Counter Media’s ‘One-Sided’ Narrative: Jaishankar at COVID Meet

Envoys were told that there could be no connection between public gatherings like election rallies & spike in cases.

3 min read
External Affair Minister S Jaishankar, who earlier served as foreign secretary from 2015-2018.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar attended a virtual meeting with Indian ambassadors and high commissioners from across the globe on Thursday, 29 April, and said that the “one-sided” narrative of PM Narendra Modi and his administration’s failure in the face of COVID surge in international media must be countered.

The meeting referred to the uncompromising editorials, commentary and reports published in internationally renowned newspapers such as the New York Times, Guardian, Le Monde, and Straits Times that have reported of the ruling BJP government ignoring warnings by experts, holding a mammoth election in West Bengal and organising the Kumbh Mela – one of the world’s biggest religious congregations – in the midst of a health emergency.

The call for countering these reports came amid a deluge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country, with record-breaking daily cases and fatalities. The alarming rate of infections has led to a tattered and paralysed healthcare infrastructure.

Visuals of ambulances and patients waiting outside hospitals, mass cremations in Delhi and other places have also been running on international TV news channels, demonstrating India’s lack of preparation.

According to the officials at the meeting, the virtual gathering’s official “context” was the state’s efforts to mobilise resources, including oxygen container, concentrators, ventilators, drugs and vaccines from countries that have offered necessary COVID-19 aid, The Indian Express reported.

Minister of state V Muraleedharan, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and officials predominantly dealing with the health crisis also attended the meeting.

Two things were primarily discussed in the hour-long meeting, officials said, The Indian Express reported. Besides the effort to procure COVID-related material, on which many officials reportedly raised questions, the other prevailing theme was taking control of the international media narrative.

Union Minister Jaishankar conveyed the message to not get overpowered by the “negative” media reports, but to take charge and project the government’s side of things, officials said.

Further, according to the report in The Indian Express, the meeting underlined that no public health expert predicted the severity of the second surge and even in the most ‘developed’ countries, the health infrastructure had crumbled in the first wave, highlighting that this was not uniquely an Indian disaster.

The envoys were also told that the oxygen crisis was not because of a shortfall in production, but due to restricted geographies of production. They were also told that there could be no connection between public gatherings like campaign rallies and the spike in infection numbers.

Jaishankar sought to prove his point by saying that the two states that did not go to polls, Delhi and Maharashtra, had the highest COVID numbers, The Indian Express reported.

The Foreign Minister reportedly failed to bring up the Kumbh Mela, which has widely been referred to as a ‘super-spreader’ event in international news reports.

No questions were raised on the repercussions of Kumbh or the crowded election rallies held by PM Modi Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah, which had seen violation of COVID-19 protocols in large numbers.

The diplomats reportedly suggested that there was no need to contradict every media criticism with a rebuke of the kind written by the deputy high commissioner in response to a report in ‘The Australian’ headlined “Modi Leads India out of lockdown…and into COVID apocalypse”, The Indian Express reported.

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