Days after The Lancet blamed the Narendra Modi government for mismanaging India’s COVID-19 crisis, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan endorsed a blog written by one Pankaj Chaturvedi of the Tata Memorial Centre, as a “fair rebuttal to the imbalanced article”.
In a scathing editorial, the medical journal had observed that the government was “more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic”.
Dr Harsh Vardhan’s tweet endorsing the blog seemingly had the same motive — removing criticism. Apart from him, several other party leaders and ministers including Nirmala Sitharaman, Jitendra Singh, N Biren Singh, Baijayant Jay Panda, and G Kishan Reddy shared the rebuttal as well.
What does the blog say? But first, who’s Professor Chaturvedi? A professor at the Tata Memorial Centre, Chaturvedi is a head and neck cancer surgeon and an oral cancer specialist, according to his blog.
Sharing his blog on Twitter, he said he had felt “indignant with poor portrayal of India” in The Lancet editorial.
The overarching theme of the blogpost is to conclude that the motive of The Lancet editorial was to defame India in the backdrop of the ongoing “Twitter trend”.
Chaturvedi compares the motive of the editorial to that of the British in the colonial era, saying it was “full of malice and contempt”.
Although it acknowledges the several missteps on part of the government, including failure to predict the second wave, holding election rallies and the Kumbh Mela, and the prevalent vaccine shortage. It tries to argue that the deaths in India are low, as compared to other nations, and its vaccination rate is the highest in the world.
There’s a curious sign-off, which reads Tiger Zinda Hai, a probable allusion to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but that line has now been removed.
Chaturvedi’s Blog: Selective Statistics, Weak Arguments
Chaturvedi’s blog acknowledges several failures of the Centre but is also riddled with problematic statements and comparisons, and selective statistics.
Rebutting the criticism of the government exporting vaccines to other countries before planning for Indians first, Chaturvedi said the exports shows the “magnanimity” of the Indian government who sent 66 million dosages abroad on humanitarian grounds.
Further, Chaturvedi gave statistics to show how India had managed to vaccinate more people in the shortest possible time, as compared to the US and the UK. However, he did not acknowledge how those nations have a higher number of people who are fully vaccinated with both doses, while the majority in India are vaccinated only with the first dose and most in the 18-44 age group are struggling to even get a slot.
While The Lancet editorial spoke of the “essential role that the Central government plays” in enforcing measures and providing vaccines, Chaturvedi’s blog goes on to say that “as per the Constitution, health care is a state subject”.
He said that along with the Centre, the state governments too were not prepared for the second wave, but does not mention how states have had to suspend vaccination drives several times for days due to unavailability of vaccines, or the fact that the Centre took days to take up the issue of oxygen shortage on war-footing until the courts intervened.
Chaturvedi said that while election rallies could have been avoided, the elections themselves could not be deferred due to “politically sensitive situations in states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.”
Further, commenting on the Kumbh Mela, he said that it should have been cancelled, comparing the ‘number of people per square kilometer’ in the Mela to Mumbai and other cities, saying that the latter had more people living in close proximity.
While blaming “bad journalists making punching bags out of politicians”, the blog also went on to argue against the allegations of stifling dissent by the BJP government amid the pandemic, as mentioned in The Lancet editorial.
Chaturvedi referred to the “debates of criticism” being conducted by TV news channels, while failing to mention events such as: The Centre allegedly asking Twitter to delete at least 50 anti-government tweets, the UP government’s ultimatums to citizens for sharing oxygen SOS on social media (both examples mentioned in The Lancet report), or the recent arrests of AAP workers in Delhi for putting up posters critical of PM Narendra Modi.
Harsh Vardhan, Others Face Flak For Sharing Blog
Dr Harsha Vardhan and BJP supporters came under fire on Twitter for amplifying the blogpost that gives “selective statistics”.