India has become the new global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with infections daily exceeding 300,000 per day and the official death toll – probably a massive underestimate – nearly a quarter of a million people. Hospitals are overrun with patients and the crisis is exacerbated by a lack of oxygen. Indian justice has gone so far as to threaten Capital punishment for anyone caught diverting oxygen shipments from across the country to affected areas. There have been dozens of documented deaths directly related to a lack of oxygen.
Just a few months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was bask in the glow of success to defeat the virus and scientific experts have been confused to find out why COVID-19 infections and associated deaths were declining. India had access to two vaccines, a local vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which was mass produced in Indian facilities. The wearing of the mask was apparently almost universal, and the the Wall Street newspaper praised India’s “proven pandemic strategy”.
So what happened?
Amandeep Sandhu, Bangalore-based journalist and novelist, author of Bravado to fear abandonment: mental health and COVID-19 lockdown, had an explanation in one word for me: “complacency”. In one interview, he published a scathing criticism of the Modi government, saying it suffered “from arrogance, political paralysis and no effort to learn from the past year.” A government with a religious fundamentalist ideology that has targeted minority groups and elevated a form of fascist Hindu supremacy has failed its people dramatically.
Sandhu cited how Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which retained majority control over Indian politics for decades, sponsored massive in-person rallies this spring to bolster votes for state elections. Modi’s Twitter thread is full of videos of her speeches in early April (here, here, and here for example) where he boasted of “euphoric” crowds gathered like sardines with a mask in sight that encouraged him. The phenomenon was not unlike that of Donald Trump political gatherings in the United States last year, which was often marked by an increase in infection rates in the weeks that followed.
Modi also encouraged millions of Hindus to attend the Kumbh Mela festival which takes place every 12 years. This greatest religious pilgrimage on earth involves masses of devotees who submerge themselves in the Ganges. A 3.5 million people attended this year, even as infection rates began to rise and public health experts warned of the potentially disastrous consequences.
A year ago, government leaders denounced a much smaller gathering by one Muslim organization called Tablighi Jamaat which was linked to the spread of the virus. A BPJ member from the Karnataka State Legislature went so far as to encourage the lynching of Muslims during the rally and said, “Spreading COVID-19 is also like terrorism, and all those who spread the virus are traitors. ” This year, no such statement targeted the Hindu gathering which was several orders of magnitude larger.
Modi also refused to negotiate with tens of thousands of poor farmers who began a mass occupation on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi last year to protest tough new farm privatization laws. While the number of protesting farmers declined during the annual spring harvest as they returned to pick crops from their farms, it is estimated that there are still 15,000 left and, according to Sandhu, many more are ready to come back if necessary.
“What choice do farmers have at this stage?” asked Sandhu. “Farm laws will kill them for the next few years and, God forbid, if the virus does arise, it will kill them quickly. So death is on both sides. What are they doing? ”And so, farmers continue to protest, although, according to Sandhu, their outdoor occupation has not yet been linked to the spread of COVID-19. Instead, farmers fear that the Modi government uses the pandemic as a tool to force them to end their protests.
As Asset, Modi has gone out of his way to make sure he gets credit for fighting the virus, last year launching a relief fund called PM cares who collected massive amounts of donations. And just like Asset, it was opaque on the distribution and management of the fund. An activist called PM Cares is funding “blatant scam”.
Despite being the the largest manufacturer in the world COVID-19 vaccines, India has exported many more doses to other countries that have been deployed internally. Modi was accused of engaging in “vaccine diplomacy, ”Distributing millions of vaccines to other countries to strengthen international support. Sandhu said that although he has not held India’s vaccine exports against the Modi government given that the pandemic is a global disaster, he opposes the way the privatization of Indian healthcare kept vaccines out of the reach of the poorest Indians.
According to Sandhu, “the vaccine was released on the open market with limited government supply to immunize citizens.” In other words, poor Indians have to wait much longer to get the vaccine than richer Indians who can. enter a private clinic and buy a dose. Sandhu asked, “How are the poor in India going to pay for the vaccine? If they cannot, we, as a society, and the world in general, remain vulnerable. The vaccine should be free for everyone. “
Now, as the Indian government flounders under international scrutiny with hundreds of thousands of new infections emerging every day, Modi, who is as prolific on Twitter as Trump had been before he was banned from the platform, appears more concerned with his image than his country. His administration found the time, in the midst of the crisis, to demand that Twitter delete tweets criticism of its handling of the pandemic – and the social media company has complied.
It’s not just Twitter that validates Modi. Right-wing supporters of Indian descent in the United States regularly donate millions of dollars float the fascist educational programs and nationalist groups of the Modi government. Indeed, some groups like that of Houston Sewa International are considered the American branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the parent organization of BJP. Sewa International, taking advantage of international concern over India’s coronavirus crisis, seeks to raise $ 10 million for oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies. But, in 2004, the organization was involved in a scam where he diverted British public funding for earthquake relief to building ideological Hindu supremacist schools. More recently the group was caught restricting funding for flood victims in Kerala to Hindus only.
President Joe Biden’s administration has also been criticized for embrace the BJP and its authoritarianism, pursuing a trend of the previous administration. Biden named Sri Preston Kulkarni, a Native American with links with RSS, in a key position in AmeriCorps. Kulkarni ran a failed campaign for a seat of Congress representing Texas with financial assistance from Ramesh Bhutada, who is now the director of Sewa International.
The Biden administration was under pressure for months to relinquish intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines, balancing the need for pharmaceutical companies to reap benefits against the lives of millions of people. Now with India’s devastating crisis, Biden once again took into consideration the option before a World Trade Organization meeting on April 30. But by the time the waived patents are used, hundreds of thousands more will be dead.
In the meantime, Indians continue to die in such numbers that the capital New Delhi shines at night fires, mass cremations. Like the hashtag #ResignModi started to reach new heights, Sandhu succinctly summed up that “the government has failed in all respects.”
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali”, a television and radio show broadcast on Free Speech TV and Pacifica. She is a writer for the Economy for all project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for all, a project of the Independent Media Institute.