Prime Minister Narendra Modi held parleys with State Chief Ministers to deal with the second wave of the pandemic which wreaked havoc in the country
“India will grow at 11 to 11.5 per cent.” This was the prediction by most of the global rating agencies in February / March 2021 such as the International Monetary Fund. From a negative growth to bouncing back to a possibility of such a phenomenal level appears to have not gone well with the Oriental Power to our East and the West. Even the Farmers’ agitation which was mostly motivated by vested interest in the country and abroad was receiving constructive attention from the Government and gradually started losing steam. Things were looking bright for the country both economically and medically. And lo behold come April 21, a Tsunami in the form of Second Wave caused by a COVID-19 variant christened by WHO as ‘Delta’ struck India.
Before the Government and the people could even fathom what had happened, Indian health infrastructure was overwhelmed and there was a general cry of mismanagement by the public and certain sections of our polity against the government.
Lack of foresight, advance preparedness for the expected Second Wave, export of vaccines at the cost of people of India were some of the scathing criticisms against the government. Black marketing of oxygen cylinders, critical medicines and lack of oxygenated beds were some of the other issues raised by political entities, personalities and the public in general. Government’s decision to hold Kumbh festivities and the elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala became a target for causing the second wave. However, observing political correctness no one spoke about the Ramazan prayers and Eid gatherings. The total cases jumped from 12 lakh to 28 lakh, an increase of 133 per cent. The deaths jumped in the same period from 1.6 lakh to 3.2 lakhs, an increase of 100 per cent.
The picture has started changing rapidly. From May 10th to date the active number of cases have started dropping from an all time high of 37 lakhs to 20 lakhs and still maintaining a downward trend. The new cases have reduced to approximately 1.5 lakhs from a high of over 4 lakhs cases per day. Death per million is one of the lowest in the world. How has this turnaround happened?
Bharat Singled Out
When a Tsunami hits land, it destroys everything in its path and the second wave was a Tsunami. While at no stage I wish to cover the loss of valuable lives by jugglery of data, it is important to understand why India was being singled out? Europe and the USA which boast of the best of health infrastructure were also overwhelmed by the second wave with their health infrastructure bursting at the seams. Let me give some comparison to substantiate this fact. At the peak of the second wave, Europe saw deaths ranging from 35,000 to 39,500 per day. The combined population of Europe is 740 million. Their health infrastructure can be gauged by the number of nurses per 1,000 persons which is 8.7 as of 2018 figure.
And compare this with figures of India with a population almost double that of Europe. India never saw per day death of more than 4500. The deaths per day at its peak was 4529 between 15 April and 29 May, 2021. Also if we examine the relative availability of nurses in India it stands at 1.7 nurses per 1000 persons. This is much below the WHO standard of 3 per 1000. Yet India is slowly but steadily getting things under control. Now one may ask as to why did not the government prepare in the intervening period between the first and the second wave to enhance medical staff and related infrastructure. To the splitting hair types, the ensuing data would be of some help. The GOI had constituted 11 Empowered Groups on 29th March 2020 on different aspects of COVID-19 management in the country. Some of the important issues covered are medical emergency planning, availability of hospitals, isolation and quarantine facility, testing, ensuring availability of essential medical equipment, augmenting human resource and capacity building. From a single laboratory equipped to undertake testing for COVID-19 in January, by the end of December 2020, 2288 laboratories (as on 30th December 2020) were conducting COVID-19 testing. Laboratories have been established in difficult terrains like Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland as well as other North Eastern states, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While there were no indigenous manufacturers of laboratory diagnostics or testing machines for COVID-19, today India has an indigenous production capacity of more than 10 lakh kits/day.
One of the obvious reasons for an anti-India tirade has been its recovery after the first wave despite facing so many impediments internally and externally. The narrative was set by inimical elements to create a situation of mismanagement by the Indian government by highlighting its decision to conduct elections and Kumbh Mela during a pandemic. There is some merit in this criticism and GoI should have scaled down Kumbh Mela and Election Commission should have issued strict guidelines for conduct of election rallies. But were these events the only cause for such a massive surge, is questionable. In this background the second wave was like a boon to the detractors of the Modi Government.
The first big criticism has been mismanagement in handling the second wave. However this may not be entirely true. Thanks to some emergent actions like reaching out to various nations for help, starting of oxygen trains to badly affected states, instituting curbs on black marketing of medicines and oxygen cylinders, ramping up of medical infrastructure by utilising the services of the DRDO and the Armed Forces and decentralising micromanagement to the states, the rate of new cases in the country is gradually falling. Similarly, in Lucknow, while hospitals remain over burdened, new hospital admissions are gradually coming down. For example the KGMC is running a 988-bed Covid facility, largest in the state, which successfully treated over 5,000 patients, conducted more than18 lakh tests at its labs and administered 40,000 vaccine doses.
The second criticism of the government was about granting permission to hold Kumbh Mela and elections. No doubt it was avoidable but was it the real spreader as is being claimed. It is in the southern states and where was Kumbh (in Uttarakhand)? Impact of elections seems to have a correlation but the story is different for West Bengal where the number of rallies were held in large numbers and the crowd was also uncontrolled. The point I am getting at is that there is more than what meets the eye. Hope India was not a victim of bio warfare timed suitably to promote the foreign producers of vaccines and promote the sale of other drugs related to covid management such as Remdesivir. Investigations on the CORONA being a biowarfare are already on and the circumstantial evidence points too strongly towards China. While the jury is still not out about COVID being biowarfare, it may soon be. And my guess is that China is deeply involved in it.
India Grey Zoned through Information War?
One has to just glean through the propaganda war waged by the West and the East alike to bring down the image of India and in particular Modi. Take a sampling of the headlines of international news papers. Top 11 Foreign news papers / e-platforms went wild on Narendra Modi's Handling of Covid Crisis. Some samplings, 1) Asia Times: ‘India’s Covid crisis is mostly Modi’s fault.’ 2) The Guardian : ‘View on Modi’s mistakes: a pandemic that is out of control.’ 3) Haaretz Daily: ‘How Modi Led India Into a COVID Catastrophe.’ 4) The Financial Times : ‘Narendra Modi and the perils of Covid hubris.’ 5) The Washington Post : Modi’s pandemic choice: ‘Protect his image or protect India. He chose himself.’ 6) CNN: ‘Covid-19 exposed populist leaders like Modi and Trump.’ 7) Truthout: ‘Indian Hospitals Overwhelmed as COVID Cases Soar in “Modi-Made Disaster.’ 8) Le Monde (French) : ‘Covid-19 : l’Inde de Narendra Modi ébranlée.’ 9) The Australian : ‘Modi leads India into viral apocalypse.’ 10) The Time (USA) :'This Is Hell.' Prime Minister Modi's Failure to Lead Is Deepening India's COVID-19 Crisis.’ And 11) DW (Germany) : ‘India's COVID-19 policy was a disaster waiting to happen.’ China was not to be left behind. A social media account affiliated with CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission posted this on Weibo. Caption: “When China sets things on fire vs when India does it.” Coming from a Government Source speaks of the Chinese intent. Indian Government has responded with maturity on this issue and has maintained silence.
Likewise, there are elements promoting personal agendas with least disregard to national and public interest. For example, due to a slight delay in administering vaccines in the month of May 2021 and in the garb of a surge due to the second wave, China was offering to dump its low quality vaccines to India. It is a well known fact that the Sinopharm, the Chinese vaccine, is only 50 to 60 % effective. It may also be recalled that Seychelles saw a dangerous jump in infections after making Sinopharm Vaccine as the mainstay of its inoculation drive. Prudence demands not to jump into fire and play with danger. What is even more surprising is that there are internal lobbies which are promoting the import of the Chinese Vaccine. Where is the need to resort to import a low quality vaccine from a sworn adversary when Investec, in a research note, has analysed the vaccine ecosystem and argued that in another three months we will have a two to three times increase in supply through a combination of enhanced domestic production, imports and newer vaccines coming in (Sputnik, Novavax, Biological-E, Cadila, Covaxin Inhaler, and Johnson & Johnson single-shot probably at around $5 per dose). Hence by October 2021 India can vaccinate 75 per cent of its 18+ population. We must guard against all forms of warfare by the Chinese and their lobbyists in the country.
China was offering to dump its low-quality vaccines to India. It is a well-known fact that the Sinopharm,
the Chinese vaccine, is only 50 to 60 per cent effective
Bury the Hatchet
The Central Government along with state governments need to bury their differences and combine well to fight the Delta variant menace. Establishment of DRDO hospitals, ramping of medical staff and caregivers, construction of oxygen plants, running of oxygen trains, grant of funds, care of orphaned children and affected people from the weaker sections of the society are some measures that the Centre and some of the State governments are taking. These efforts need to be ramped up. Preparations ought to be made in advance to meet the challenges of the third wave which is likely to affect the children. Rather than engaging the Armed Forces who have their task cut out to meet the challenges from our adversary, it may be a good idea to raise Medical TA Units which can be mobilised at short notice to deal with medical disasters of such nature. At the same time we need to fight the sinister designs of our enemies who do not want to see a prosperous and progressive India. China continues to amass troops along our borders and their effort to wage a grey zone war against the country will only increase with time. Further, internal actors who are abetting such forces are only making India weaker. Indiscretion by internal elements may look attractive to some sections of the country in the short term but it will only come to haunt them in the future. It is time for all of us to unite and fight against the dual threats of Chinese Virus and pernicious threats.
(The writer is a former Chief of Staff Eastern Command, Ex Corps Commander and Ex Commandant Army War
College among many other posts)