Halfway through the month of May, India had more than thirty seven lakh active cases and more than two and a half lakh deaths, an extremely scary number but still; reduced to just a mere state statistic (which we don’t even know is accurate or tampered with). The emerging global COVID leader in India is nearing its death, and the process is appearing to be painful, with State intended perceptions falling flat on its face one by one due to the not so graceful unveiling of their miscalculated deceptions. The second wave has not been particularly kind to India, but leaving it at that would be an understatement. India has been a victim of its own governance failures and careless domestic de-prioritization that has led to an unprecedented and disturbing spike in the positivity rate. This led to the exposure of the already broken healthcare system of the country which not only was not prepared but also left to suffer. This consequential breakdown led to international outpour of sympathies and aid as an act of mercy. In the span of a month, India’s global leader ambitions went down the drain and the domestic sacrifice has been absolutely woeful.
(Image credits: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)
The Inhumane Global Humanitarian Effort
Reminiscing on the experience of exporting hydroxychloroquine, being hailed globally and leading the SAARC emergency fund; India really illusioned itself with all the attention. The government was aware of the context around it and sought to take advantage of it. With the antagonisation of China for the inception of the pandemic and the disastrous US response being ridiculed, India was hoping for there to be some voids in the international power structure that it could fill, that’s where the whole concept of ramping up multilateral engagement came from. On March 17th, the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made a statement in the Lok Sabha on the Vaccine Maitri initiative which was centered around the concept of providing humanitarian aid to other countries during the pandemic in terms of vaccine exports. This was expected to be and actually was perceived as a positive effort by the country, but clear contradictions in the mechanization of the initiative indicate that it was all play-acting to earn positive narrative points and further advance as one of the global leaders. Jaishankar clearly stated in his Parliament statement that, “The House should be aware that the supply of vaccines abroad is based on the assessment of adequate availability at home“; this not only gets proven wrong and is extremely contradictory with the vaccine inadequacy on the domestic front, but it also signifies how gross manipulation of narratives was intended by the State through misusing people centric propagandas. The extreme surge in cases has led to the government backtracking on it’s exporting commitments and the domestic vaccination drives have not been well thought out and signify loss of rationality in a desperate situation. The ambitious and audacious global hopes of India made them come to a significantly volatile trade off. While the export drive was intended to benefit more than 90 poor countries and aid their domestic rollouts, the costs of hold up due to domestic shortage do hit a significant roadblock to the African Union’s target of vaccinating 30-35% of its population by the end of the year.
A flurry of reckless policy decisions
After usage approvals by the regulators in January, the initial purchase orders of 10 million of Oxford Astra Zeneca’s Covishield doses in partnership with the Serum Institute of India and 4.5 million of the homegrown Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin were inadequate keeping in mind the first target of vaccinating the vulnerable population of 300 million by July. This inadequacy hurt the most when the second wave hit and that as a consequence led to the start of panic buying of doses. While the Central government used to initially be the sole purchaser of vaccine doses, the government threw the market open to all the states as well as private hospitals, giving them the jurisdiction to negotiate and order vaccine purchases from SII and Bharat Biotech. This not only led to the fallout of the whole regulated structure but also created differences in prices of the vaccine doses ranging amongst the State orders and the private orders. Moreover, the reckless escalation of the vaccine drive was even more of a sign of desperation. The government is well behind the target of vaccinating the vulnerable and frontline workers by July, but in an unusual state of affairs, decided to open up the vaccine drives to all 18-44 year individuals. Neither does this bode well with the extreme shortage of vaccines created by the miscalculation of the second wave spike, but it also is deliberate throwing of the state governments under the bus, while the Centre desperately tries to maintain the narrative that ‘PM Cares’. States like Punjab are not only having difficulties coping up with the new vaccine drives, but are even facing struggles to avoid shortage amongst the prioritized vaccination drive of people above the age of 45.
Blindfaith vs Distrust
The Pandemic hasn’t been easy for any state, but the factor that does hold a lot of value is trust. It is what plays a huge part in dictating which nation comes out better off and vice versa. The active essence of a social contract between the people and the authority goes both ways and hence, public cooperation is what directs the efficacy of government decisions. S. Korea had an exceptionally successful contract tracing system because the people trusted their government with their data. The same policy refused to work in countries like India where people couldn’t gather trust in the government with their data given the usual tendency of intrusiveness that the authorities had established irrespective of the pandemic. Moreover, the strategy that the ruling party in India (BJP) banks on is one of relying on a nationalist narrative to establish a divisive outcome. This seems extremely counterproductive but symbolising identity is their go-to in an attempt to reinforce unity and integrity irrespective of the context. That’s the same logic they used to create an atmosphere of cooperation in the country, but they were rather forcing on nationalism than actually creating a feeling of it. This hugely contributes to the personal costs that people recently have had to go through mentally and physically.
The Modi government now has to bear the brunt on both domestic and global accounts as the narrative of humanitarian effort on a global scale goes completely antithetical to their long drawn India-first nationalist agenda that got them into office in the first place. Mass misinformation, lack of health infrastructure and resources, miscalculated governance, shallow propaganda prioritisation and a suffering population speak volumes of how everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. While COVID caused the casualties in the first wave, the Indian state exponentially manifested it in the second wave.
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