitude.

Thus, it may not be wrong to suggest that it would be far from easy for Modi to remake and reshape the politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), say some skeptics. And the skepticism has come not without good reason.

The pro-Hindu BJP and Hindu groups that support it have been successful in projecting Modi as a macho Hindu leader standing up to arch-rival Pakistan, Muslims and even against corruption.

I have a sad apprehension of what will happen to India and its people if the present devastation in hospitals and health care is allowed to continue

But the troubles have multiplied in 2021, his seventh year in office, as the second wave of the pandemic with mutant variants has started taking people's lives. Worse, it has exposed the entire illusion of Modi’s good governance, making things tougher for those in hospitals.

With close to 340,000 new coronavirus cases daily and more than 2,000 people dying every 24 hours, the situation has become too tumultuous for Modi, the leader of Hindutva or Hindu nationhood.

The daily increase in cases has forced many Indians to raise their eyebrows about the governance efficiency of Modi, hitherto considered the superhero and a catalyst of good governance.

"I have a sad apprehension of what will happen to India and its people if the present devastation in hospitals and health care is allowed to continue," laments 46-year-old office worker Bharti Sinha in Delhi.

The situation worsened quickly to a crisis in India owing largely due to a national apathy toward following mandatory Covid-19 protocols.

"Everyone from the prime minister to opposition parties to state governments and the Election Commission and even the media are to be blamed,” says lawyer Dushyant Dave in New Delhi.

Elections were conducted in four Indian states in March and April, allowing political leaders to address massive rallies and gatherings. Thousands gathered in violation of Covid-19 protocols and without vaccination.

The callousness was virtually at every level. The federal government and authorities in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand state allowed the Kumbh festival, a mass bathing ceremony in the River Ganges, just to placate Hindu sentiments.

Hindu pilgrims then traveled back to their villages and towns, mostly passing through the national capital, making the Kumbh a super spreader.

With a mutant variant of the virus, thousands began to fall ill and sought medical attention for breathlessness. They were walking into a hellhole as hospitals in Delhi and other major cities have run short of medical oxygen and beds.

"As the leader of 1.4 billion people and given his 2019 massive mandate, the prime minister owes an answer," says Congress leader Ilyas Qureshi in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat, a badly hit state.

Disaster is a federal subject — there was control all over but no purposeful planning

In January, Modi proudly declared at the virtual World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue that under him the country had “not only solved our problems [pandemic crisis] but also helped the world fight the pandemic.”

Within a fortnight in mid-February, BJP national leaders met in Delhi and adopted a resolution hailing Modi's leadership for "defeating" Covid. Modi was credited with giving "able, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership.”

The focus had shifted to rhetoric and credit-seeking ventures, and real tasks were lost in the din. The strategy to deal with the pandemic at national level in a centrally controlled manner also proved to be wrong.

"Disaster is a federal subject — there was control all over but no purposeful planning. But health is very much a state subject and here too there were fault lines," says political observer Vidyarthi Kumar, adding that ensuring enough oxygen was essentially the state's responsibility.

The failure of opposition parties and state governments cannot be underestimated either.

"The enthusiasm to take credit by the BJP was premature and uncalled for. Instead of a self-righteous declaration, the prime minister and his government should have focused on preparedness because the second wave of a pandemic is a well-known phenomenon. This was a criminal offense. It was a man-made crisis," says Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal and leader of a local party, the Trinamool Congress.

Analyst Vidyarthi Kumar says: "There was complacency and politics. When the second wave came, it first crept into three non-BJP-ruled states — Punjab, Kerala and Maharashtra. So, while foreigners and foreign travel by Indians were taken as one reason, elsewhere people ignored it.”

BJP leaders even slammed these state governments, forgetting that the virus does not differentiate between state borders or political parties.

There was another mix of arrogance and ignorance. Through the entire winter season, from November to March, hundreds of farmers sat outside on a Delhi road protesting against three farm laws as if they were immune to Covid-19.

The entire country started falsely believing that India had “defeated” Covid. Social distancing disappeared and, in smaller hamlets and poll-bound states, people did not even recognize the existence of the pandemic.

"Life became normal and usual. Big birthday parties and marriages became the order of the day in Delhi during winter. It was presumed that all was well and the Indian immune system and masala-rich [spicy] food provided them an immune system found nowhere in the world,” says Ghulam Khalid, a resident of Delhi.

However, the issue is not simply about common people's antipathy to precautions. It also came from administrative lapses and unfounded claims of defeating Covid-19.

“More so because shortages of medical oxygen and beds were not expected from a prime minister who came to power in 2014 promising good days ahead," says Delhi-based trader Kishore Chand.

"My uncle died because he could not get admission in a hospital. They said they had no beds. After we arranged to get a bed paying a hefty amount, there was no oxygen.”

Many Delhi residents in recent days have complained of long queues outside cremation grounds and graveyards.

For an image-conscious leader like Modi, these scenes do not augur well, particularly when global media speak about them.

The speed and ferocity of the second wave have exposed a string of missteps at the start of the year

Time magazine wrote that faced with the "tsunami of infection," India has been pushed to the brink of collapse.

“The speed and ferocity of the second wave have exposed a string of missteps at the start of the year, repeating the mistakes of 2020 and making new ones," it said.

Apparently, Modi’s administration is still on a faulty path of diagnosis of the malady.

The ruling BJP’s powerful supporter RSS, the radical Hindutva organization, in a statement said: "It is possible that destructive and anti-India forces in the society can take advantage of these adverse circumstances to create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust in the country."

Meanwhile, the federal government has chosen to target critics on social media.

At the request of the government, Twitter has “withheld” some tweets from Congress leaders such as Pawan Khera and others.

The government also admitted that it has asked to block tweets of some of its critics. Is Modi still banking on the spin doctors and their media and headline management strategies to save his image and win elections?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

VIDEO: India's Covid woes worsen amid oxygen shortage

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