The second wave of the coronavirus epidemic has caught the country off guard. If this was not the case, we would not have achieved the dubious distinction of topping the charts in the cases of the most contagious viral infection ever. At a time when the corona cases world over have come down drastically, death toll from the pandemic is soaring to new heights in India. No one, not even the government, seems to have a clue as to how to contain the scourge.
The role of the government is especially preposterous. It is supposed to lead the fight against the pandemic. But it still seems to indulge in a shadow boxing. While people are struggling to save the lives of their loved ones, the government is busy gagging its critics in a wane bid to save its image.
As the cases started peaking in April, the healthcare system in the country came crashing down on our face with the essentials which could save valuable human lives woefully in short supply. As the people were craving for oxygen, vaccines, medicines, doctors etc., the administration left them to fend for themselves.
There was no government presence on the ground zero; the health ministers, home minister, and even the prime minister, who has been very active when the pandemic had struck the country last year, were nowhere to be seen. Even the dire supporters of Prime Minister Naredendra Modi were frustrated that this time around there was no task given to them by the leader which could have made the pandemic enjoyable; no lighting of diyas (lamps), no beating of plates just a relentless race to get that godforsaken oxygen cylinder. Even prime minister’s call for the Teeka Utsav, or the vaccine festival did not evoke the euphoria.
When cases crossed 3.5-lakh mark a day, the government sprung into action, not to deal with the situation, but to suspend the social media accounts critical of the government’s role in handling the healthcare emergency. The government prevailed on the social media platforms which gave in to its undue demands after initial resistance. This too failed to salvage the image of the government as shutting down. However, with no worthwhile contribution to showcase its fight against the pandemic the government projected removal of a few Twitter accounts as a great feat in saving the “image of the country”. For it, the country and the government are synonymous.
Unfortunately, unlike last year the challenge this time around was much bigger. So big that the government could not wish away by issuing healthcare advisories and clamping nationwide lockdown. But the mainstream media, which has over the years assumed the dubious distinction of godi (lapdog) media remained steadfastly faithful to the government giving a cover up to all its omissions and commissions. Rather than questioning the government for its mishandling the crisis, it showed the government’s failures as achievements.
Even when the government went on to conduct assembly elections amid the unprecedented Covid surge putting the lives of the people at grave risk, the domesticated media extolled the move as a sincere effort to fulfill a constitutional obligation. It went on to blame everyone critical of the government for its insensitivity to woes of the common man. It did everything to save its master.
However, the foreign media, which was under no obligation to defend the indefensible, exposed it all. When our TV channels were busy showing Modi-Shah rallies in West Bengal during the assembly elections, the foreign newspapers and TV channels were giving wide coverage to funeral pyres that broke all records.
They squarely blamed Prime Minister Modi and his government for the corona disaster. The decision to hold elections especially came in for strong censure by the global media. They saw in massive election rallies in the state of Bengal throwing corona protocol to winds as presumptuous.
The government tried its best to prevent the international media from maligning its image through back channels but failed to do so as the global media does not have the flexible spine of Indian media. Rather than bending over backwards to accommodate the government, it became all the more resolute in its conviction.
Australian newspaper reproduced an article blaming Prime Minister Modi for the catastrophe. Our High Commission there wrote a scathing letter to the newspaper. The newspaper in turn published the letter as well. It was naïve of the mission to try to rein in on the paper without having a second thought.
But what hurt the people in the government most was criticism of the government by its own people. One could pardon the foreign media that might be working on an agenda, but citizens maligning its image were unpardonable. An FIR was filled against 27 people who plastered posters on the walls of Delhi reading: The Prime Minister why did you send our Children’s Vaccine to outsiders?” Most of them were caught and jailed. They were of course poor people making a little money. The message of the government to its citizens is clear. We are on the path of becoming the global guru, a country to which everyone looks with hopes and admirations. Democracy is the hallmark of our country. Pandemics come and go and we may have to silence the very people for their own democratic rights!
Be it the elections for states or panchayats, they must be conducted on time. We cannot let our country down on democracy or people’s religious aspirations for that matter. If millions of devotees want to take a holy dip in River Ganges during the Kumbh, how can anyone stop them from doing so? Mind you, it is the faith, not the system that keeps this country going. TV channels are rightly reminding us of the systemic failure the country was going through.
As established by the mainstream Indian media, it was a systemic failure. It was an act of God kind of thing for which nobody, least of all the government, could be blamed. Yes it is a systemic failure and the country is on “Ram bharose” (divine intervention). Meanwhile people came out in large numbers to help each other during the crisis. Sikhs organised oxygen langers while Muslim groups offered free funeral services for the dead. They were all driven by ulterior motives though, to impress the majority and win their hearts, making the opportunity of a crisis!
Social media is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. Grief stricken people are venting their ire on the social media. They nullified IT cell propaganda and called them canard spreaders. Suddenly the faceless Indian became active and started trending #resignmodi hashtag, it was a war-like situation. This left the government with no option but to swing into action.
The government sent notices to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All that it wanted was to take down posts and block accounts that were discussing the pandemic and its mismanagement. Obliging the government, Twitter blocked over 50 tweets criticising the handling of the pandemic. Please understand, once you vote a party to power, your power is transferred to it. So, sit back, shut up, relax and stop grumbling till the next elections.
News websites like The Print and Scroll started questioning the government. They asked why tons of relief material from abroad was lying idle at the Delhi airport. Why couldn’t the government dispatch that to the end-users immediately? Again it was not the government, but the system that did the mischief going by the claims of the Godi Media. The material must be scrutinised, checked, sanitised, and made a list in triplicate before it could be dispatched!
Moreover, it had to be sent for approval of higher-ups who had to consult their higher-ups. We have a reputation to maintain. We also have our bureaucratic procedures to follow. So obviously it took around ten days to reach the end-users. Three days from the world to India – ten days from India to India but now you know the reason. The nation can’t thank enough the Times Now channel and its anchor Navika Kumar for putting things in perspective. She so lucidly explained these procedures in detail.
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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi