The second wave of coronavirus is turning out to be all the more dangerous because either no lessons were learnt from the first or went unheeded. While the authorities began to pat themselves for having seen off the virus, ordinary people too began to behave as if they enjoyed immunity from the deadly infection. We are paying a huge price for self-inflicted follies. Because the Prime Minister has centralised the management of this grave national emergency, he, more than anyone else, is to blame for the mess the entire country finds itself in.
Even after making due allowance for the fact that this once-in-a-century health crisis has tested the capacity of every democratic country in the world, and none has emerged with flying colours, we have singularly failed to take even the elementary decisions required to try and tame the spread of the virus. Even in the PM’s home state Gujarat things are in a very poor state, with the infected patients lying unattended for hours on end outside hospitals. Crematoriums cannot seem to cope with the pile-up of bodies. Huge holes in the basic public infrastructure in a ‘model’ and economically prosperous state like Gujarat belie claims of good governance -- now or in the past. On top of it, like all other states, Gujarat too has been accused of grossly under-recording the number of infections and its dead.
Of course, all states, including the Union Territory of Delhi, are indulging in the PR sleight-of-hand. People however have lost faith in the system and are left to fend for themselves. The lockdowns imposed on Monday in Delhi, UP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and a number of other states are supposed to break the chain of transmission. Unlike the first lockdown which was imposed at a mere four-hours’ notice, the lockdown this time has allowed essential services such as food, vegetables and provision stores, minimum public transport, hospital ambulances etc., to remain open with due precautions. Professionals engaged in basic services too have been exempt.
According to the Union Health Ministry, Maharashtra, UP, Delhi and Rajasthan account for nearly 80 per cent of the new infections which totalled nearly 2.80 lakh on Sunday. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, MP and Chhattisgarh are some of the other states badly affected. Regardless of the finer details, the sorrier part of the situation is that ordinary people have lost faith in their rulers to deliver them from this humongous ‘mahamaari’. Trust in the government is at its lowest. Despair and despondency run deep.
Politicians by seeming to be engrossed in things like elections, by winking at huge gatherings be they be for campaign rallies in West Bengal or the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar have frittered away whatever goodwill they might have enjoyed. Holding well-publicised meetings with leading doctors and pharma companies when the virus is on a wild rampage evokes nothing but cynicism. How the ruling politicians handle the popular disgust is their business but what the country needs at this critical moment is a firm stewardship of the rickety health system to try and stem the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, we have no idea why the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who later on Monday was found to be Corona-positive and admitted to the AIIMS in the capital, chose to advise the PM on how to handle the situation. Maybe as usual he was advised by 10 Janpath to try and score points off the Modi Government. But equally ill-advised was the response of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan who too clearly was ‘advised’ by the PMO to reply in the graceless way he did to the former PM. Sense and sensibility both seem to have gone AWOL from our political discourse.
No less unpalatable were the bitter recriminations between former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and members of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi. In wanting to score points off the MVA in the matter of procuring the much-in-demand Remdesivir vials, Fadnavis ended up in a public fracas with the police and the state government.
A more appropriate way would have been for him to offer his services to the Maha health minister in procuring the drug from a Gujarat-based pharma firm. Whether the firm in question was indulging in jiggery-pokery of its own to make a fast buck in the current acute shortage is a matter of inquiry, but the role of Fadnavis, at the very least, reflects his grievance at having been denied the chief ministerial ‘gaddi’. The longer he nurses that hurt the more he harms the BJP’s prospects of returning to power. He should come to terms with the betrayal of his erstwhile electoral partner and move on.