The greatest PR company in the country was back in action a few weeks ago, but their latest attempt at damage control was, at best, pathetic. Two opinion pieces in supposedly international publications were aggressively pushed on Twitter by the BJP army.
One is published on a website called The Daily Guardian and screams, “PM MODI HAS BEEN WORKING HARD; DON’T GET TRAPPED IN THE OPPOSITION’S BARBS“. The writer is Sudesh Verma, unsurprisingly from BJP’s Media Relations Committee. The website itself is unimpressive, and the portal has around 2000 followers on Twitter, a rather low number considering the numerous BJP leaders who have shared the article, along with the 45 subscribers on YouTube.
The second piece, “Besides COVID-19, India is also fighting with vulture journalists, who are spreading more panic and despair than pandemic“, on a website called Australia today, is nothing more than a foul-spirited diss track against Burkha Dutt. The website domain is registered in the name of Jitarth Jai Bhardwaj, and its Twitter and Instagram accounts have meagre 1074 and 36 followers, respectively. This article is re-published from The Trunicle, a site that describes itself as “a pro nationalist opinion and news portal, launched in July 2020 by US-based NRIs”.
Considering how critical international media has been of the ruling Government, it is obvious why these pieces were published in obscure, supposedly foreign news outlets when Swarajya or OpIndia would have happily published them. This was not even the first time the Indian Right has used such fake international websites. The irony is not lost when proud nationalists need foreign validation to beat foreign criticism.
Asking Twitter to take down dissenting posts makes it very clear that the Government cares more about its image than the lives of its citizens. All this was accompanied by the usual ‘communist foreign media is biased and conspiring against Modi and India’. Great Hindi poet Harishankar Parsai sums it up beautifully-
“तानाशाह एक डरपोक आदमी होता है। अगर पांच गधे भी साथ-साथ घास खा रहे हों तो तानाशाह को डर पैदा होता है कि गधे भी मेरे ख़िलाफ़ साजिश कर रहे हैं। “
“A dictator is a coward. If five donkeys just graze grass together, the dictator feels that the donkeys are conspiring against him.”
A recent Reuters report exposed the nonchalance of our leaders. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium (INSACOG), set up by the Government in December last year, warned of a new dangerous variant in early March. Scientists on February 1 detected the B.1.167 variant, and they warned the Health Ministry’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that infections could quickly rise in the country.
The INSACOG also formulated a media statement for the Health ministry saying that the two mutations called E484Q and L452R were of “high concern”. The ministry published the findings on March 24; the statement did not mention the words “high concern”. How many catastrophes have befallen us just because politicians paid no heed when scientists said “high concern”.
Shahid Jameel, one of the top virologists in the country, recently quit as the head of INSACOG. In an article for The New York Times, he suggested methods to control the rise of infections and then wrote, “All of these measures have wide support among my fellow scientists in India. But they are facing stubborn resistance to evidence-based policymaking.”
Earlier, he also told Reuters, “Policy has to be based on evidence and not the other way around. I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive Policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists we provide the evidence, policymaking is the job of the Government.” Imagine hiring the best engineers to build a building, then ignoring their suggestions and when the roof falls on someone’s head, saying that you “feel their suffering equally“.
A Senior Central Government official in a Secretary Level meeting on April 5 had raised the issue that the Kumbh Mela might become a super spreader event. To allow and endorse such a massive religious festival after numerous warnings and to print front-page ads (with the Prime Minister’s face of course) inviting people to gather in the millions, that too a year early because of astrological reasons, was, in the politest term possible, extremely stupid.
Broadcast media was all over the 9,000 strong Tablighi Jamaat gathering last year, but they didn’t seem to have a problem with the 91 Lakh strong Kumbh Mela. The lengths to which Aaj Tak went to defend the Kumbh and attack the Markaz show their bigotry and dishonesty. The point is not to say that the Markaz was without fault, but to say that one should not consume news on television.
The National Task Force for Covid-19 met on April 15 and “unanimously agreed that the situation is serious and that we should not hesitate in imposing lockdowns,” said one of the scientists who took part in the meeting, reports Reuters. This Task Force is headed by V.K. Paul, the Government’s top coronavirus adviser. On April 17, Narendra Modi said in Bengal, “Have never seen such a huge crowd in any rally”.
Sujeet Kumar Singh, head of the National Centre for Disease Control, said, “It was highlighted very, very clearly that unless drastic measures are taken now, it will be too late to prevent the mortality which we are going to see…… The exact time, as per our thinking, was 15 days before,” in meetings on April 18th and 19th, referring to the need for stricter lockdown measures. All these statements by top scientists, almost unheard of, shows that media bias is anything but against the Government.
Early victory against the virus was declared by multiple leaders, including PM Modi and Dr Harshvardhan. Addressing the World Economic Forum in January, Modi said, “(India) has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively”. In early March, when cases had already started to rise, Harshvardhan said, “We are in the end game of the COVID-19 pandemic in India…… Unlike most other countries, we have a steady supply of COVID-19 vaccines.”
How these words must haunt him now that we know the ‘game’ is very much on. We don’t have any vaccines either. The shortage is such that only six states began vaccination for the 18+ age group after the Centre decided to open it up on May 1. Even senior citizens are finding it difficult to get their second dose.
The Foreign Contributions Regulation Amendment Act passed last year forces NGOs to, among other things, have an account in a specific SBI branch in New Delhi to receive foreign aid and stops them from passing on this aid to other smaller NGOs (leading to lack of funds in local NGOs). The same act allows only 20% of such assistance to be used as administrative expenses (salaries, training, equipment, legal charges, etc.).
Such backbreaking bureaucracy and micromanagement have proven disastrous in the pandemic when NGOs have been feeding the poor in lockdowns and helping with oxygen cylinders and medicines. Amnesty International India shut down operations last year after what it described as a two year “incessant witch-hunt” by the Government of India after the Enforcement Directorate froze its accounts. These draconian measures were introduced to stop misuse of foreign funds while the Government uses its full force to illegally stop the PM Cares fund from coming under the purview of RTI.
The Government’s endorsement of Patanjali’s Coronil has to be the final nail in the coffin. A doctor trained in modern medicine—India’s Health Minister—sitting on a stage with a saffron-clad man endorsing pseudoscientific medicine goes a long way in invalidating scientific research. False claims saying Coronil is a cure for covid and that WHO has certified the herbal concoction were floated around. The BBC found the drug to be absolutely ineffective at preventing Covid infections. It is not even legal to advertise Coronil in the United Kingdom par India me toh sab chalta hai. Read more about the useless trial conducted in Rajasthan to prove Coronil’s supposed effectiveness here, here, here and here.
On top of this, Ramdev ridicules science by saying that lakhs have died of covid after taking ‘allopathic’ medicine. He also posted 25 incredibly dumb questions to the IMA like, “Does the pharma industry have permanent treatment for thyroid, arthritis, colitis and asthma?” making ridiculous remarks like, “Doctors should not fall ill at all if allopathy is all-powerful and ‘sarvagun sampanna’.” He has now gone on to say, “Arrest toh unka baap bhi nahi kar sakta,” after doctors called for his arrest.
Even a dysfunctional autocrat like Donald Trump held daily press conferences when Covid-19 raged in the United States. In India, thousands of bodies floating in rivers don’t seem reason enough for the Prime Minister to answer any questions. Official infection and death counts seem to be so inaccurate that one can confidently ignore them.
The situation is so bad that one of the best-regarded medical journals globally- 198-year-old The Lancet published an editorial calling out the Modi government on its mishandling of the situation.
Obviously, healthcare is a state subject, and the states are also to be blamed, but no one can deny that Narendra Modi is the single most influential man in the country. His following experts’ suggestions and acting in a way befitting a leader would have made an enormous difference. Shed tears on national television all you want, Mr Prime Minister, you are fooling no one. You have brought this upon us.
“Modiji Modiji jhola utha lo ab tum ji
Ya Kailasa chale jao, Ya sanyas lelo ji”