The Platform


Narendra Modi’s utter failure during the pandemic sheds light on the dangers of a cult of personality.

India has seen better days, and the last year and a half is a testament to this fact. Every country has faced its own set of hurdles to combat the virus around the world. While some have succeeded, many are still making their best efforts to recuperate from the devastation. India, currently in distress, continues to struggle for life and breath. The pandemic constantly keeps reminding these countries of their shortcomings in the health sector. However, the Indian government, ignorant of the cues, apparently has bigger fish to fry.

There are primarily two major events that resulted in the second wave in India: West Bengal election campaign rallies and the festival of Maha Kumbh in the city of Haridwar, in India’s Uttarakhand state.

India saw the comeback of the pandemic, marking phase two of the deadly virus in March. The WHO’s Situation Update Report – 58 dated as early as March 10 shows that the Indian states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Karnataka continued to report high surges on a daily basis. States were beginning to realize that the threat was far from over, and started to prepare themselves. One week later, we witnessed Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding large rallies in West Bengal.

We saw tens of thousands of people attending campaign rallies amid the surging pandemic, officially organized and sponsored by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. While the opposition questioned the organization of such campaign rallies, Modi and India’s home minister urged people to attend in huge numbers and support their party. Thousands were seen flouting social distancing norms and not wearing masks, including the prime minister himself. As a natural consequence, cases in West Bengal skyrocketed, with the state recording a spike of 19,216 new coronavirus cases.

Similarly, the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar saw millions participating in religious festivities, even when the city was reporting an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. Instead of dissuading people from gathering in such large numbers, the Union government took contrasting decisions by placing special trains for devotees to participate in the festivities. If this wasn’t enough, the central government’s official Instagram handle and website declared a video competition where devotees were encouraged to submit videos of their participation in the Kumbh fair and win 1 lakh rupees as a reward. This step was taken only to get more people to attend the event which later resulted in thousands testing positive for coronavirus. The website of the Kumbh Mela itself is adorned by the image of the prime minister, revealing how the event was not only sponsored but, in fact, organized by Modi’s government.

The presence of Modi at the West Bengal rallies and the actions of the government transporting devotees to the Kumbh Mela, encouraging them to participate and incentivizing the same by actively handing out rewards all culminate in one conclusion; the Indian government, by way of its actions, has actively played a key role in spreading the virus.

One would have thought that after the government witnessed Indians grasping for medical oxygen, they would fulfill their obligation and come to their aid and rescue. However, what happened in India was a tug of war, where states pled for the Union government’s attention while the central government shunned responsibility in Indian courts.

One such instance is the capital of Delhi. On May 1, owing to the shortage of oxygen, the Delhi High Court directed the government to issue 490 MT of oxygen to the capital. A division bench of Hon’ble Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli told the government that Delhi must be provided with the required amount of oxygen on the same day “by whatever means.” However, the central government, rather than expediting the process and acting upon the court’s direction, chose to look the other way, resulting in the death of hundreds in Delhi.

Subsequently, the High Court on May 4 pulled the plug, and issued a show-cause notice to the centre, asking why contempt of court proceedings should not be instituted against the latter for disobeying direct orders. While responsible governments would generally comply with court orders at this moment, the Indian government proceeded to challenge said show-cause notice in the Supreme Court of India. Here, the team of counsels representing the central government could be seen evading the government’s culpability and attempting to persuade the court to grant them more time. While the Solicitor General stated, at the very outset, that the case was not adversarial, and how it wasn’t the centre vs. Delhi, the Union sure seemed reluctant to provide the required relief to the capital. Eventually, the Supreme Court bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Mukesh Shah directed the government to provide 700 MT of medical oxygen to Delhi on a daily basis, which the latter had no option but to comply with. However, if the center had acted upon similar orders by the Delhi High Court, thousands of innocent lives could have been saved.

Another aspect worth pondering over is the manner in which the Indian government mishandled the COVID-19 vaccination drive. While the CoWin website, India’s online portal for vaccine registration, calls it the “largest vaccine drive,” the reality of it is far less appealing. An initial attempt to register for vaccination on the “state-of-the-art” portal bore no fruit, as the website kept crashing. Additionally, for those who managed to gain access, the website showed no available slots. This led to people questioning the government’s premature assertions and ineffective solutions.

On April 20, the government announced that vaccines would be available to all people aged 18 and above from May 1. However, a closer look revealed that while the government made tall claims to vaccinate all adults, states were not provided with enough vaccines to cater to their needs. Individual states complained that even though the central government had launched the vaccination drive, the stock of vaccines was yet to be delivered to the states, resulting in a vaccine shortage. Further, many have also termed the online process as inaccessible and exclusionary, with the Allahabad High Court on May 11 asking the Uttar Pradesh and Union governments how they would vaccinate illiterate villagers and labor if they cannot register online. The government’s inability to respond and have alternative procedures ready for the less tech-savvy population raises a huge question about the current administration.

These instances are just the tip of the iceberg that is the failure of governance in India during the pandemic. Where a welfare state must provide assistance to the population and attempt to increase their quality of life, the Indian government’s dwindling response to the worsening situation has led the country into an acute crisis. Today, we witness the government’s unfitting priorities, hollow claims, and ineffective results. The political game is so superior in India, that the needs of the people have taken a back seat. Naturally, the people of India continue to struggle with the virus and the arrogant government alike.

Sambhav Sharma is a student at Amity Law School, Delhi. He holds a keen interest in the fields of International Human Rights Law and Dispute Resolution.