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On 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the world's strictest lockdown. The reason, COVID-19. The PM was optimistic. He hoped to beat the virus in 21 days.
'Jaan hai, to Jahaan hai', said the PM. A year later, contrast that with 'shamshaan ghats' in India with multiple funeral pyres burning. Unable to cope with the surge in deaths in the deadly second wave, we also saw visuals of hundreds of bodies in the Ganga and in shallow graves on its banks. We saw people gasping for oxygen in auto-rickshaws parked outside hospitals, as oxygen, hospital beds and ambulances fell short.
Since March 2020, India has seen successive lockdowns, over 3.5 lakh deaths, and severe economic hardship. Right through, what has remained constant is PM Modi’s misplaced optimism, and repeated assurances, ranging from announcing ‘an already-in-place effective health care system’ to ‘India’s human centric approach’ while dealing with COVID patients.
The Quint has compiled seven key promises and claims made by the PM since the first lockdown, contrasting it to the reality on the ground.
PROMISE #1: ‘WE WILL WIN THE WAR ON COVID IN 21 DAYS’
On 24 March 2020, PM Modi said, "Mahabharata war was won in 18 days. Our aim is to win this war against COVID in 21 days". Fifteen months later, the Coronavirus has infected 2,90,89,069 as of 9 June 2021. The number of those dead stands at 3,53,528 .
While top medical journals and global media including The Lancet, The New York Times, Reuters, BBC, and The Guardian, have questioned the credibility of India's COVID data, Haryana's Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar says, "We don’t have to play with the data. A person who has died, will not come alive again because of this furore"
PROMISE #2: 'NO COMPROMISE WITH THE LIVES OF INDIANS'
In another address to the nation PM Modi, on 14 April 2020, said that there can be no compromise with the lives of Indians.
However, according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 577 children across the country have been orphaned in just 55 days of the second wave of COVID. Over 1600 teachers died of COVID after poll duties during the UP panchayat elections in April 2021.
According to Indian Medical Association, close to 450 doctors succumbed to COVID in the second wave, while 420 police personnel passed away in Maharashtra alone.
PROMISE #3: 'VACCINE FOR THE PUBLIC IN THE SHORTEST TIME’
Wearing a saffron turban and with determination in his speech, PM Modi assured India on Independence Day that the 'roadmap for vaccine production and delivery to the public in the shortest time is ready'. He went a step ahead and launched a national ID card under the National Digital Health Mission.
While the latter never saw the light of the day, the plan for vaccine production and delivery has also struggled to see light at the end of the tunnel.
India’s much touted mega vaccine drive has struggled. Initially, it was a centralized procurement and distribution policy to inoculate those above the age of 45 years. But as vaccine production failed to keep pace with demand, the central government ‘liberalized’ its vaccine procurement policy and asked the states to float global tenders. As expected, almost no major foreign pharma companies responded, preferring to deal with the central government on vaccine sale.
The vaccination drive for the 18-44 age group was halted in several states, while thousands remained vulnerable, unsure of getting their 2nd dose. As of 25 May 2021, 20 crore vaccines were administered and 280 crore vaccines were still required to double vaccinate all Indians.
A cocktail of blunders - poor planning, no pre-booking, piecemeal procuring and unregulated pricing by Mr Modi‘s government has turned India’s vaccine drive into a deeply unfair competition.Public Health Experts to BBC on 14 May 2021
It was reckless of India to give away or sell 66 million vaccines to countries across the world without securing supplies for its own people first.The Indian Express on 27 April 2021
PROMISE #4: ‘THEY (VACCINES) ARE AVAILABLE NOW’
On 16 January 2021, India launched its vaccine program with two vaccines - Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Declaring that the two ‘indegenious’ vaccine will provide a ‘defining victory’ over the virus, PM Modi said, “Everyone was curious when vaccines would be available. They are available now. The work on other vaccines is progressing at a fast pace”.
Confident of the ‘Made-in-India’ vaccines, the government said no to Pfizer in February 2021. Opening vaccination for the 18-44 age group on 1 May was another poorly planned move.
Prime MinisterNarendra Modi’s federal government has opened up vaccinations for some 960 million eligible Indians without having anything close to the required supply that is, more than 1.8 billion dosesBBC on 14 May 2021
The myopia of the Narendra Modi government has resulted in a shortage of vaccines, inconveniencing citizens. The pace of vaccination has left a lot to be desired.The Telegraph on 20 May 2021
Finally waking up to the crippling shortage of vaccines and mounting COVID deaths, the centre invited Pfizer and Moderna again, but it was too late. On 24 May 2021, the Union Health Ministry accepted this reality.
Both Pfizer and Moderna.. their order books are already full. It depends on their surplus how much they can provide to India. They will come back to Govt of India and we will ensure their doses are supplied at the state level.Lav Agarwal, Jt Secretary, Health Ministry
PROMISE #5: ‘BEATEN ALL ODDS IN THE BATTLE AGAINST COVID’
Addressing the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda Summit, PM Modi said that India had beaten all odds in the war against COVID 19. Perhaps another victory claimed too soon.
The country saw the second wave of COVID emerging in late February. There was an unprecedented shortage of ICU beds, oxygen, critical medicines, health workers and vaccines. Crematoriums ran out of space.
In an article titled ’India’s COVID-19 emergency’, The Lancet said, ‘Hospitals are overwhelmed and healthcare workers are exhausted and becoming infected. Social media is full of desperate people (doctors and the public) seeking medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other necessities’
PROMISE #6: ‘INDIA IS FOLLOWING A HUMAN-CENTRIC APPROACH’
“India’s fight against COVID is inspiring the world. India is following a human centric approach to furthering global good which is based on healthy balanced welfare and well being” said PM Modi speaking at the 75th Anniversary of the Shri Ram Chandra Mission on 16 February 2021.
The reality? Hundreds of unidentified bodies, found floating in the Ganga and in shallow graves on its banks, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 10-15 May 2021. Mainly because of a rise in the price of wood and cost of cremations, as COVID-19 deaths surged in rural India.
Scores of bodies are washing up on the banks of the Ganges as Indians fail to keep pace with the deaths and cremations of around 4,000 people a day from the CoronavirusReuters on 11 May 2021
PROMISE #7 ‘USE LOCKDOWN AS LAST RESORT’
As the second wave crippled the nation, PM Modi in an address to the nation on 27 April 2021 said, “We have to save the country from lockdown. Use lockdown only as the last resort.”
The number of vaccines administered plummeted from 43 lakh doses on 5 April 2021 to 7 lakh doses on 9 May 2021. While deaths rose to over 4,500 daily. As of 1 June 2021, almost every state was in full or partial lockdown.
The second wave has exposed the glaring inadequacy of health infrastructure in the country. Not only in remote rural pockets but in the heart of the national capital, New Delhi, and financial capital MumbaiThe Indian Express on 22 April 2021
The scenes of suffering have been hard to comprehend across the country. Is it the lack of scientific temper, is it poor planning and red tape, is it the replacement of action by big boasts and empty rhetoric?
The horrific consequences are before us. If lessons have been learnt, then its time to end the rhetoric, own up to mistakes, and provide responsible leadership.
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