No ‘toolkit’ can make it worse or create a diversion. No ‘toolkit’ is needed for the world to know that India is lying about the Covid death toll.
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Alright. Enough. No more gimmicks, Prime Minister. It is time to get serious about ordering and paying for enough vaccinations for every adult Indian to be vaccinated before we face another catastrophe. It is time to accept that the damage you believe has been done to your personal stature has already been done. No ‘toolkit’ can make it worse or create a diversion. So why did you allow your ministers to take to Twitter to spread the word that the Congress party had come up with a ‘toolkit’ to defame you and India on social media? Had this silly exercise been confined to the BJP’s ever smug national spokesman, Sambit Patra, it would not have mattered.
Cabinet ministers joining the chorus made the damage to your personal stature much worse. It confirmed the impression that you give more importance to your own image than to saving India from its worst health crisis ever. No Congress ‘toolkit’ is needed for the world to know that you personally encouraged large religious and political gatherings until it was too late. No ‘toolkit’ is needed for the world to know that India is lying about the Covid death toll. The world’s most important newspapers and television networks have sent their best reporters to India to find out the truth. They have wandered into the darkest depths of rural Uttar Pradesh and reported that thousands of bodies lie buried in shallow graves along the Ganga. They have reported that hundreds of teachers have died in Uttar Pradesh because they were on election duty during the recent panchayat elections.
The Chief Minister of our most populous state seems not to know this. So almost every time I switch on a news channel, I see him striding along amid a cluster of his officials and declaring that his teams have gone to every house in every village to see if anyone is sick. This is a clip from a huge advertising campaign paid for with taxpayers’ money. This money would have been better spent on reviving the thousands of defunct health centres and hospitals that lie scattered across rural Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. If they are made functional there is some hope that they can be used as vaccination centres whenever there are enough vaccines available.
Instead of foolish attempts at erasing the truth, every chief minister needs to spend all available resources on employing large numbers of health professionals. Without them a mammoth vaccination programme is simply not possible. So far nothing has been done to improve our abysmal record of having the fewest doctors and nurses available for our people. It should surprise nobody that our healthcare system collapsed under this second Covid wave because not only do we not have enough beds in our hospitals, we do not have enough doctors or nurses. If we are to meet the ratio per thousand that the World Health Organization recommends, we need 4,55,478 more doctors and 18,09,757 more nurses. Eminent Indian doctors have been pointing out that it is not beds or oxygen cylinders that treat patients but medical personnel of which in India we have a grim shortage.
The Prime Minister, as of last week, has visibly started to show real interest in leading the fight against this awful pandemic, but as more than one chief minister has pointed out, the meetings he has are monologues. He needs every chief minister on his team, as this column has pointed out ad nauseam; instead he has wasted precious time talking over their heads to district officials and medical personnel. The problems they face are well known so meeting them virtually seems like just another gimmick. Unless the Prime Minister can get all chief ministers to lend their full support, there is not the smallest chance that we will be able to urgently rectify the enormous flaws at every level of our public health services.
What Modi needs to be more troubled about than his own image is the battering that India’s image has taken because of BJP chief ministers lying about the death toll. India has always been considered a responsible, democratic country that has never tried to lie about the truth as countries like China do. Since the pandemic, this image has been seriously harmed because of brazen lies being told about the death toll. Nobody seems more certain that he can tell so many lies that the truth will be erased than Yogi Adityanath. Last week his officials claimed that Uttar Pradesh was doing better than any other state because the numbers of dead and diseased had fallen miraculously. These are stupid lies because the truth of what is really happening is reported every day by reporters that Yogi Adityanath cannot threaten or jail because they are lucky enough not to be citizens of his state.
There is so much that needs to be done that it is criminally irresponsible for ministers of the Government of India to waste their time trying to sell ‘toolkits’ on Twitter. What adds a touch of absurdity to this new toolkit story, is that the Congress party has never in its history been at such a low point. It has lost election after election and is so enfeebled that it finds it hard to take advantage of the terrible mistakes that the Modi government has made in handling this pandemic. Why does Modi seem afraid of its shadow?
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 23, 2021 under the title ‘Not another toolkit’.
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