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Governance in Shambles

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
03 May 2021

India is witnessing chaos, as the healthcare system is crumbling in most of the states of India, and the central government is clueless with regard to the acute shortage of medical oxygen, hospital beds and essential medicines. 

More than a medical emergency it is a humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our eyes. On April 26 Monday, the NDTV News reported, “Delhi running out of space for funerals amid record Covid deaths”. The average number of daily Covid deaths in the fourth week of April in Delhi was 304. The situation in many big cities of the country was not different from that of Delhi. 

People dying in hospitals in the absence of medical oxygen, and ambulances and vehicles carrying patients queuing up before hospitals are other shocking scenes highlighted by the TV channels. 

What we are witnessing in the country today is nothing but a breakdown of governance. In the words of P Chidambaram “governance- forecasting, scenario-building, planning, activity-mapping, resource allocation, provisioning, coordinating and implementing — has gone back to the primitive days of the chalk and blackboard, typewriter and ITI-made black telephones. The quality of governance has sunk to an abysmal low. The result is what we see around us — deprivation, debt, disease and death”.

What could be the cause of the anarchy that India witnesses today? There could be three immediate reasons and three general drawbacks of the Modi government that have resulted in the present chaos. Among the three immediate causes, the first one is the overconfidence of the Prime Minister and of the BJP government that India could defeat Coronavirus. This led to the neglect of precautions to be taken to face a possible second wave. The overconfidence and false pride were reflected in the statement of the Prime Minister that India had not only defeated the pandemic but had been an inspiration for other countries.  The Economic Survey 2020-21 (Vol.1) extolled India’s approach to containing the first wave of COVID-19 as “humane, evidence-based and informed by Nobel-Prize winning research”. It went on to predict that “the prospect of India facing a strong second wave is receding with the start of the vaccination this year”. 

The first part of the statement is an extravagant exaggeration, as the insensitivity of the Modi government was evident in imposing a strict nation-wide lockdown with eight hours’ notice and without any planning and preparation, and millions of migrant labourers walking thousands of kilometres from the metros to reach their villages and home towns in the absence of any kind of transport. The second part of the statement has proved to be absolutely wrong. 
    
In January, Modi proudly declared at the virtual World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue that under him the country had “not only solved our problems (Pandemic crisis) but also helped the world fight the pandemic”. Within a fortnight in mid- February, BJP national leaders met in Delhi and adopted a resolution hailing Modi’s leadership for “defeating” Covid. Modi was credited with giving “able, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership.” The focus shifted to rhetoric and credit-seeking ventures, and real tasks were lost in the din. 

The conclusion of the government- “receding prospect of a second wave”- was neither scientific nor evidence based. The blind devotees of Modi and the godi media celebrated flattening the curve. The immediate consequence was a laxity in COVID-appropriate behaviour in general and mask- wearing in particular. By the end of January everything appeared normal. The significance of mask wearing was neither conveyed clearly and widely, nor was mask-wearing strictly imposed.

The second reason is the downright failure of the government to implement Covid 19 protocols that are advertised day and night through various media. Modi and Amit Shah, the top leaders of the BJP, blatantly violated the Covid 19 guidelines while they addressed huge rallies in West Bengal. The Union government and Uttarakhand government committed a serious crime by allowing the huge gathering of Kumbh Mela in which more than three million people participated. 

The Election Commission is equally responsible for the present tragedy because of its incompetence to implement its own regulations. On April 23, the division bench of Calcutta High Court came down heavily on polling officials for not taking proper action to ensure Covid guidelines during voting and campaigning by political parties in the state assembly election.

The Madras High Court was more vehement in its reprimand of the Election Commission. "Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19. Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably," the Court said. The election body had failed to enforce Covid safety rules like masks, sanitizers and distancing during campaigning despite court orders, said the High Court. "Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held," Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee questioned. The Court even threatened not to allow counting of votes on May 2, if the EC fails to present a plan to enforce Covid rules. 

The third reason is the failure to accelerate the vaccination programme. The government claimed that India has the capability to vaccinate all its eligible citizens, besides helping other nations. The Modi government exported over 64 million doses of vaccine to 84 countries as part of vaccine diplomacy and to show that India is a ‘rising soft power’. Today in the wake of the rapid spread of the second wave of Covid 19, almost all states in India are not able to meet the demand for vaccines, and India is making arrangements for importing vaccines on an emergency basis. In the United States nearly 40% of the population has now gotten at least one dose of vaccine. India could vaccinate only 14 cores out of its 94 core adult population. It comes to 14.9% of the population above the age of 18. 

The new vaccine strategy announced by the government is criticized by the opposition parties and experts, as it lacks clarity. The price of the two vaccines announced by their respective companies seems to be exorbitant. Vaccine is a common good and it should be made available to all citizens of India free of cost. Many state governments have already announced that they would provide Covid vaccines free of cost to all adults. There could be confusion and even unnecessary competition among the states to place orders for 50% of the vaccines with the producers. One what basis the producers will sell the vaccines to different state governments and private hospitals? 

The three general characteristics of the Modi government- contempt for experts, lack of dialogue with the stakeholders and wrong priorities- have also immensely contributed to the present chaos. In a hard hitting interview with Karan Tappar, the well known historian and political analyst Ramachandra Guha said, “The fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic would have been far less serious had the PM based his policies on the advice of India’s top epidemiologists rather than his penchant for the spectacular and dramatic.” Guha said that Modi has “explicit contempt for education”. His comment that he “prefers hard work to Harvard” exemplifies this, he added.

A crisis situation like the pandemic Covid 19 requires dialogue with the stakeholders, especially the opposition parties and the state governments to find the best of the solutions. Unfortunately the Modi government miserably failed in consulting with the opposition parties and the state governments. Health is a state subject and the role of the Union government is coordination and facilitation. During the first wave of Covid 19, the Central government took all powers into its hands. When it realized that a diverse country like India needs a decentralized approach, it left everything to the states and forgot its role of coordination and facilitation. When the state governments complained about the scarcity of vaccines, PM Modi without consulting the states announced the new vaccine strategy that is confusing and complicated. The arrogance emerging from absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and near majority in the Rajya Sabha has made the Modi government dictatorial. 

The Modi government has proved that it is a government with priorities in reverse gear. The worst example is the new central vista project costing Rs. 20,000 core. All opposition parties and many prominent citizens told the Modi government that the project is a huge wastage of money and especially during the pandemic the money should have been used for providing relief to the people. But the Modi government has declared it as an essential service in the midst of lockdown in Delhi. The Congress party described the central vista project as “a monument of cruelty”. 

Instead focusing on the vital issues of people like job creation, strengthening health infrastructure and providing quality education to all children, the Modi government squandered its resources to implement divisive and exclusive policies like enacting Citizenship Amendment Act, passing the three controversial farm laws and National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021. The ruling party under the leadership of Modi and Amit Shah focused all its energy during the last one year on winning elections in West Bengal and destabilizing the government in Maharashtra. The consequence is the present tragedy and fiasco. 

Even during the peak of the present alarming crisis, the main concern of the Modi government is its image building by blocking any adverse news about its failure rather than saving the lives of the people. From the very beginning the BJP government has been allergic to any criticism. It cannot tolerate when the media exposes its failures in tackling the second wave of Covid 19. Twitter removed several tweets about Covid-19 at the request of the Indian government, including some that were critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's handling of a brutal second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday 25th April, the Ministry of Electronics and Information asked Twitter, Facebook and others to remove around 100 posts “in view of the misuse of social media platforms by certain users to spread fake or misleading information”. The RSS, the ideological head of the BJP, in a statement said, “It is possible that destructive and anti-India forces in the society can take advantage of these adverse circumstances to create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust in the country”. The statement indirectly implies blocking all criticism of the government and exposing its failures. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has threatened that property would be seized and the NSA and the Gangster Act would be used against those "spreading rumours and fake news." 

The government is worried about the image of PM Modi at the international level rather than saving the lives of thousands of people. The Indian High Commissioner in Australia on Monday 19th April wrote a letter urging The Australian, to publish its rejoinder to a British Sunday Times article reproduced in the Australian daily. The article in Sunday Times under the title, “Modi leads India out of lockdown and into a Covid Apocalypse”, begins with Modi at an April 17 election rally in West Bengal telling cheering supporters, “I have never seen such huge crowds”. The article blames the Modi government for worsening the situation by organizing huge election rallies and the allowing a huge gathering of people at the Kumbh Mela. As part of protecting the PM and the BJP government many states are underreporting deaths due to coronavirus. The Gujarat High Court told the Gujarat government that the public have the right to know correct information about deaths due to Covid 19. Haryana Chief Minister told news reporters that arguing over the number of COVID-19 related deaths 'won't bring back the dead'.

What India needs today is abundance of compassion and generosity, and it can be seen in the flow of aid and support from the USA, UK, Germany, European Union, France, South Arabia and UAE etc. in the form of supplies of therapeutics, oxygen related equipments, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) etc. So far 17 countries have come forward with the promise of aid and support to India.  US President Joe Biden in his tweet said: “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.” Let Modi, Amit Shah, BJP and RSS learn from them what humanness is, and humanity is the biggest religion.

 jacobpt48@gmail.com
 

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