Seriously… why do it? Why underplay death and play around with statistics. One can understand the logic behind the numbers being manipulated during elections (every administration is guilty). Or those stock market sharks who are trying to deceive investors by cooking the books and putting out misleading data before an IPO (due diligence be damned). The official Covid-19 charts have created a major credibility gap -- it is getting harder and harder to believe what is being publicised on a regular basis, when grim reality stares us in the face. The thing is this: Does one go by what the New York Times states (“Just how big could India’s true Covid toll be?”)? Or accept our government’s version? The NYT has suggested that India’s death toll could be double the official count, in an “optimistic” scenario, and nearly 14 times higher in a worst-case scenario. Which is it? The NYT goes further, adding: “The undercount of cases and deaths in India is most likely even more pronounced for technical, cultural and logistical reasons.” Admitting also that the official figures “miss deaths all over the world”. The government has dismissed the report as “baseless and false”. Dr V.K. Paul, member (health) of the Niti Aayog, said that the NYT report is based on “distorted estimates”. Fair enough. Let me skip the charts and ask a straight-up question: What if our official channels decided to table numbers minus manipulation? Just be honest, guys! We can handle the truth… It’s the lies that insult every Covid-19 death that has taken place. Will citizens riot on the streets? Will there be a wave of fear and panic across the land? Both possibilities are unlikely. We are dealing with an unprecedented crisis. Citizens are aware of the gravity of the situation and are coping the best they can. They will continue to do so, regardless of the numbers game being played. This sounds like just another tawdry TRP scam -- but in reverse. Instead of increasing the tally, we are busy minimising it, by issuing data that nobody buys.
A friend from Kolkata looking out of her window last week commented cryptically: “I can see eight to 10 hearses parked outside one of Kolkata’s top hospitals, waiting to take Covid bodies to the crematorium. We are forced to say: ‘You arrive at the hospital in your own fancy car as a patient -- and leave in a hearse as a corpse’.” This scene is being repeated across the cities of India. Let’s not even get to what’s happening in our villages -- no hearses there to cart the dead. Just handcarts, cycles, and makeshift bamboo stretchers. I didn’t have the stomach to look at the television clips of government-appointed volunteers, hastily removing temporary poles and saffron cloth left behind by thousands of mourners to mark the shallow, sandy graves of their loved ones, along the banks of India’s holiest river: the Ganga. The optics were hastily altered -- but did that alter the grim truth? Sweeping evidence under a carpet of sand --how awful!
As for those loyalists blabbing on about “Brand India” getting tarnished due to the “hostile” coverage in the international media… hello! The smart thing to do is FIX the brand first! And the coverage will take of itself. Why shoot the messenger? Are any of the reports fabricated? Are all those disturbing photographs really morphed or photoshopped? And dear loyalists, the entire propaganda machinery is in the hands of the government. Why not get Prasoon Joshi to write a lengthy poem -- create a slo-mo video roping in all the BJP’s Bollywood favourites, bombard social media with the same… and wait for the deaths to disappear by magic! How’s that for a quick image fix?
Nobody, but nobody… has the time for any organised “India Bashing” at a sensitive time like this. Coversely, nobody has the time for b***s*** either. Deceiving your own people is deception at its lowest. Besides, such a strategy always backfires. If we are craving for global approval and want to improve our dismal ratings, it’s time to do something more convincing than resorting to cheap slogans. Co-opting sympathetic industrialists to tweet about India getting unfairly trashed/bashed is a smart move but getting a reputed banker like Uday Kotak to say it like it is, works far better. Uday opened up in a recent interview and put it bluntly when he was asked whether we could have planned better for the second wave. Said Mr Kotak: “You are driving the car. So, look at the windshield and not the rearview mirror.” His suggestions for the way forward were practical and candid. He urged the government to pay a “fair price” for the vaccination, plus “maximise production and distribution”. We need to listen to more such voices from our other billionaires, but most have kept their mouths shut so far.
Yes, “Brand India” has taken a major hit. Other countries and their leaders have also gone through this and more (BoJo and Britain, for example). It is important to deal with criticism and dissent in an upfront manner. It is even more important to pay attention to sound advice and to implement it. Our leaders change the texture of their skin as and when it suits them -- from acquiring a rhino’s thick hide to behaving like fragile porcelain dolls, these cunning chameleons have played around with our sentiments for far too long. We need action heroes at a time like this, not self-pitying wimps pointing fingers at the mediawalas. One look at Barkha Dutt’s relentless coverage on Mojo is enough for any viewer to get the full picture. Call her a “foreign agent” paid to “defame” India. But provide proof, first. She is perhaps the only anchor out there who is risking her own life and the lives of her compact team, to get the gruesome truth to us. Most other star anchors have stayed put in their studios and expended precious lung power in barking at their studio guests.
What do hapless citizens do to soothe their frayed nerves? Well, cuddling cows is the latest (and most ludicrous) global trend to cope with Covid stress. Perhaps Baba Ramdev can be roped in as Brand Ambassador?...