Dr Zarir Udwadia, one of India’s most respected physicians, spoke for 1.4 billion Indians in a no-holds-barred BBC interview recently. He talked calmly, but the anguish was palpable. He didn’t mince words. Short of calling the government names for letting us down, he spoke his mind in perfectly articulated, easy-to-understand lingo. He mentioned the “dreadful deficiencies” (understatement, doc!), “complacency” (I call it cruelty), “vaccine desperation” and much more. He also warned it’s likely to take 600 days before India can hope to achieve “herd immunity”. Gird your loins: we have a long, painful, scary way ahead of us. Who knows how many people reading this column will be alive to greet that wonderful day? Death is a mere six degrees of separation away. India is in mourning: for itself, and all those who couldn’t even get a dignified funeral, forget help! Living with death is now the “new normal”.
Narendra Taneja (BJP spokesperson) talking to Christiane Amanpour on CNN startled the world with the admission that “the responsibility is first and foremost ours”, while glibly blaming the EC for allowing elections in five states. Will he retain his job as spokesperson after this trillion-dollar global gaffe? Nine million thronged the Kumbh Mela despite the Covid surge.
Whose “responsibility” is that? Maharashtra’s CM has warned the third and fourth wave may hit by July-August. The “numbing of India” was brilliantly and boldly articulated by a quiet hero who is garnering countless fans for obvious reasons. Dr Parakala Prabhakar is the low-key husband of India’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Frankly, I’d never heard of him. He was simply not on my radar! But I sat up and paid close attention when I heard his podcast (Midweek Matters) last week. He spared nobody, not even the person his wife reports to: the Prime Minister! His address didn’t sound phony: matlab, he wasn’t playing good cop-bad cop. He was speaking for all of us who are in a semi-coma (“numb”), struggling to make sense of the government’s criminal negligence for letting the country slide into this Covid abyss.
Arundhati Roy, writing in the Guardian, described the government’s failures as a “crime against humanity” — which it is! I had used the exact same phrase in my column last fortnight. But who’ll catch the criminals? Imagine the irony: it’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image on the face of that all-important Covid-19 certificate citizens receive after taking the second shot. Why his image? Well, at least one brave dissenter in Bhatinda (74-year-old Prof. Chaman Lal) demanded its removal and vowed not to take the vaccine until then. Seriously: why is the PM’s face on the certificate? Did he invent the vaccine? No! His administration “donated” the precious vaccine to 80 countries so he could look better! Faced with an acute vaccine shortage in India, what did he do? He delivered a monologue (“Mann ki Baat”) where he passed the buck: to us! It became our problem! As we gasped and choked and people DIED in droves, the government looked the other way and didn’t have the basic decency to apologise to its people, forget about providing a contingency plan to save lives. Meanwhile, BJP CMs were issuing the most shocking statements, fudging numbers, downplaying deaths, and the health minister (Dr Harsh Vardhan) had the temerity to say we are better off this year than we were last year! On what basis, and in what way, Sirji? Bataao, na?
Tushar Mehta, India’s solicitor-general, admonished panic-stricken citizens: “Let’s not be crybabies…” Boo Hoo! Dry those tears, darlings. We’re going to be just fine, okay? Give or take a few million who won’t make it through the pandemic (predictions of fatalities run into a crore or more). That awful robed man in Uttar Pradesh (CM Yogi Adityanath) threatened to arrest anyone who dared to criticise his state’s Covid management. The same state where a 17-year-old boy had a precious oxygen cylinder meant for his mother snatched out of his hands by cops and given to a VIP. His mother died two hours later. Then there was the chief monster (oops… minister) of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, who callously declared: “The dead won’t come back…” No Sirji, they won’t. But their curses will!
Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up.
Fed up with official apathy, countless citizens’ groups started to take over the government’s duties by setting up helplines and mobilising resources. But even these Good Samaritans were stymied by roadblocks placed by the administration: the harder they tried to reach out and help, the worse it got. They were told they were “causing confusion”. Despite that, people like Harteerath Singh of Hemkunt Foundation performed Herculean service bypassing officialdom and getting oxygen to the needy. “Help India Breathe”, pleads Harteerth, who had Covid-19 twice. Citizens like him work selflessly night and day, while the government still lives in denial and focuses on exit polls.
The bodies continue to pile up.
We watched in horror and sorrow as parking lots were converted into makeshift cremation grounds. Images of bodies burnt on footpaths by relatives unable to find a slot in crematoria sent shockwaves. Graveyards ran out of gravediggers. And Delhi resembles a macabre burning ghat. But the IPL bubble stays!
The government, however, still did nothing. Worse, we were subjected to the PM’s platitudes. And silence. Home minister Amit Shah may have taken maun vrat: we haven’t heard his voice recently.
State after state going under a punishing lockdown is now the norm. This time migrant workers acted swiftly, packing trains and buses before they got stuck thousands of miles from home. But Delhi’s multi-crore Central Vista project faced no labour shortage: it was declared an “essential service” and will be completed on schedule.
The people of India are the country’s real strength, while its biggest tragedy are its politicians. We are stuck with the current lot: heartless, cold and entirely lacking in compassion. There is a brazenness to the BJP that baffles the world. Our Prime Minister should be eating his words uttered last year: all those boasts, all that chest-thumping! We’ve made utter fools of ourselves internationally, and yet we have neta after neta cold-bloodedly lying to us.
Open your eyes, remove the blindfolds: this period will go down in history as the worst and most shameful indictment of a government that didn’t care whether its helpless citizens lived or died gasping for oxygen, while the Great Leader looked the other way. Comfort yourselves. Ignore the corpses. There’s hope! Remember: PM Cares! All we can fall back on now are prayers…