How Adityanath sold PR as Covid outreach in Moradabad

In no small part with the aid of a section of the media.

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In the afternoon on May 8, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath visited Sunder Singh, 58, a daily wager, at his home in Moradabad’s Manoharpur. Singh and his son, Amit, had tested positive for Covid.

The Times of India and the Indian Express described the visit as Adityanath “taking stock of health facilities”, “inspecting Covid facilities” and “reviewing arrangements”.

“Walking all the way to the village,” News18 reported, “CM Yogi talked to locals about their condition. He asked them whether they got medicine. While asking questions, the CM was constantly giving instructions to officials.”

A video of Adityanath speaking with Sunder and inquiring whether his family had a toilet was shared by the state broadcaster All India Radio News. Only Adityanath is heard speaking in the video, however. When Singh responds, the audio is muted.

Sunder’s story starkly shows what a section of the media, seemingly captivated by Adityanath’s public relations machinery, doesn’t really report: the suffering of poor, disadvantaged families afflicted by Covid in interior Uttar Pradesh.

“I have to wake up every day at 4 or 5 to go to a nearby jungle and defecate,” Sundar told Newslaundry at his home two days after the chief minister’s visit. “There are 10 members in my family and only one toilet. I did tell him this. The CM was here for hardly two-three minutes. There’s a lot more I wanted to say, but I couldn’t.”

According to Sundar, Adityanath asked him to use the toilet at a government school outside the village. “It’s one kilometre away, connected through the main village road,” Sundar said he replied. “I cannot go that far.”

To this, the chief minister assured him that a new toilet would be built for him. “It never happened,” he revealed. “He said a team would come regularly to check up on me. That did not happen either.”

Amit, 27, had developed a fever on April 28. He tested negative for coronavirus in an antigen test two days later. But an RT-PCR test on May 3 came back positive. On May 5, all members of the family were tested, and despite Amit’s mother and sisters showing symptoms of Covid, only his father tested positive.

The Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines mandate that if a symptomatic person tests negative in an antigen test, their RT-PCR sample must also be collected. For Sundar’s family, this did not happen until six days later on May 11. Yet again, Amit’s mother Sharda Devi and sister tested negative. Only his brother, Mahilal, tested positive.

Sundar is the breadwinner of his family. His daily wage of Rs 300 sustains 10 members of his family. It also funds Amit’s masters in sociology degree at a local college. Sundar’s quarantine has deprived the family of this income.

“If we remain quarantined like this then how will we feed our kids?” asked Sharda Devi. “We workers can cook chapatis only if we go out and work. We have to also buy medicines for the entire house now.”

Devi added the family does not benefit from highly publicised welfare programmes – no LPG cylinder or Ayushmaan Bharat health insurance has been provided to them.

“Our electricity bill has doubled this month. Mustard oil now costs Rs 200 a kilo. How will we cope with these hikes?” asked Roma, Sundar’s niece. “The children haven’t been to school in months. Can a worker in a village afford smartphones or laptops to study online? The government should make basic arrangements for the poor.”

“We had a lot of hopes after the chief minister came,” Roma said with a hint of resignation. “But nothing came of it.”

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