The Coronavirus pandemic has turned everyone’s world upside-down. Other than being a pandemic and the obvious ramifications that come with the world grappling with millions affected and thousands dead, what the pandemic has revealed, however, are the hits and misses of our system of governance. Essentially, in a country of 1.3 Billion people, controlling a pandemic like this can be a near impossibility at worst, a nightmare at best. Amidst the chaos, the central government showed remarkable alacrity in its quest to control the virus. The sheer resilience of the medical workers, essential services personnel and the police force, that India often likes to criticise, rose to the occasion. In fact, until the Tablighi Jamaat case blew up, it almost seemed like India was fighting the pandemic with far more ease than the other countries. Even after the Tablighi Jamaat cases exploded, the decisiveness with which the central government and the state governments have acted in tracking, quarantining and testing, gives one immense hope.
However, in such dark times, while the collective mettle of a nation is tested, it is the gravity of leaders that is tested the most. In this regard, judging by the praise being showered, one state and one leader has emerged victorious.
From actors to neutral journalists, if one reads their tweets, it would appear that Maharashtra has come out ahead of the curve and contained the Coronavirus threat, or at least, it is doing a remarkable job at it.
Now, mostly, dealing with an unprecedented pandemic of this proportion there are bound to be hits and misses. It would be foolish to imagine or to expect that any government world over would make no mistakes and deal with the pandemic with perfection. However, the mistakes become even more glaring when a marketing campaign is unleashed to project a state that stands at the cusp of a downward spiral as one that is managing the pandemic the best.
The Tablighi Jamaat fiasco and Maharashtra’s under-reporting, shielding and dog-whistling
The Coronavirus positive cases in India reached 4067 with most number of cases being reported from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, in that order. Maharashtra reported 690 cases with 45 deaths, Tamil Nadu reported 571 cases with 5 deaths and Delhi reported 503 cases with 7 deaths.
It is pertinent to note that Maharashtra has reported the most number of cases (690) and most number of deaths (45) as compared to any other state in India. Till this moment, that amounts to Maharashtra contributing almost 17% of the total cases in India and 41% deaths due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
While Maharashtra cases according to the Central Ministry website stands at 690, according to the Media Bulletin released by the Maharashtra government, the total cases have increased to 748 as on 5th April.
The obvious reaction to these statistics is to wonder if the Tablighi Jamaat cases contributed to the cases in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi ballooning to this level.
Until the 4th April, when the cases in Maharashtra were at the 490 level, there were only 7 cases related to Tablighi Jamaat reported.
As one can see, till the 4th of April, while Maharashtra reported 7 out of 490 to be Tablighi Jamaat related, the other two states, Delhi and Tamil Nadu reported 301 out of 445 and 364 out of 411 respectively.
Since then, news has surfaced that over 1300 people who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi are present in Maharashtra. It is unimaginable, that with such numbers and the number of cases in Maharashtra going from 490 to 690 (781 according to media reports) since April 4th and 1300 Tablighi Jamaat members present in Maharashtra, the cases of Coronavirus linked to the Jamaat would be low.
So why is the Maharashtra government tight-lipped on the number of cases related to Tablighi Jamaat and why is there no authentic report from the state government as to how many cases related to the Nizamuddin event have come to the fore in Maharashtra?
It was on the 4th of April itself that Uddhav Thackeray had announced that all cases linked to Tablighi Jamaat have been identified and traced. He also claimed that they have been isolated and quarantined. If one would take Uddhav Thackeray on face value, then the surge of case in Maharashtra since April 4th (of 200 cases) would make little sense.
However, doubts are raised when one realises that just a day before, on 3rd April, the Maharashtra Health Department had said that 1033 people out of the 1225 Tablighi attendees had been located.
1225 People,who returned from Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi have been identified,1033 have been located. 738 people quarantined&out of them 7 have tested positive for #Coronavirus till now-2 each from Pune , Ahmednagar&Pimpari Chinchwad and 1 from Sangli: Maharashtra Health Dept https://t.co/4zIEd0pXnV— ANI (@ANI) April 3, 2020
Unless the Government of Maharashtra tracked and quarantined 200 people in a span of one day, there seems to be a dichotomy in the statements coming out of Maharashtra.
For a moment, even if we do assume that Maharashtra did track and quarantine 200 people in a single day and thus, all those who attended the Tablighi event were contained, in a strange update, Mumbai police tweeted today, on the 6th of April, urging those who attended the Tablighi event to come forward and call on the helpline Maharashtra had launched.
We request all attendees of Tablighi Markaz at Nizamuddin, New Delhi to report their travel details on @mybmc helpline 1916 & help us in our fight against this pandemic.— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) April 6, 2020
Those failing to cooperate will face strict action under IPC, DM Act & Epidemic Act.#TakingOnCorona
There are certain question that can be raised from the dichotomy in statements by the Maharashtra government:
- Did the Maharashtra government lie when it said all Tablighi attendees have been traced?
- Is Maharashtra hiding details of the cases related to Tablighi Jamaat
- Is there overall under-reporting in Maharashtra.
While the pandemic has taken mammoth proportions in the state, the Maharashtra government has single-mindedly focused more on “secularism”, or the false notion of it, at least, than actually fighting the pandemic. And this statement is corroborated by the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s own rants.
On the 4th of April, when the positive Tablighi Jamaat cases were reportedly only 7 out of 490 (which is 0.014%), the Chief Minister of Maharashtra tweeted, telling people to desist from spreading “communalism”.
The tweet by CMO Maharashtra was craftily written. On first reading, one thinks that the CMO is slamming those who shared videos where Muslims were seen contaminating objects like current notes deliberately to spread the virus to “Kafirs”. However, once the tweets are called out, the CMO will also have an out to claim that the tweet was about Uddhav Thackeray saying that anyone spreading communalism could pertain to the Muslim man invoking Allah and trying to spread the virus to Kafirs itself was the ‘communalism’ being spoken about.
This tweet got unprecedented praise from the usual “secular” folks who think that calling out Tablighi Jamaat and several Muslims for their blatant hate for “Kafirs” and criminal irresponsibility in endangering lives is far more “serious” than them actually endangering lives.
Essentially, by clubbing the “videos like commodities or notes being smeared with saliva” with “fake news”, Uddhav Thackeray essentially sounded a dog-whistle to secularism where he tacitly marked the video as ‘fake’ and those sharing the video to raise awareness as ‘communal’. In reality, Nashik Rural Police had tweeted arresting the Muslim man who had smeared the note with his saliva to infect “Kafirs”.
Essentially, there are various aspects here related to the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco as far as Maharashtra is concerned:
- There were several dichotomous statements that were released earlier regarding the tracking and quarantining of Tablighi Jamaat members till the 4th. Later, the Maharashtra government appealed for attendees to come forward. The Maharashtra government must answer if it under-reporting the cases related to Tablighi Jamaat because either they failed to track them effectively, or because after their posturing about how they cancelled the Tablighi Jamaat event and thus, saved the state from the pandemic, they cannot admit that they failed.
- Till the 5th of April, only 12 cases were reportedly related to Tablighi Jamaat. 7 were attendees and 5 were their contacts. If Maharashtra is not underreporting, then what explains the spread of the virus where the cases have now ballooned to almost 800? And if Maharashtra really is mismanaging the pandemic, how is the PR helping?
- Why is the Maharashtra government not releasing the data of the number of Tablighi cases that have emerged since the 4th of April?
- Since the Government of Maharashtra is so concerned about “secularism”, is the under-reporting of cases so as to ensure that the sentiments of the Muslim community not hurt? It is pertinent to note that the Maharashtra government did meet the representatives of Tablighi Jamaat today saying that they will ensure that “communalism is kept in check”.
Evidence of mismanagement of Coronavirus pandemic emerges from Maharashtra
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the cases in Maharashtra may be under-reported, especially, due to the sheer incompetence of the Maharashtra government.
A video that went viral suggested that a family of 10 who was infected with Coronavirus were not even quarantined or tracked by the government. In fact, another death of suspected Coronavirus was not even reflected in the government data and the government simply turned away till prodded.
Another viral video highlights the pace at which @mybmc and @CMOMaharashtra is working.— Farhan (@farhanknight) April 5, 2020
A covid19 positive death, which happened last night in E Award – #Mumbai, but family/neighbours were not aware of the reason as BMC didn’t take necessary steps. pic.twitter.com/intrgcVwa6
This is what Mumbai Mirror reported regarding the case of Coronavirus positive cases of the family of 10.
It was said that despite 10 positive cases, the BMC did not bother to set up a containment zone and that has endangered several people.
It is perhaps this irresponsibility that the number of hotspots in Maharashtra increased from 4 to 8 overnight. Worli G South ward has 68 patients. E, H East, P North, M West wards are the new hotspots.
There is, of course, no confirmation how many of these cases are due to Tablighi Jamaat cases or other cases because the Maharashtra government has refused to release that data. What is obvious, however, is that the Maharashtra government is not doing a very good job of containing the spread.
Interestingly, the majority of positive cases that have emerged from Maharashtra have been from the capital city of Mumbai. According to the press release by the govt, Mumbai accounted for 458 total cases and 35 deaths.
If we assume that the Maharashtra government has not under-reported the cases of Tablighi Jamaat to preserve ‘secularism’, one has to ask what the government is doing (or failing to do) to become the state with the most positive cases in the country.
The explanation that the size of the population is vast is one that will not hold water. Uttar Pradesh is far larger and is the most populous state of India, however, they have managed to limit their cases largely. According to the Ministry website, UP has reported 227 cases with 2 deaths so far.
Delhi, which was hauled through the coals for allowing the Tablighi event to take place, and rightly so, has reported most cases from the Tablighi event itself which does not seem to be the case with Maharashtra. In fact, CM Kejriwal was questioned by giving the example of CM Uddhav Thackeray saying that if he could disallow the Tablighi event, why did Delhi not follow suit. While that criticism is completely valid, in terms of the numbers, Delhi seems to be handling the pandemic far better than Maharashtra. In fact, every state seems to be handling it far better than Maharashtra.
In such a scenario, empty PR stunts would not help as much as an honest evaluation of what is going wrong in Maharashtra. The truth must prevail not only for the sake of lives but also because the misreporting from one state could adversely impact the reporting overall of the Coronavirus pandemic in India. While there are several things that the Maharashtra government has done right, for example, its outreach program to keep its people calm, there are several issues that have clearly come to the fore as well. The need of the hour is to transparently report and discuss what is going wrong rather than getting celebrities to whitewash the image in the face of a pandemic.