The foreign media have been very critical of the Indian government’s role in tackling the Corona pandemic, especially during its second wave. The Times, London and the Australian (both newspapers belong to Rupert Murdoch) have accused Narendra Modi of leading India to a “viral apocalypse”. The Indian government has reacted very sharply and has written a letter to the Australian government and to the newspaper describing the report as “baseless and malicious”. The Indian government has sought an unconditional apology from Murdoch’s media network.
The way the second wave of the pandemic has been handled has drawn sharp criticism from Indian establishments as well. The Supreme Court has been critical; the Calcutta High court sent strictures to the Election Commission and what is worse, the Madras High Court has described the role of the EC as “criminal”. Somehow, all the efforts of the government to contain the pandemic after the first attack and helping the slow recovery trends of the economy seem to have been forgotten. The Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, had assured the people that the country was in the ‘endgame’ of the pandemic and had praised the prime minister as being an ‘example to the world’ for being able to send 66 million vaccines to 80 countries and PPEs and medicines to 150 countries.
Then what went wrong? During the first wave of the pandemic, there were many nay-sayers who had predicted that millions would die in India for the disease and more out of starvation. Except for the sudden announcement of the lockdown, which created serious problems for the migratory labours, the Indian death figures were firmly under control (in comparison to the US and European countries) and there were no deaths out of starvation. “Green shoots” in the economy were already visible in December 2020 and we were looking for a recovery from early January this year. But suddenly the mutated virus in the UK flared up and spread across the world, including India. India, unfortunately, was not prepared for this. This second wave in the UK could have been disastrous, but surprisingly, the UK government fought back bravely and vaccinated almost the entire population on a war footing. The second wave of the pandemic was contained quickly in the UK. The eccentric policies of Donald Trump had endangered the people of the US during the first wave of the pandemic; but the Biden government, through its intensive vaccination drive has controlled the pandemic in the country. But India somehow has been taken off guard. The government did not foresee the second wave. The fears of mass killing by the disease that had gripped the country during the first wave seemed to have come back during the second wave. There are oxygen failures; shortage of vaccines; inadequate hospital beds, doctors and nurses. In a word, the health system has collapsed. This was really not expected, since the funds released for the health sector during the first phase and also in the budget showed substantial increase.
Though the spurt of the pandemic today in India is the highest in the world, all is not lost. The US, the UK, Germany and many others (including Pakistan!) have all rushed with help to India. The initial bewilderment because of the sudden enormity of the attack will soon be over and India will be back on its feet. The volume of production of the vaccines has to be increased many fold; the drive to get the people vaccinated has to be speeded up. India has to live up to the challenge. After all, India is the vaccine manufacturer of the world!