Remind Modi and Shah that empty vessels make more noise

From Demonetisation, when he declared that if he were proved wrong in 50 days he should be burnt alive, to fighting the pandemic, his leadership has been boastful but pathetic

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah. (Express photo by Amit Mehra/File)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah. (Express photo by Amit Mehra/File)

Ranjona Banerji

Dehradun, where I live, is back in weekend lockdown mode. What this means, no one knows.

When the official lockdown began in March 2020, the promise from the Government of India was that the idea was to keep us safe from Covid-19 while the government improved and built up medical infrastructure to deal with the increase in infection levels once the lockdown ended.

The Prime Minister, never short on drama to connect with his votebank, made a reference to the Battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata and promised that the “war” against this coronavirus would be over in almost as many days.

Well. The first lockdown certainly kept the numbers of those affected down. The official numbers that is. But the deadline for the Battle of Kurukshetra passed and now it looks like this virus is going to last the duration of the entire epic, all 200,000 or whatever number of verses.

As an aside, Mr Modi had once bombastically asked the people of India to “burn me alive” if his despicable demonetisation scheme did not end corruption and luckily for him the people of India are kinder than his followers who have gone around lynching Muslims and Dalits for imagined transgressions over the past six years.

Between the third week of March and now, the numbers of those infected by Covid-19 in India has crossed one million or 10 lakh. We are now third on the list of most affected countries, after the USA and Brazil. Sadly, this is the only current statistic where India is on top of the world thanks to the unbelievable incompetence of the Modi government.

Together with these rising figures come horror stories of bodies abandoned by roadsides and in pits, of bodies piling up in morgues, of death rates being manipulated so that people with “co-morbidities” who have died because of the virus are shown as non-COVID deaths or shown as “discharged”. As we know, at the best of times, our record-keeping is easily manipulated. It’s not hard to imagine what happens when you have a government only interested in publicity and self-glorification.

If I am being harsh, consider that Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently claimed that the whole world is “appreciating” India’s efforts to fight the virus. There is no clear proof of this and even if there was, so what? The only evidence that India can see is a Centre that has shrugged off responsibility and handed that over to the states, which are already struggling with lack of money and resources.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the other hand came up with this absurd argument that fighting the virus in India is a “people’s movement”. Either this is an admission of complete dereliction of duty or extreme delusionary behaviour. What sort of a government sees a global pandemic as a “people’s movement”? In fact, when hungry, miserable, beleaguered people were on the road moving back to their homes in desperation, far from helping, the Centre went to the Supreme Court and claimed that no one was walking home.

Modi also boasted about India’s “recovery rate”. The trouble is, hidden amongst these figures, is a virus that leaves terrible after-effects which have to be dealt with by an already over-burdened health care system that is so stretched it has now crumbled. The medical community has been one of the worst hit and barring that tragic episode of banging pots and pans in their honour, the Centre has done almost zilch for them.

Meanwhile lockdown upon lockdown has practically destroyed a failing economy and not helped with virus containment. As India opened up, infection figures rose dramatically. So, containment zones in various cities, back to lockdowns in some states, night curfew arrangements elsewhere and our own return to weekend lockdowns here in Doon. This means that businesses and offices that started to open are back to scrambling.

The promised medical infrastructure to deal with the virus has not arrived, at least not at the scale that a country the size of India needs. The Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan kindly informed us this week that arrangements are in place to increase India’s testing capacities in 12 weeks. That’s in three months, which means that we will be where we are now as late as November. Vardhan was somewhat boastful of this timescale by the way.

The virus cannot be worse than such horrifying irresponsibility.

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