COVID crisis and the silent PM: Are we losing both the battle and the war?

Every distressing crisis seems to come in handy for our institutions to do little barring consolidating their own position. But it is the silence of the PM and the Govt which is even more unnerving

PM Modi (Photo Courtesy: social media)
PM Modi (Photo Courtesy: social media)

Ranjona Banerji

The numbers are up as far as the rate of infection goes.

The numbers are way down as far as the Indian economy goes.

The numbers of people who have been declared dead by the virus remains low but the numbers of those lost to “co-morbidities” remain high and the numbers at mortuaries, crematoria and cemeteries do not match any other numbers.

India has now crossed over 300,000 known infections. I stress on the word “known” because we have not had enough testing, so we really don’t know how high the numbers are.

Meanwhile, we’ve opened up, but we remain shut. Across India, different rules, different policies. We see infections increasing as people start to mix more with each other. But don’t you dare suggest that we are in the community transition phase, because that can never happen in India!

And of course, the great Centre remains silent. Except for occasional public relations exercises to tell us that everything is fine, that the Modi government has done everything and more and no one in India has suffered at all.

We were promised by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the first lockdown that the fight against COVID 19 would end in 21 days because the battle of Kurukshetra ended in 18 days. It is not possible to argue with the BJP when it pulls out mythology and epics. But this we do know: the battle against this coronavirus did not end in 18 days or 21 days. It’s now two and a half months and there is still no sign of any battle being won anywhere.

Actually, come to think of it, apart from this “battle” against a virus, which is a medical condition not a war zone, there is a sort of war zone situation that has developed in Ladakh, with incursions by Chinese troops. But we are not allowed to talk about that either.

First we had denial, then we had international murmurings, then we denied the murmurings, then there was too much evidence, then we downplayed it, then we said although we had denied the international murmurings there had been murmurings and we were part of those murmurings, then we said we were in talks, then we said all was settled, then it turns out all is not settled and on and on we go.

The problem of the migrant workers, whether on their long arduous trek home and their suffering en route, we no longer really talk about that any more. The states are to blame, the workers themselves are to blame, the opposition parties are to blame. Everyone else is to blame but for the authority that escalated the problem in the first place: the Centre.

As many of the workers have now reached home, the Supreme Court which stayed away for too long now steps in and confuses matters further. It has given the Centre a timeframe to send the workers home.

But now that industries are re-opening, the demand for workers has begun. There is a massive economic cost here. The cost of human misery of course remains someone else’s responsibility.

In that great battle of 21 days, we were asked to indulge in a number of pointless gimmicks. But the basic promise of pumping up medical infrastructure while the populace was in lockdown remained unfulfilled. We careered from lockdown to lockdown and yet, nothing was done.

The basic question of public and private healthcare working together was not addressed. The result has been criminally high charges and an acute shortage of hospital beds. And the most important of all: India’s healthcare workers stretched to their maximum capacity. Doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff have put in superhuman efforts and have still not even received basic equipment with which to work. Healthcare workers have been amongst the worst affected by the virus and yet have had to be at the frontlines, dealing with an illness for which there is no cure yet. They have received little help and plenty of abuse.

Crisis or no crisis, pandemic or no pandemic, we did have plenty of time for politics of course. Pulling down governments, election campaigning, collecting money for future campaigns and publicity stunts: no one can say that the BJP is ever caught short when it comes to increasing its political capital. The cost to the nation and to society be damned.

It’s like we’re trapped on a perpetual treadmill, like hamsters in cages, moving and getting nowhere.

Actually, scratch that analogy. It’s getting worse. Whichever way you look at it.

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