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With the COVID-19 second wave, we need to stop listening to the ‘ecosystem’: Here is why

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We will be demonized no matter what. That’s why I said they are hecklers, not well-wishers.

Why is India not testing enough? Why did India go into lockdown so late? Why did India lift the lockdown so early? Why are Indian made vaccines not properly tested? And now, finally, why is India not producing these ‘untested’ vaccines fast enough?

Ever since the pandemic began, we have had to deal with a class of people who are experts at nothing but pointing fingers at everything. Their job is to ask obtuse questions and fake concern for the public good. Yes, India’s management of Covid was far from perfect. Show me who did better than us. And don’t you dare mention a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with half the population of Bangalore.

You know another reason our Covid management was not perfect? Because our health system is one of the weakest in the world. And if you had spent less time admiring the non-performance of fifty years of liberal governments, we might have done somewhat better. At the very least, you could have asked for one toilet per household before demanding one hospital bed and one ventilator per Indian.

Throughout the pandemic, their role has been to spread rumour, fear and suspicion among the domestic populace and to harm India’s image abroad. They are not well-wishers. They are hecklers.

Let me take you back to how this began. Remember when they said India is not testing enough? At the time, India’s test positive rate was quite low in comparison to most countries, including western countries with advanced healthcare systems. This suggests that India’s testing was quite adequate, keeping up with the spread of the disease. After all, with the disease just beginning to spread from a few clusters, it makes no sense to test everyone in every part of the country.

But they said no. They wanted to know why India is so far behind in tests per million. But as long as the test positive rate is low, why should that matter? But they would not listen.

Here is the thing. Because the pandemic is such a complex issue, there are always going to be multiple parameters to judge how a nation is responding to it. The approach of the hecklers has been to cherry-pick one parameter in which India can be shown in poor light and to raise hell about it. Once that particular talking point gets stale, they move on to the next half-truth.

They don’t want to help, they just want to jeer. And they jeer so loudly, creating so much commotion that those who really let the nation down during Covid go unnoticed.

Remember when it all began, they had made a list of states that they said were performing brilliantly? Not surprisingly, the list was completely self-serving in that it singled out every big opposition chief minister for undeserved praise. This pack of star chief ministers was led of course by the so-called “best CM,” who could do no wrong. And even when he got everything wrong, he was still the best. Because he apparently spoke with so much “empathy,” a non-quantifiable good that exists mostly in the perception of the devoted believer.

But then, cases began rising rapidly. And you could no longer make stuff up to give credit to opposition chief ministers. That is when everything became the fault of the Prime Minister.

Why did the Prime Minister push the nation into lockdown? Okay, but every other country in the world was forced into lockdown. Don’t worry about that. You can always say “unplanned” lockdown. Indeed, where was the planning to cater to every single need of every person in a nation of 130 crore? Can I say that or will the privileged elite say that I am heartless?

Incidentally, do you know who else agrees with my assessment? The people of Bihar, who were worst hit by the migrant labor crisis. They had the common sense to understand that a virus had come from China and over one thousand Americans were dying from it each day. If this was possible in the rich west, what would happen to us? They understood that the government had to make drastic decisions, driving blind. The compromised elite of Lutyens blamed Modi for the lockdown hardship, the honest hard working people of Bihar did not.

In between, it came in handy that Communist ruled Kerala was doing particularly well, while Modi’s home state of Gujarat was not. Kerala had been the first Indian state to come in contact with the virus and the first wave was tailing off over there. In contrast, the first wave in Gujarat was still peaking. Cue the editorials about how Kerala model succeeded where Gujarat turned out to be a complete failure.

But then, Gujarat shook off its first wave. And Kerala went into its second wave. In fact, cases in Kerala rose so rapidly that it ended up surpassing states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But by then, all the fawning editorials about Kerala model had already been written. All the superlatives had been exhausted and the lie had run its course. It was time to move on to the next talking point.

By then, the GDP data for the first quarter of FY21 had come out. India’s economy had taken a crushing blow, a hit of nearly 24% and the hecklers couldn’t be happier. In their analysis, commentators assiduously avoided mentioning coronavirus or pandemic anywhere. They would only say lockdown, trying to pass off the disaster as a purely man made one. It also helped that IMF projections showed India’s GDP suffering the worst blow among major economies.

Eventually, these predictions all turned out to be false. Both the UK and France suffered over 9% contraction in GDP for the year 2020, while India’s number is well below 8%. Now adjust for the advanced healthcare systems in western Europe and think about how bad things could have gotten in India. In other words, by doing a harsh lockdown, India limited the economic damage to one single quarter (Apr – Jun), while the others made the economic pain last all year. Why is the latter so much better?

But who cares now? India’s economy has since posted a searing recovery. For a while, the hecklers kept saying it was the pent up demand. First of all, if India’s economy was devastated like they said, why would there be any pent up demand? Second, after six months of searing growth in everything from auto sales to realty to GST numbers, the pent up demand excuse has worn thin. Now they look forward nervously towards the coming year and remind us of low base effect. Incidentally, after India had been the fastest growing economy from 2015-2018, nobody could remember the high base effect during the slowdown of 2019. Some have gone back to another time tested excuse: they are preparing ground for saying that India is cooking the GDP data.

By the way, the economy is not a spring. A devastated economy doesn’t just spring back to life. Do you know that the GDP of Brazil is now about half of what it was in 2011? They have been waiting ten years for low base effect to save them. It just doesn’t work like that. If the Indian economy is roaring back, it means last year was a temporary lull due to a once in a century pandemic.

But the hecklers already knew this and had prepared for this. Around November, they had already started moving their eggs from the “what about the economy” basket to the one labelled “farmer protests”. With Covid cases declining and the economy on an expected upswing, they had to do something. In between, they took a bit of a break to spread rumor and confusion about vaccines manufactured in India.

Well, thank you “farmer protests” for helping fill up the time until Modi could be blamed for the second wave of Coronavirus. Literally every other nation on earth has experienced a second wave, but don’t let facts get in the way of outrage. And guess where this second wave started? It started under the watchful eyes of “best CM.”

By the way, if the Kerala model was real, it would be possible to duplicate it. So, what stopped “best CM” from learning from Kerala model?

Where do the hecklers go now? How do they buy time until the disease spreads everywhere and everyone forgets the failure of “best CM”?

Easy. Now they blame Modi for not vaccinating fast enough. They also blame Modi for exporting too much vaccine to foreign countries. By the way, now that India has slowed vaccine exports, they are also blaming Modi for monopolizing the world’s vaccine production. Go read the Guardian article. They are saying India is an evil nation that is withholding vaccine from poor countries!

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We will be demonized no matter what. That’s why I said they are hecklers, not well-wishers.

Remember the Panchatantra story about the father and the son walking through the village with their donkey. When the father sits on the donkey, they say the father is cruel for making his young son walk. When the son sits on the donkey, they say the son is cruel for making his old father walk. When they both get off, the hecklers say they are fools for walking instead of riding the donkey. And finally, when they both sit on the donkey, it turns out they are being cruel to the poor animal.

It’s time to stop listening to the hecklers. Otherwise, we will end up like what happened in the same Panchatantra story. Sick of all the criticism, the father and the son begin carrying the donkey on their back. And remember, the hecklers will laugh at us even then.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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