India’s COVID-19 situation is worsening daily. India will soon outnumber Russia with the world’s third-highest COVID-19 cases. A total 673,165 positive COVID-19 cases have been detected in India so far, out of which 19,268 patients died and 409,082 patients have recovered. By the end of July, the number is expected to reach a few million, which would be a healthcare catastrophe, not only for post-colonial India but also for the world, as with a large population, India can become a hotbed of infection, transmission and mutation of the COVID-19 virus. So far the government couldn’t offer a sustainable and substantial solution to the problem but mere rhetoric.
Though the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its digital propaganda ecosystem have been crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for purportedly curbing the COVID-19 menace with a “timely lockdown” –– though the exercise was the most brutal and inhuman one in the world –– the fact is that the infection curve didn’t flatten or fall due to the lockdown, rather spiralled higher than ever. While the lockdown was announced on March 24th evening, when the number of COVID-19 cases was 564, it was lifted, abruptly, when the number of cases reached 200,000.
Amid this pandemic and attempts to score brownie points by the prime minister and the BJP, the situation has been worsening in the states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, etc. The unbridled community transmission, lacklustre attitude towards conducting intensive testing and tracing, reliance on the private healthcare system and a lack of infrastructure and equipment have combinedly worsened the situation. But, neither Modi nor his coterie is worried about the consequences. Forget dealing with the issues, the government isn’t even acknowledging the existence of a crisis. As the number of deaths spiral at a lightning speed, the Modi regime, through its manoeuvres, shifted the public gaze to eastern Ladakh, where it opened a hustling arena with Chinese soldiers.
According to a mainstream Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, analysed by The Wire in May, there has been severe data mismatch between the number of deaths reported by the government and number of bodies cremated or buried. Not many efforts were made to refute this finding, especially in Delhi. It’s still unclear how many patients, asymptomatic and symptomatic, may have died due to COVID-19 infection but aren’t counted as the victims of the virus. Though the number of actual patients who died due to COVID-19 pandemic is uncertain, it’s definitely certain that the Indian administration has been involved in some sort of data manipulation.
There are doubts about India’s undercounting of COVID-19 victims and the lower death counts that Modi has been boasting over may be a result of a data gap. Recently Modi praised Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for controlling the pandemic efficiently. But the BJP-led Adityanath regime is accused of conducting fewer tests to ensure the number of infections remains low. A former IAS officer who raised this issue has been booked by the police under the direction of Adityanath. The BJP is keen to project Uttar Pradesh as a success story and Adityanath as an efficient administrator to pave his way to the helm of the country after Modi retires in 2025. The data manipulation and reduction in the number of tests are vital to suppress real infection information.
From the incessant spiking of COVID-19 infections throughout India, especially in the metro cities and tier-II cities, it can be fathomed that the “unlock” programme of the Modi regime has been a disaster. Now what’s required is huge spending in the public healthcare sector, nationalisation of the private healthcare sector, especially hospitals with over 50 beds and laboratories with multi-city branches, to ensure free treatment to all COVID-19 patients, building up of a comprehensive testing-tracing-treating framework and to control the pharma sector from using the worsening COVID-19 crisis to profiteer by selling unverified drugs and formulations.
It’s unlikely that the Modi regime will really do anything substantial to curb the pandemic, as it looks up to the US and the west for direction, countries which are themselves hovering in a dingle of absolute crisis. Rather than addressing this burning issue, the government is keen to spend Rs 380 billion on defence purchases as its tension with China escalates.
The US, which ignominiously failed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic due to the capitalist greed embedded in the private healthcare sector, its sole weapon to combat the menace, has prepared a Sinophobic template to shift the blame on Beijing for its own failures. The Modi regime is unquestionably following the same, and enriching the coffers of foreign weapon sellers by hyping the border tension with China at a time when it should have spent more in developing and upgrading India’s public healthcare sector.
On one hand, if there has been absolute incompetence in dealing with the pandemic at the decision-making level, which disarrayed the lower-rung healthcare workers, on the other hand, the urge to create favourable optics for the government, from hiding data to forcing to conduct vaccine research within a stipulated timeframe, is worsening the situation. The ICMR has issued an order to find a vaccine to COVID-19 by August 15th to ensure the prime minister can announce it during his Independence Day speech. Such an unscientific and inhuman temper will aggravate the crisis rather than addressing it.
India needs a politically mature and sensitive leadership –– collective in essence and functioning –– right now, which can do an in-depth analysis of the situation, derive solutions from the suggestions given by multiple experts and work democratically to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than being driven by hubris and a shrewd mentality, India badly needs a leadership that can dust the incompetence out of the system and stop India’s march towards the first place in the world in terms of COVID-19 infection. No wonder, such leadership can’t come from the right-wing eco-system at all, as fascists can’t be saviours in any circumstances.