As the second wave of Covid-19 hit India, Indians ran from pillar to post to get hospital beds, ambulances, oxygen, ventilators, Remdisivir, and many other essential supplies, except the leaders of the ruling party including the Home Minister and the Prime Minister of the country who were running from pillar to post with their ‘Didi o’ Didi’ campaigns.
This was not only offensive to the people close to the ruling party in Bengal, but also to the people who were suffering to find essential items for survival during the second wave of the pandemic even as Narendra Modi left the job of the Prime Minister for several hours a day the whole of March and April, and donned the role of an election pracharak campaigning as India struggled to breathe.
Not only that, the Prime Minister went on to the extent of publically displaying his affection for huge crowds, breaking all Covid protocols as he rallied for his party in the state of West Bengal, while people of his country were dying a slow death.
No one in the national leadership of the country gave enough information about the arrival of a second wave or any warning of the Delta variant’s deadly effects until it was too late and many of us lost our parents, our families, our loved ones.
What and whom did the Prime Minister lose? 3 State elections and the National Vice President of his party who returned to the TMC fold, that’s it. So, when the Prime Minister cried once again, an event that occurs every year since 2014, one could understand our hostility to the man who left us in the lurch, struggling for life-saving equipment and drugs, many of which were taxed exorbitantly and only got relief 15 months after the Covid pandemic hit India.
The vaccines were not ordered before January 2021 while several countries not only placed orders but also funded the research and development of the vaccines in July 2020 itself, half a year before India, the world’s second most populated country.
Further, the lack of political will and administrative competency led to a policy incapacity when it came to designing and drafting a vaccine policy for Covid 19, resulting in weekly and often daily amendments to the Vaccine Policy, resulting in delays in ordering vaccines and alienating the agenda of ‘nationalism’, ‘patriotism’, and ‘India first’ (all of which were dear to this government) for the first time since 2014, exporting the vaccines to other countries without having vaccinated their own.
An abandonment of not only the agenda of nationalism but also the duties of the Prime Minister, contrasted with US policy of vaccinating their own first while also banning exports till the US was out of devastating effects as India would face in April, displayed a complete lack of professionalism from bureaucrats and administrators as well.
During the pandemic, Narendra Modi’s abandonment of his people for electoral benefits for his party showed the country his commitment to ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’.
It is only BJP first for him and his followers, for if the world’s biggest party had really gone to help its citizens, shared information regarding the pandemic, India would not have struggled to breathe. All that was needed was a political will and postponement of elections.
So when the Madras High Court critiqued the election commission, it is only true that the election commission is responsible and is culpable. In the elections, India lost more than 3 lakh people according to the government’s own data. Who won?
Many would remember the health minister’s declaration that ‘we are in the endgame now’ of the pandemic, in January 2021. A few months later, Narendra Modi declared that we have won the war of Covid 19 in India without vaccines. This was the month of April. The Prime Minister with all his resources, his power, and his brute successive majority in the Lok Sabha, could not see the incoming disaster.
When the disaster did strike in the form of the second wave, it still wasn’t enough to attract the PM’s attention. The disaster that claimed the lives of many. The man still could have urged the Election Commission to suspend the elections for the time being suggesting that he go back to his duty to which he took an oath to serve, that elections were secondary to people’s lives.
This, however, did not happen. At least an assessment of the situation could have taken place between senior officials of the ECI and the PMO, but how do you manage that when the leader of the country pranced off to Bengal and other states every other day to campaign.
The void of leadership in Delhi proved to be devastating for India’s functioning, which had already shown its incompetence in several areas ranging from the pre-mature celebration by the Health Minister in January, joined by the PM in April. In the series of incompetency, the Finance Ministry showed no signs of defiance either and joined the phenomenon right in.
The thirty-five thousand crores released by the ministry for procuring vaccines did not have a balance sheet and until the Supreme Court intervened, the country did not even ask questions to the government as to where did the money go, where was it spent and where are the vaccines. Where did the money go, indeed, because the center had decided that the states were to now procure vaccines for 18+ on their own?
Before June 12, 2021, the service to avail ambulances in India cost the Indian citizen a shocking 28% GST. Oximeters, life-saving drugs, ventilators, etc all were taxed in the high brackets of a mind-numbing GST regime. Even as the states and the citizens kept asking for a tax waiver, it has not still come, however, 15 months after the pandemic hit India, the government finally woke up and slashed the taxes for multiple drugs and medical equipment.
The vaccines that should have been provided free of cost to everyone since its rollout was made free after criticism from the Supreme Court and the public as well. This would have been nothing new because effectively, nothing is free as every person in India pays taxes (e.g. a 60% tax on a liter of petrol that costs Rs 100) even if corporate India and the richest of riches have seen tax relief and waivers by the Indian government. The whole scenario is a story of how the government milked the cow after it was already dead.
If the government had reduced taxes, built hospitals, increased oxygen production, listened basically, to its scientists and people on the ground instead of a top-down approach to policymaking and issuing Sarkari farmaans, the second wave would not have taken from us our loved ones.
The government was instead busy in elections, toolkits, breaking state governments, and managing its PR via Twitter handles of celebrities. Where was the Home Minister when our homes were on fire? Planning for the UP elections in 2022 with RSS members and the CM of UP. So much for patriotism and nationalism.
So much for Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikaas. Sabka Vishwas. 303 members of Lok Sabha. Where were they? What is the point of a majority if they keep blaming the opposition that does not even have 10% of total seats in Lok Sabha?
If one, as a citizen, is to seek accountability from the opposition, hope for them to work more than the elected government which was voted in with two successive majorities, why shouldn’t they just vote the opposition to power instead? Anyway, we ask more questions to Rahul Gandhi than Narendra Modi. Better to give him the power and then ask questions. At least he seems to be competent enough to hold regular press conferences and serve Amethi even if he’s incompetent enough to lose it.
The first step toward any mass inoculation is the process of gaining trust and spreading information. The government of India did neither. The states were not taken into confidence, and most of the policies during the past 15-18 months have been a top-down approach by the Sevaks, including the Pradhan Sevak in Delhi. Concerning vaccine education to the public, everything has rather been a PR exercise of the GoI and barely has educational value for the common public, penetrating the villages and panchayats.
The government still has no mass communication mechanism regarding vaccination information and benefits, resulting in fewer people going for vaccination.
This could have been prevented if the government at present in Delhi had learned from the history of Polio vaccination where the then government of India not only fought and overcame mass misinformation and achieved complete polio eradication but also till a few years ago had health workers going from home to home asking if there were children in homes and whether they had been vaccinated against not only polio but other diseases as well.
Hence, on the procedural part, when the people who do reach the vaccination centres, cannot be vaccinated because the vials can be opened up only when 8-10 people have reached as otherwise, it would result in vaccine wastage.
When the government opened up vaccination for 18+, the sheer lack of knowledge of ground reality in rural areas and competent administration led to a situation where people reaching vaccination centres couldn’t get vaccinated in the centres for lack of more people. While fewer people of the 45+ age group were going to get vaccinated, 18+ people who were more willing to get vaccinated couldn’t find enough vaccines and the centres for them remained closed due to vaccine shortage going back to vaccine short-sightedness of vaccine the Prime Minister’s government.
Resultantly, whenever less than 8 people were turning up for vaccination in the 45+ age group, they had to wait till the minimum requirement of at least 8 people was reached to open one vial of the vaccine. This sometimes led to old people often having multiple illnesses and ailments physically and mentally, and in case of a loss due to covid, even emotionally and financially, having to wait for hours to wait for the people to turn up.
On the other hand, when 8 people turned up, it meant that doses for 2 people would get wasted per vial of vaccine. This is something that I have witnessed in Central Government vaccination centres for the 45+ category.
All of this could have been prevented had the government come up with a strategy rooting from the bottom-up approach, by talking to the health workers and officials on the ground. Had that been done, the two doses wasted could have been given to those 18+ citizens running from pole to pole, health centre to health centre in search of the vaccine shot. However, this lack of coordination and policy shortcoming by the government of India resulted in huge vaccine wastage and lack of information among the masses, sometimes also leading to deaths.
What was lost, what could have been done, how many could have been saved are all questions those of us who have lost our loved ones ask daily. Yet expressing an opinion against the policies of the government attracts the illogical and organized attack from the designated trolls. To move forward from the pandemic would mean going together and acknowledging the fact that the government made a mistake. But to ask the government to admit that, would be as easy as surviving the pandemic without a ventilator.
Now with the economy in the ventilator, disastrous policy measures, and increasing inflation and taxes, we could not be optimistic anymore. Who would listen? The deaf in Delhi cannot hear. No one can hear the dead. As the Allahabad High Court remarked, things are ‘Ram Bharose’.