In their own words: How India’s leaders mishandled the Covid crisis

‘We are in the endgame of the pandemic in India,’ the health minister declared just before the disastrous second wave hit.

BySalil Ahuja
In their own words: How India’s leaders mishandled the Covid crisis
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On March 7, union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan exclaimed at a medical conference, “We are in the endgame of the Covid 19 pandemic in India.” Just over a month later, India was grappling with a deadly second wave, with infections rising exponentially and fatalities keeping pace. On April 28, India reported 3,79,399 cases and 3,646 deaths, the highest in a day since the pandemic began but still suspected to be far fewer than the real numbers.

How did we come to this? There’s never a singular reason for a catastrophe of this scale, but the mishandling of the pandemic by the Indian state is a key factor. And how it has mismanaged the situation is clear from remarks made by its top functionaries in the recent past. Here, by no means exhaustive, is a sampler:

“At the beginning of the pandemic, global experts had predicted that India would face a tsunami of Covid cases. But with the use of public participation and technology, India was able to turn the fight against Covid into a mass movement...India's statistics cannot be compared with one country as 18 percent of the world's population lives here and yet, we not only solved our problems but also helped the world fight the pandemic.”

Narendra Modi, prime minister, in a speech at WEF’s Davos Summit, January 28

“At the beginning of this pandemic, the whole world was worried about India's situation. But today India's fight against corona is inspiring the entire world.”

– Narendra Modi in a virtual address, February 16

“I have never ever seen such huge crowds at a rally. Today, in all directions, I have seen such a rally for the first time...today you have shown such a force, such power...wherever I see I just see people."

– Narendra Modi addressing an election rally in Asansol, April 17

“Why the hue and cry on Kumbh? How many cases are there? Out of 1,00,000 people, only 970 returnees from there have tested positive.”

– Amit Shah, home minister, in an interview with Times Now, April 18

“Significant progress needs to be made on the cow science front before PM Modi’s speech on 75th Independence Day. Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used as an excuse for this delay.”

– Harsh Vardhan, health minister, at a virtual meeting, April 13

“India is better prepared mentally and physically this year with more experience to beat the Covid-19 pandemic as compared to 2020.”

– Harsh Vardhan, April 27

“History shall be kinder to you Dr Manmohan Singh ji if your offer of ‘constructive cooperation’ and valuable advice was followed by your Congress leaders as well in such extraordinary times.”

– Harsh Vardhan in a letter to the former prime minister, April 19

“It is clear from the massive crowd at PM Modi’s rally in Assam that the people of the state want a government of double engines.”

– Harsh Vardhan, April 3

“There is no need for masks, coronavirus is gone in Assam. I will let people know when it is time to wear masks again. For now, our goal is to revive the economy. How will beauty parlours run if we wear a mask?”

– Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam health minister, April 4

“There is no oxygen shortage in any Covid hospital. Seize the property of individuals who spread ‘rumours’ and propaganda on social media and try to ‘spoil the atmosphere’.”

– Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh chief minister, April 24

“Nobody can stop Covid deaths. People get old and they have to die.”

– Prem Singh Patel, Madhya Pradesh MLA, April 15

“No oxygen supply crisis in Madhya Pradesh.”

– Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh chief minister, April 8

“Those who have died will not come back by creating a furore."

– Manohar Lal Khattar, Haryana chief minister, April 26

“Kumbh is held on the bank of river Ganga. Maa Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow. Hence, there should be no corona.”

– Tirath Singh Rawat, Uttarakhand chief minister, April 13

“I invite all devotees across the world to come to Haridwar and take a holy dip in the Ganga during Maha Kumbh. Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19, as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.”

– Tirath Singh Rawat, March 20

“Cast your vote, don't worry about COVID. I am your pehradar.”

– Mamata Banerjee, Bengal chief minister, April 25

“Those who do labour work remain unaffected by corona. Workers of the BJP have done labour work and none of them has been infected.”

– Govind Patel, Gujarat MLA, March 21

“There has been no laxity on the part of the EC in enforcing Covid protocol.”

– Ariz Aftab, Bengal chief electoral officer, in an affidavit, April 19

“Suggestions to club the remaining phases of West Bengal polls is not feasible. The EC has mandated guidelines to ensure that safety norms are adhered to without any exception.”

– EC's response to query posed by Derek O’Brien, April 21

“All necessary care as such shall be taken by the state government to prevent spread of infection during the course of panchayat raj elections. Hence, the PIL [seeking postponement of elections in UP] is dismissed."

– Govind Mathur, chief justice, and Saurabh Shyam Shamsher, justice, Allahabad high court, April 9

“We have to act as responsible individuals rather than acting as an unhappy girlfriend.”

– Tushar Mehta, solicitor general, talking about the oxygen crisis in the Delhi high court, April 22

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