Growing anger over India’s coronavirus catastrophe rattles Modi
India had once declared victory over Covid-19 but is now reeling amid an unprecedented health crisis. It has put Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in the dock, with critics saying they monumentally mismanaged the pandemic.
Bodies are lined up at India’s cremation grounds as smoke from continuously-burning funeral pyres streaks the skies of cities. Outside on the streets, patients gasp for breath as oxygen is administered by volunteers and many more queue up outside hospitals begging for admission.
Apocalyptic scenes from India’s Covid-19 catastrophe convey the utter distress of people left on their own without any help from authorities.
The explosive surge in infections has taken the overall caseload past 20 million in India as the healthcare crisis worsens, with many dying for want of oxygen, hospital beds or drugs.
Jitender Singh Shunty, who runs an aid group that transports and cremates bodies for free, is witness to the horrors in New Delhi on a daily basis.
“I thought that I had gone numb after seeing thousands of cremations. But this time, I broke down and cried with relatives,” the 58-year-old says at a crematorium in east Delhi.
“I see bodies of small children and young women – we consigned to the flames a young bride who got married 10 days ago.”
Shunty practically lives at the crematorium nowadays, burning bodies till late at night and sleeping in his car. His family has also contracted Covid-19.
The bodies keep arriving in rickshaws, trucks, and cars. For the 25 years, he has been cremating bodies, he normally sees 10 bodies a day but that number is now averaging 120, forcing them to set up new pyre platforms in an adjoining park, similar to other funeral sites running out of space in India.
Shunty says there is no evidence of government on the ground. Oxygen and bed shortages have persisted for almost two weeks now.
“It’s not people who are dying in Delhi, it’s humanity that is dying too…Many people are dying not because of Covid, but because they are not receiving any treatment. Will you call it death or murder?”
There are many harrowing stories surrounding the collapse of healthcare in India.
A mother suffering from Covid-19 died in a hospital car park near Delhi at the weekend after waiting for three hours for a bed. Jagriti Gupta lay helpless in a car as her friends begged for treatment.
In central Madhya Pradesh state, a doctor, Prateek Soni, said his cousin died at a government hospital after problems with oxygen supplies on Sunday.
“The government is a mute spectator…Officials are busy cooking up lies,” Soni says.
As the second deadly wave of Covid-19 ravages the country, logging over 300,000 infections daily in new global records, anger over the mishandling of the pandemic is reaching Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The strongman leader’s government has been slammed for misreading the situation, having an ineffective response, and underestimating the numbers of sick and dead.
The missteps were evident from early on. In January, Modi told the World Economic Forum that India had saved “humanity from a big disaster by containing Corona effectively” even while countries such as Britain faced the second deadly wave of the pandemic.
In March, the government went a step further and allowed religious festivals and state election rallies attended by millions of people in potential super-spreaders events.
Even during the start of the surge in April, Modi himself led huge election rallies, addressing thousands of people without masks, where he marvelled at the attendance, saying he had never seen such “huge crowds.”
Warnings from Indian scientists about a deadly second wave went unheeded, resulting in the world’s worst outbreak.
India’s chances of checking the pandemic via an effective mass vaccination campaign have been hit after the government did not place large enough orders for the world’s second-most populous country of over 1.3 billion.
It instead gifted away 66 million vaccines to other countries. Ironically, the world’s biggest producer of Covid-19 vaccines has been hit by shortages, with less than 2 per cent of its population being fully vaccinated since January.
Medical experts say Modi arrogantly declared India had defeated Covid-19 instead of utilizing the time during the lull in cases after the first wave to boost critical care facilities. On cue, many Indian states dropped their guard and began to dismantle their Covid-19 infrastructure, leading to the crisis.
“There is anger building up among people on the streets and on social media over why the system failed them so badly,” political analyst Arati Jerath said.
“Modi’s leadership? It’s hubris, just hubris, and sheer arrogance. People’s hopes in him have been dashed. This backlash will definitely lead to a setback for brand Modi.”
The mismanagement contributed to the defeat of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in a crucial state election in West Bengal at the weekend.
“The situation may improve in a few weeks but it will never be the same for many families affected by the pandemic,” Jerath said.
“They are unlikely to forget how they were let down in this crisis. Their world and lives have changed forever.”
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