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Refusing to develop scientific temper, Govt of India 'loses' historic opportunity

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

The second wave of coronavirus has stuck hard, particularly in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Was the wave surprising or we allowed it to happen? The number of cases are all set to reach a whopping 300,000 per day.
The worst hit is Maharashtra, whose chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has taken the strong step of not allowing religious gatherings. The situation in Gujarat, particularly Surat and Ahmedabad, seems critical. Hospitals are overcrowded. Yet, Gujarat’s incompetence and failure is still not ‘national news’. Media appears obsessed with Maharashtra and West Bengal.
Last year, when the Government of India imposed lockdown on March 24, the cases were around 550, but at that time there were not many detections, so one can't really believe the numbers that were being dished out.
The Indian leadership then seemed confident, hence it converted it into a PR exercise by asking people to bang thalis, clapping and lighting candles to do away with coronavirus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi-sponsored janata curfew a couple of days earlier saw people come out on the streets shouted Jai Shri Ram and clapping, as if they had won the battle against the pandemic.
For the next few months we were under severe restrictions. The government allowed no space for planning and imposed a harsh lockdown. Those who build our cities, do the menial work, the informal sector workers, were left to fend for themselves. Their isolation was complete. They were compelled to return to their villages. This fear of death was so powerful that people started taking all the risk just to reach their home and be with their near and dear ones.
Factories, schools and railways were closed. Even essential commodities were not allowed to be distributed. The lockdown resulted in a huge humanitarian crisis but the government remained in a denial mode. It enjoyed the power of ‘lockdown’ and wanted people to remain ‘submissive’.
The real intentions of the government became visible once it started the ‘unlock’ process. It felt that lockdown was the best ‘opportunity’ to hand over India’s resources to a few cronies. It brought in farm laws and labour laws. Air India was put up for sale. Railways was being privatised without consulting the stakeholders, including the employees.
Trains were suspended and railways are still running much below of their original capacity. No efforts were made to put the wheel of the economy back on the rails. In fact, the attempt was to hand over all the sectors of our economy to a few cronies, who mainly hail from Gujarat.
Elections were organised in Bihar. Then came the turn of West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu. While Kerala, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu went to polls on just one day, Assam had three phases. The Election Commission decided to hold elections in West Bengal in eight phases, apparently to please the BJP.
The way the Prime Minister and the Home Minister along with other ministers have been campaigning in West Bengal looks like it's municipal electionS. When both of them should have been in Delhi speaking to States and take stock of the situation, they seemed little bothered about it. To thm, winning elections at all costs is more important.
With the opposition not speaking much and media completely surrendering and becoming the voice of the ruling BJP, and judiciary not finding time to act, the republic is at a critical stage. Perhaps the crisis is much bigger than the coronavirus itself. The one man who spoke about timely action is Rahul Gandhi, but Modi's ministers tried to humiliate him.
The second phase of coronavirus wave has exposed the government’s inefficiency which is more worried about its achievements. The Prime Minister and his ministers continued to claim that India has managed the coronavirus crisis better than the powerful Western world. India’s 'sarkari' intellectuals were suggesting that over 1.75 lakh deaths is much less than the people who died in US and UK, but they failed to observe what happened in China which is perfectly normal at the moment.
Except for Wuhan, the Chinese actually controlled the crisis much more efficiently than any other country. Similarly, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia managed things far better than India and any other country.
As for vaccination, the attitude of the government has been highly disturbing. The attempt was to deliberately destabilise the public sector or government hospitals and bring in the private players into action. It is said that various pharma companies are lobbying for the vast market in India. When Rahul Gandhi spoke for more vaccines, the government’s ministers claimed that he was lobbying for foreign companies. But now the government has accepted and allowed import of Sputnik and other vaccines.
The last one year should have been used to promote scientific and rational thinking among the people. The government should have promoted ideas that respect humanist values which does not create a stereotypical image of those suffering from coronavirus.
Instead, the government and ministers continued to promote religious fundamentalism. Every Muslim was treated as Tablighi last year and blamed for spreading the virus. They did nothing to stop this nonsensical attitude. Ironically, they ‘encouraged’ people to go to Kumbh and take a dip.
The Uttarakhand chief minister went so far as to say that nobody would be denied entry in Kumbh because of the coronavirus norms. Meanwhile, reports started coming in that Kumbh in Haridwar has become a hotspot for spreading the virus. One of the top Sadhus died due to the virus.
Though everyone cried foul against the Tablighi Jamaat last year with BJP leaders vilifying all the Muslims for spreading coronavirus, Hindu festivals and political rallies are rarely mentioned. The media jumped on the bandwagon of the illiterate Hindutva netas suggesting that a dip in Ganges will remove all the sins of the people. Now, we are in the Chaitra Ramnavami season and the government has not uttered a single sentence it.
Today, Varanasi, Lucknow and Ghaziabad are suffering and the political leadership of the BJP is silent. It is busy campaigning in West Bengal but is keeping mum on the macabre of death in rest of the country due to coronavirus. Now, Uttar Pradesh is going to have panchayat elections. Netas are coming out and campaigning. Nobody is bothered about restrictions.
Meanwhile, India has lost a historic opportunity. The government had time to strengthen the national health network on lines of the National Health Services of Great Britain which was on the verge of being privatised prior to Covid-19, but it turned out to be the biggest asset of the country. But our government never bothered about strengthening the health infrastructure. If the Centre failed, the States too showed no urgency.
This period would have been the right time for the government to inculcate scientific temper among the people and asking them to be rational in thinking and having faith in modern medicine.
But how can one trust a government when its health minister and another minister participate in a programme which made a false claim that Baba Ramdev had developed a corona medicine which has been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Though WHO categorically denied this, the government did not bother.
Meanwhile, coronavirus is here to stay for some time. We don’t know when it will end but the crisis has exposed the hollowness of our leadership. The war against coronavirus cannot be won by jargons and empty rhetoric but with visionary actions, quick emergency response and long-term investment in medical infrastructure, even as developing scientific temper among the people.
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*Human rights defender

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