New Delhi hits a new low by denying Maharashtra vaccines and medicine

Maharashtra sought supplies of Remdesivir and other drugs but companies exporting them said they were under instructions not to sell to the state or risk cancellation of license, writes Sujata Anandan

New Delhi hits a new low by denying Maharashtra vaccines and medicine

Sujata Anandan

As I begin to write, I am rendered into the written equivalent of "speechless". There are no words that form in my mind to describe what I feel and think. I was never a Narendra Modi fan but even I would not have believed the level of incompetence and depths of amorality his government was capable of sinking into. Of course, it is obvious that the Modi version of the BJP is concerned only with Hindutva and politics.

There has been much çriticism about how they are being super spreaders with their patronage of the Kumbh Mela and election rallies in West Bengal. But while one might dismiss that as rank stupidity and callousness, how does one describe the Central government's efforts to starve states not ruled by the BJP of essential drugs, oxygen and other life-saving medical supplies? That could be nothing short of sinister.

Despite its best efforts, the BJP has not been able to take over states inimical to its ideology. Four of the five states going to polls this summer have steadfastly kept out the BJP. Assam, the only one of these five which has a sitting BJP government, has been so messed up because of the party's citizenship laws last year that there might be more hostility there than they had encountered at previous elections.

But it is Maharashtra which troubles them the most. There was no reason why the state should have defeated the BJP in October 2019 and there was no way three ideologically different parties could have come together to form a government in the state. And yet they pulled off this miracle both during elections and later during the government formation. Ever since BJP leaders, particularly former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has been like a child deprived of a prized toy, have been straining at the leash to displace the Maha Vikas Aghadi governent and form one of their own. But somehow, they are meeting with little success.

Despite all and every provocation, the novitiate chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has been winning hearts of the people with his understated calmness, dignity and ability to take all sections along. Before imposing a curfew across the state, he consulted all stakeholders and even took care to ensure that lowly daily wage earners, construction workers and others are not deprived of sustenance and even taken care of should they fall ill with Covid during the lockdown. So, in the face of universal appreciation of the compassion shown towards citizens - unlike last year's harsh lockdown – what does the central government do? It starves the state out of crucial life-saving medical supplies, including oxygen and drugs – I was appalled when Maharashtra minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik actually stated that the state government had sought supplies of Remdesivir and other drugs being exported by some companies and they refused to sell to Maharashtra on the ground that the Central government had threatened to cancel their licenses if they did so.

Now there are many layers and implications to that allegation if true. First, that the Centre cares little about its own citizens and allows export of life saving drugs ahead of saving lives of its own citizens. Second, and even more serious, it does not mind taking the lives of citizens of a state not governed by the BJP to penalise them for voting the party out of power in the state (there could be nothing uglier or more sinister than this) and thirdly, is having a government in a state more important than saving the lives of the people? It would seem so.

I must now admit that for all that the BJP keeps stating that nothing happened in the country for 70 years and Modi's penchant for being the first at anything, he has got a first – the most incompetent government of all times, the most uncaring and most cruel.

But why am I surprised? Those who elected Modi – and I am the first to avow I am not one of them – did not elect him to be competent, caring or kind. His intellectual supporters (many of who are now turning into detractors) may have wanted him to be competent so that they could justify his cruelty and lack of caring towards certain other sections of society. But they essentially elected him to bash up the minorities, propagate Hindutva and generally make them feel good about their own inferior selves. That the sheer lack of competence on the part of his government is killing them and their children off is either not a very significant point with them or else they are contented to die like flies if that means the minorities are being killed off too.

But now Modi is up against the fightback and competence of governments in states inimical to his party. Bengal is putting up a furious fight against the BJP, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have made it clear they care for all their citizens and there is no room in their states for bigotry. Maharashtra, on the other hand, where no election is due, is fiercely resisting the BJP's stepmotherly treatment with a combination of media exposè of its favouritism and marshalling of its own resources to make sure no one of its citizens suffers.

What impresses me most about Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is that despite his being a nativist party, he resisted the temptation for public celebrations of Shivaji Jayanti and the Maharashtrian new year Gudi Padva. There was no fooling oneself or the citizenry with statements like that of the Uttarakhand chief minister that God would protect the pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela from being infected with Corona virus. And how many pilgrims have already been infected by the virus? And didn't the head of an akhara die in a Dehradun hospital after being, infected with the virus? Other akharas pulled out of the Kumbh after that – obviously health (and life itself) is more important than Hindutva to those who practise the religion and not merely make a political show of it.

Meanwhile, the Modi government might take the time to contemplate how it could be threatened if it does not pull up its socks over its Covid management. Donald Trump was booted out of the United States not because of his right-wing policies but because his Covid management killed off many of his own supporters as well. Jair Bolsanaro of Brazil is in trouble and under investigation by the Senate for the same reason. The only right- wing leader of a democracy who managed to save his skin on time is Boris Johnson who has done a better job of Covid management in the United Kingdom than one had expected.

As for India, as both the shamshans and kabristans pile up with Covid bodies, if we still want to vote the BJP, I can only say, paraphrasing Euripides, dead men have no victory -- over Muslims, liberals, China, West Bengal or even their own bodies, racked by the Corona virus.

(The writer is a senior commentator. Views are personal)

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