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Covid crisis: How India 'has become' an even more macabre version of Bolsonaro's Brazil

By Aviral Anand* 

It will be considered no mean feat to outdo the likes of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. At every step of the corona crisis, he maintained a head-in-the-sand, denialist attitude. He pooh-poohed covid protocols and repeatedly played down the threat from the pandemic. He invested little to no resources in Brazil's testing and vaccination campaigns. As a result, Brazil experienced devastating loss of lives as the pandemic struck the country even in the first round of the pandemic in 2020.
It just crossed 400, 000 deaths a few days ago.
Till about a month ago, some of the most horrifying images that the world had seen related to the pandemic were from Brazil as the country was running out of burial space. Newer graveyards -- some of them vertical -- were being constructed just to keep up with the rush of bodies. And thousands of the dead were being put into unmarked graves.
Till recently, older graves were being exhumed to make space for the people continuing to die.
In 2020, during the first wave, though India notched up second place behind the US in terms of total cases, its death rate was always seen as inexplicably low. Even left-liberal commentators like Karan Thapar writing in the “Hindustan Times”, were arguing that "the number who have died has to be close to accurate."
By all measures this low fatality rate seemed a remarkable phenomena and the government was always quick to point that out. We were not Brazil, and we did not seem to have bodies piling up in hospitals, crematoriums and graveyards, it seemed to say.
The sense of hubris running through the entire battle with covid in India was palpable. Even galloping to the number two spot in cumulative cases in 2020 did not ruffle the composure of our leaders. The "India is a vast country" narrative -- therefore any "high numbers" represent only a fraction of the nation's population -- was in full operation.
The promise of indigenous vaccines, and India as a global vaccine exporter, was tom-tommed with barely concealed pride. "Jab tak dawai nahin tab tak dhilai nahin," was a slogan that gave a glimpse of a more liberated future just up ahead for India - and merely advised continuing caution as a formality till such time for celebration.
But, Humpty-Dumpty, who sat pretty on the wall till just a few weeks ago, came crashing down - and took India into a descent into hell, as well. Now the earlier pictures of mass burials and piles of bodies from Brazil have been replaced by scenes of endless simultaneous cremations and graveyards that keep filling up.
Hospitals do not have beds or oxygen, critical drugs are out of supply, testing is choked-up - and the citizenry is running hither-and-thither to save their loved ones. Worst of all, the much-touted vaccine programme seems to be in tatters as supplies do not seem to be matching the anticipated demand.
Till about a month ago, some of the most horrifying images that the world had seen related to the pandemic were from Brazil
In one fell swoop, so it seems, the two BRICS nations, Brazil and India, have swapped places, with India now becoming an even more macabre version of Brazil. Every failing, every oversight, every slip-up of the Modi government that is now becoming apparent seems to be a super-sized version of Bolsonaro government's fatal follies.
Still, for a moment one might balk at such a suggestion, such an equating of Modi with Bolsonaro. Our prime minister has seemed more measured in his approach to the covid situation than the more obdurate and headstrong Brazilian premier. Bolsonaro clearly comes off as a right-wing conservative nut with crazy policies to harm the Amazon forests and smash grassroots movements -- in addition to the wilful murder of his countrypeople by ignoring the dangers of covid.
But it will not take too much reflection to realize that the signs of a heartless megalomania form the basis of so much of Modi's actions and ways of thinking. Without reaching too far back in time, one can get enough evidence from the recent past. The distress caused to the migrant workers last year and the callousness with which the entire issue was handled; the construction of the Ram Mandir and the prime minister attending its dedication amidst a pandemic; the slap on the wrist to the Kumbh organizers and participants; and the gloating over large rallies during the canvassing recently for elections.
In each such seemingly disparate instance, there was what is called chutzpah and lack-of-caring at the same time - an insolence about action and an insensitiveness to the suffering of people. These are traits that define Brazil's Bolsonaro and have led his country to the brink of disaster. The same combination is threatening to submit our entire country to a carnage. Only, India is less than half the size of Brazil and has about six times more people. The scale of the calamity upon us is something a Bolsonaro could not have dreamed of.
---
*Writer based in Delhi NCR

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