Two contrasting scenes of shame hit India last week. One was people dying in Ahmedabad in numbers the crematoriums could not handle. Where 20 bodies were the norm in the past, 80 were arriving due to Covid. Surat’s biggest crematorium used to attend to 30 bodies a day. Now it was forced to cremate 110 a day. (There were reports that the state was hiding death rates.) A body now has to wait for a minimum of eight hours before it can get a pyre. As a result, many cremations are taking place in open areas, violating principles of both religion and sanitation.
The other scene that should make everyone think again and again was the massive assemblage of people for the Kumbh mela. The authorities curtailed the mela’s duration from four months to one this time. Despite this sensible move, some 31 lakh people gathered in Haridwar. Bathing dates saw crowds mingling with no concern for Covid. Faith is an integral part of Indian lives and there is nothing wrong with that. But we need to realise that there is no abrogation of faith in observing health protocols. The Haridwar DM said, “We are asking people to wear masks but ensuring social distancing in this very small area is a really challenging task.” Forget social distancing; not a single mask could be spotted in the many pictures of the mela that went around.
Official figures show Haridwar saw a surge in cases since April 1 when the Kumbh began. But not all officials are worried. Some, in typical bureaucratic style, took things lightly. Uttarakhand DGP went to the extent of declaring that “data shows that Kumbh is not a super spreader.” Good that he didn’t describe Kumbh as a healer of Covid.
Each passing day is underlining the dangerous dimensions of the spreading pandemic. On April 14, as many as 1,84,372 new Corona cases were registered within a span of 24 hours, a record single-day rise. During those 24 hours, the country also registered 1,027 fatalities, pushing total Covid deaths to 1,72,085.
Those figures have been impacting India and its people in different ways. At one level, New Zealand banned Indians from entering that country. At another level, many states were forced to introduce restrictions reminiscent of the lockdown days. Maharashtra announced a 15-day statewide curfew. It also asked the Air Force to help transport oxygen supplies to the state. In Bangalore, a Covid patient could get a bench only outside hospital to lie down.
Perhaps, there is some kind of poetic justice in the depressing events in Gujarat. As the home state of a prime minister as powerful and assertive as Narendra Modi, Gujarat should have been a model state by now. But in many ways, it is a miserable state. Why, for example, did open-field cremations take place in Surat and Ahmedabad? How did Gujarat end up with more unemployment and bigger crime rates than several other states? Why does it have an upside-down kind of existence: Life is hard at the base level for people while celebration is glorious at the top level for the VIP class.
The Motera Stadium turned Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium turned Narendra Modi Stadium looks more magnificent than any stadium anywhere. Its colour scheme alone is enough to mark it out as the world’s brightest and most glamorous tribute to cricket. Actually the tribute to cricket is only incidental. Motera turned Patel turned Modi is in reality a tribute to politics. Don’t fail to notice that it was the great Sardar Patel’s name that was removed to make way for Narendra Modi’s. And don’t fail to notice that Amit Shah’s son Jay is the master of the stadium. Power does not speak Hindi any longer.
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Come to think of it, Gujarat becoming a victim of migrant influx, rising unemployment and growing crime rates is a commentary on Modi’s leadership scorecard. Chief Minister three times in a row, he could have stabilised the economy at least to the level that keeps South Indian states relatively steady. Just as he didn’t care much about the state he ruled as CM, he doesn’t seem to care too much about the country he rules as PM. In recent weeks, he was more concerned about the Bengal elections than about the Corona waves. It is clear that Narendra Modi is essentially a public relations persona. Winning applause in the maidan is what matters, not the nitty-gritty of administration. An orator is different from a managerial professional. And it’s a big difference.