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Pandemic, Politics and Propaganda

Every day of the pandemic takes away some pretence of human value that we took pride in across the centuries of our evolution as species. When emotions cause discomfort and pain, it is the truth that is the only healer.

There is an interesting episode in Mahabharata, in Drona Parva. Mighty Drona, the teacher of Kaurava and Pandavas took charge after the great Commander of the Kaurava Army, Bhishma had fallen. There was a huge battle and Krishna predicted complete routing of the Pandava forces if Drona was to fight even for half a day. To circumvent this, Bhima was to make an announcement that Drona’s son Ashwatthama was slain.

This would have led to a dejected Drona surrendering his weapons and thus could be killed, unarmed. As Drona did not believe in Bhima, he called upon Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandava to confirm. Yudhishthira, the righteous one, then famously said that Ashwatthama was dead, not the man but the Elephant. It is then mentioned in before now the Chariot of Yudhishthira had remained at the height of four fingers’ breadth from the Earth’s surface; but after he uttered the lie, his steeds touched the Earth. 

There is a certain glory and lightness of spirit in speaking the truth and that glory is lost the moment one speaks even a half-truth. Every half-truth is a lie. What Yudhishthira did in this incidence is not a lie, but he spoke the sentence, in a structure and manner that the latter part of the sentence would never reach Drona, knowing fully well this will result in the death of his Guru. Even when spoken with the blessings of Krishna, no one can escape the result of such a lie. Within a moment, your glory is gone, and rather than walking above the lesser mortals, you shrink in the quagmire into which you continue slipping.

This is what we see around happening in these times of pandemic. The political leadership lies and the media instead of passing on the truth amplifies those lies. The glory associated with the profession of journalism is gone as many journalists are not content with merely swooping onto the dead like a vulture. They instead create more and more deaths, create a lavish dinner for themselves, and then drown the wails of the dying with the clinking of the Champaign glasses, breathe through their upturned, aquiline noses what the playwright Tennessee Williams calls the stench of mendacity. 

Little do they notice, lost in their own power, the power to change the narrative, to tell the truth, to hide the truth; that their grand Chariot now rolls in the mud, laced with the blood of their own countrymen. Like Yudhishthir, an unsuspecting Drona trusted them with truth and in return for this trust, they gave him half-truths. They do not want to be the teller of the truth, they want to be the creator of it. Therein lies the problem.

These pygmies, these small Gods are not benevolent and confident in their roles. They want to decide the future of the nation, not by building consensus, but by reducing it to anarchy. Only today there was a discussion in Clubhouse (a voice-only open platform), ostensibly called ‘Fight pandemic and not the opposition’ while the discussion was centred around why cannot we build a sustained outrage out of the pandemic death and misery to change the current Government. I was brought up to the speaker panel and when I raised this point, I was summarily moved back to the listener’s forum.  

There is a stench rising, as people queue up in almost all major cities across India in search of Medical Oxygen as the number of dead rises. Devastating scenes emerge all across the country of dying people, patients gasping for breath, wailing relatives. I too have lost a close relative, a young man, a couple of days back. The young guy had his whole life ahead of him. I cannot claim that he suffered from the non-availability of oxygen or medicine. He did not. He died because the disease if too horrible and the worse thing is that it has brought our primal fears out in open.

When the time is too tragic, there is no space for emotional commitments, we stay stuck in our cages of security, however ephemeral it might be. There won’t be anyone except the nearest one to risk the disease and bid the goodbyes. He was cremated by his mother, a solitary woman alone in her grief. After cremation, she did not get a shoulder to cry on, but a quarantine to handle the grief of losing her son, alone. Such is the disease and one has little choice but to suffer in silence. The devastations Covid is leaving across the Globe will take centuries to heal and the scars it will leave on human souls will forever torture us. 

In such times, as the families stand stark naked abandoning the pledges of never abandoning one another, the nations, the continents and the worlds are falling apart. We look at others with suspicion, we no longer hold hands even of those we know, we shrink away when someone coughs around us. Every day of the pandemic takes away some pretence of human value that we took pride in across the centuries of our evolution as species. When emotions cause discomfort and pain, it is the truth that is the only healer. It is fact and objectivity that holds us together and as the Hindu thought says, the Dharma at a very fundamental level is nothing but the truth. 

Facts always present a counterpoint. For every shrinking human touch are those struggling men and women clad in their PPE kit, afraid but determined to take care of the flood of the sick, day after day. For every scared soul, there are brave men in uniform advising, urging and begging us to help beat the pandemic. For every woke elite lamenting their lost foreign vacations, there are women manning the Petrol pump, driving the trains, connecting the people, working on the vaccines, cleaning the streets and keeping the cash counters clicking, so that the Economic wheels of the world keep rotating. When things are falling apart, it is the job of media and leaders to keep hopes afloat.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi started tweeting at the start of the Pandemic that we are doomed as no action is taken, when Lockdown was declared, he again cried that we will die because of Lockdown. He is a perpetual pessimist. Or maybe not, he is that guy in Hollywood science-fiction movies who stands on a crowded street with a placard proclaiming that the world is going to end. The way he created fake Farmer’s protest makes me believe that he does not think the world is going to end. He merely wants others to believe that and suffer in that constant fear because they did not elect him to rule over India.

Facts will hurt, so does fiction. Facts, however, when confronted will give us perspective and stop hurting. Fiction will continue to hurt us. The political pariah, the touristy politician, Rahul Gandhi, who is a tweet-a-day politician, sends out one doomsday prediction every day and the media channels amplify that, somewhere hiding in those screeching concerns about the misery of common people and their well-shampooed hairs, a cynical hatred and pessimism, not only for the Party in power in India, rather also for the people who chose them as a part of the democratic process. Rahul Gandhi in the last four day ever since the start of the new wave and explosion of Coronavirus cases in India came out with three declarations:

– Government is taking away the insurance of Health Workers (it was clarified by the Government that it was never the case). It was the case of the annual renewal of the Rs 50 Lakh Insurance cover for the Covid warriors, and the same was renewed. This was clarified and corrected two days later by some media houses.

– Another news came from Maharashtra, ruled by Rahul Gandhi’s party in coalition with Shiv Sena claiming that ex-CM of the state was hoarding Remdesivir, a critical medicine in Corona treatment severe shortage of which was reported from Maharashtra. Later documents came out establishing that ex-CM was trying to ensure that the manufacturer does not export the medicine needed in Maharashtra and India and the state officials were totalling in the loop. 

– The third thing he came up with was about India having exported medical oxygen and therefore India is suffering an acute shortage of medical shortage. Later the source of the news withdrew it and apologised. Rahul Gandhi did not. 

While Industrial and Medical Oxygen are both oxygen, but both cannot be used for medical purposes because the degree of purity in Medical Oxygen is 99.5% as against 99% in the former. The claim of MoneyControl, that the Government exported Oxygen in the pandemic time was not only wrong rather malicious. Like the other two lies propagated by the Congress MP from Wayanad, and amplified by the supportive media was proven wrong but Rahul Gandhi refused to clarify or apologise.

One particularly bright journalist kept on fighting claiming that both are the same. Hope he does not someday jump into some Nuclear Plant to take a dip into the heavy water, after all, that too is water. NDTV still has the news on its portal and will be handy for Congress to create outrage in the 2024 elections.

India exported 9300 MT of Oxygen from April 2020 to January 2021 period. During the period, India had exported 9000 MT of Industrial Oxygen and 12 MT of Medical OxygenIs this export a cause of shortage in Oxygen as claimed by the Congress? Well, During the period of export, the Indian requirement of Medical Oxygen was 1418 MT. As of now, India’s daily Oxygen production capacity is more than 7000 MT Per Day. Looking at the per-day capacity vis-a-vis export across the year, we can understand that even if consider the entire export amount it is not more than a day-and-a-half production of Oxygen.

The shortage has come because the demands were not put up to the centre in a timely fashion even by the states like Delhi and Maharashtra who never actually came out of the first wave of Covid before stepping into the second wave because of poor administrative controls. While Maharashtra Government did precious little to ramp up hospitals and place stricter curbs, Delhi simple floated from one political agenda to another as it welcomed the Farmers on the fake agitation to block Delhi borders.

Thousands openly flouted Covid norms of social distancing and violated Pandemic act while Arvind Kejriwal welcomed unrest as he hoped to ride on it to the throne of the full-state of Punjab. The reminders from the Ministry of Health warning him about the impending havoc did nothing to wake him up as apart from rhetoric, much like the case of pollution in the capital, he did precious little. Data came tumbling out about how Delhi Government has not made any new hospital till 2019 in Delhi or even after granted money by the Centre from PM CARE funds for setting up 8 oxygen plants, slept over it. Earlier vilest of the politicians had some love for their people.

People like Kejriwal have hit a new low, when ten days back during a review of the PM in the face of increasing cases, he, as the CM of Delhi, was seen yawning and looking bored, instead of placing a request for Oxygen in Delhi.

Finally, after doing all the drama to gain political benefit out of the deaths of thousands, 20 States had passed on the requirement of 6785 MT of Oxygen per day and were allocated 6822 MT a day by the central Narendra Modi government which is coordinating the supplies now. Both Airforce and Railways have been pressed into action by much-Maligned Modi and Oxygen is being arranged by Tatas, Jindals and Ambanis- the Much-Maligned Industrialists. 

Next scarcity was about the critical covid medicine like Remdesivir. This requirement was lying on the head of States like Maharashtra and Delhi for a very long time as cases were spiralling up. Even today, these states lead the Covid numbers and it is truly surprising that the media houses who slept till now, even after waking up the large-scale human tragedy are reaching out to provide ground reports from select states, namely UP, MP and Gujarat- Common theme- All being ruled by the BJP. Is it not logical to expect media to provide ground reports from the state where the situation is the worst.

As of the 23rd of April, 2021, India has total active cases of 22 Lakhs. Maharashtra has the highest number of active cases at 6,97,000 followed by UP with 2,42,000 Active cases, Karnataka with 1,75,000 Cases and Kerala with 1,35,957 Cases. There are two things however, one ought to consider as to why the situation is relatively more serious in which state. The first is population. Maharashtra has a population of 12.22 Crores, Kerala has a population of 3.5 Crores (same as Delhi, think population density), Karnataka at 3.22 Crores and UP is at a mammoth population of 23.5 Crore People. With reference to population, the wave has not yet become as monstrous as other states.

Another important parameter to be considered is the death rate to get things in perspective. While every single life lost is a tragic thing, but when all that you find staring at you from the TV screens, you forget that there is a tender and tenacious life force struggling all the time, refusing to give up. I have only two submissions here, report, but do not try to scare people. Secondly, If your idea is to scare people so that out of shock some positive action happens, then please shake the sections which are wreathing under the most severe attacks of COVID and most apathetic administration. India’s has a total of 22 Lakh or 2 Million Cases and a fatality of 1,84,657 cases. The fatality rate in India is 1.16% (During Swine Flu, it was 6%). I have had my losses, but I have many near and dear ones who have happily survived the Chinese virus as well. 

https://i1.wp.com/static.pib.gov.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/image/image008WL0U.jpg?w=696&ssl=1

The states which are still sleeping need to be woken up and that is where Ground reporting of TV channels should happen if the intent is not to create outrage against the Governments media does not like rather it is to wake up the Governments which do not act. America has seen 3.2 Crore cases this far and 5,76,000 Deaths, which is five times Corona Deaths in India. One may credit Indian Doctors who have worked in severe limitations and Indian people who refused to give up or who are blessed with a general immunity. 

For a nation, which did not have any Ventilator or PPE kit made in India, we have two Indian vaccines, out of which one is developed in India, Covaxin. The US has given the vaccine to around 19 Crore people. The population of the US is 33 Crores and the Indian population is 137 Crores. India has vaccinated 13.23 Crore People. The thing is the rate of vaccination, while good is lesser for the huge population of India. Unfortunately, politicians like Rahul Gandhi created such a concerted campaign to oppose Indian vaccines, that there was a huge amount of Vaccine hesitancy created. When I went for my vaccine last month, there was only one couple in waiting.

It can only think that now with fear of disease lurking in the shadows and reports of Vaccine opponents now secretly taking vaccines after opposing it in public, coming out, this number should pick up. Also reduction of vaccination age to 18 years from 1st of May, 2021, should improve, with states like UP, Bihar and Assam setting aside money to procure and support free vaccinations. The fact is that even with such a widespread pandemic, India is plagued with huge disinterest towards health infrastructure, we have handled this whole thing quite well.

The Government is trying hard. We need to support the governments. Where they have slept over the work like say, in Delhi and Maharashtra, we need to wake them up. We need to urge the centre to work more aggressively on health. However, we must remember that no state can be prepared well enough for such an exponential explosion. You cannot have ventilator beds for half of your city population. Western Commentators like Annie Gowen might find the tragic sights of cremation ‘stunning’, it is not. It is deeply saddening and movingly tragic. This from where, like Phoenix, we shall rise again.

We need to reach smaller areas and standardise healthcare systems. The fact that we do not have enough Oxygen plants do not add up. It also does not add up that the Hospitals that are better equipped to handle Oxygen suppliers are not willing to take up their responsibility. Tatas and Ambanis are organizing Oxygen from industries. Healthcare itself is an industry. Ms Reddy of Apollo who tweeted to the Government seeking help for Oxygen has a net worth of INR 895 Crores or 130 Million Dollars. Could she not have set up Oxygen plants in her Hospitals, at least in Delhi and even supplied to other hospitals? People are cynics and they will use the situation to create outrage, unrest and exploit the situation. The media will continue with their inane debates. Medicines are hugely being black-marketed.

The Government of India has stepped into the distribution of Remdesivir (a couple of days back HC Judge had taken Maharashtra Government to task when they said they cannot do anything about the shortage of medicine as it is a matter between a private company and their distribution chain asking Maharashtra Government (of Shivsena, Congress and NCP) – Are you not ashamed of yourself? If you are not then we are ashamed of living in the same society like yours. For obvious reason, the news was as promptly pushed under the carpet, as was the news of 23 deaths in Nashik the day before and 13 today. GoI under Narendra Modi has allotted One Million doses to be distributed state-wise as per the gravity of the situation. Before a disgruntled Congress supporter hosts another Clubhouse debate with fake data, just to share, Congress-Shivsena ruled Maharashtra gets the highest number of Remdesivir at 2,69,200 doses.

Hold each other’s hand, do not give in to the outrage. We will come out of it stronger. Stay strong my Country and keep calling out those who think if they do not rule over this great land or those they support do not rule, this country must break, burn and cease to exist. Lies. and propaganda in these pandemic times is the worst thing to do. People are dying and the media refuses to bring news from the worst affected areas, refuses to stop lying for political reasons. Their Chariots are in the mud, their half-lies are exposed. When you open the newspapers or turn on the TV, if you smell a stench, you call it out. You know what that strange stench is, to quote from Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof -‘ Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity in this room? There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odour of mendacity. You can smell it. It smells like death.’

We need to breathe freely and drown ourselves in the sweet, salubrious air of Bharat. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be choked. We need the Chariots to again float and levitate like the vehicles of the Gods. The year hasn’t been kind to us, the Century will be ours.

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Saket Suryeshhttp://www.saketsuryesh.net
A technology worker, writer and poet, and a concerned Indian. Saket writes in Hindi and English. He writes on socio-political matters and routinely writes Hindi satire in print as well in leading newspaper like Jagaran. His Hindi Satire "Ganjhon Ki Goshthi" is on Amazon best-sellers. He has just finished translating the Autobiography of Legendary revolutionary Ram Prasad Bismil in English, to be soon released as "The Revolitionary".

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