It happened the last time as well. The BJP’s election rallies in Bengal, as well as the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand, led to the devastating second wave of Coronavirus in India. Beginning in April from West Bengal, the virus began spreading all over Maharashtra, Kerala and Chhattisgarh in March, which led to the second wave in May. It is one of the few known instances of time flowing backwards and then forwards again.
Of course, time does not flow backwards, but the next best thing does. It’s called narrative. In mid-March itself, cases had begun rising in Maharashtra again, especially in the regions bordering Chhattisgarh. But that didn’t suit the narrative. In any case, the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh was away on important business, camping in Assam. He was the designated fall guy who would have to take the blame for the impending defeat of Congress in the state.
So the media waited. Meanwhile, the exponential curve was creeping upwards. By mid-April, it reached Gujarat and soon after, Uttar Pradesh. For the media, it was finally time to strike. Images of the Kumbh mela in Uttarakhand went viral. Because where there is saffron, there is blame. And of course there were the BJP campaign rallies in West Bengal. There was saffron in that as well.
We never got a satisfactory explanation for why the liberal governments of Maharashtra and Kerala failed so spectacularly in containing the virus. The second wave hit Chhattisgarh exceptionally hard, because that is roughly where it started, on their border with Maharashtra. All liberal ruled states. Instead, the trolls in both mainstream and social media, were armed with images of Kumbh Mela and BJP rallies. Along with the age old expression with no relevance to the current context: two wrongs don’t make a right.
Indeed they don’t. But when you deliberately ignore one of the supposed wrongs, it exposes you as a dishonest actor.
Throughout the pandemic, the sheer dishonesty of the media coverage in India (as well as worldwide, mind you) has been breathtaking. Just look at the fact that Congress ruled Punjab has maintained the highest case fatality ratio (2.6%) among all states in the country, when no other major state crossed even 1.5%. The numbers from Punjab are an outlier, and they point to exceptional mismanagement on part of the state government. But you would not know this from the media coverage. It has been blacked out. Almost literally, because Punjab right now is facing a massive power crisis, with industries and govt offices ordered to shut down. You probably don’t know this either, because of, well, let’s just say liberalism.
Take Maharashtra. While the second wave has subsided almost everywhere else, Maharashtra is still reporting nearly 10,000 cases per day. Maybe that is because Maharashtra is a highly industrialized state with big urban centers. But the cases are not coming from the big urban centers; they are coming from places like Kolhapur. And if Maharashtra is a highly industrialized state, so are Gujarat and Karnataka. In Gujarat, there are not even 100 cases a day right now. Clearly, there is a governance gap, which nobody in the media will dare to mention.
If you think about it, the second wave began in Maharashtra. It was the first state to go into lockdown. As such, it should have been the first state to leave the lockdown. But most of the rest of the country has left the lockdown behind, while Maharashtra still suffers. But who will dare say this to the face of the Maharashtra government and alleged ‘best CM’?
If you think Maharashtra government has it easy, the CPIM government of Kerala could teach a masterclass to politicians around the world on how to get away with huge accolades for doing nothing. With a population of just 3 crore, Kerala is now No. 1 in daily new Covid cases. Across the land, common sense has been suspended to give a pass to the Communists. They say Kerala is reporting ‘honestly,’ while other states are not. Yes, all the other state governments had a secret meeting at which they decided to coordinate their efforts across every district to hide cases. Why didn’t Kerala show up to the meeting? Perhaps they were on strike that afternoon…
The test positive rate in Kerala is 10%, compared to the all India average of barely 2%. No other large state crosses even 5% and most are in the 1-2% range. This shows that, compared to the spread of the disease, Kerala is testing the least of all. But who will talk sense to those that are drunk on high “literacy”?
As for Kerala’s low case fatality ratio, it turned out to be a case of data hiding. An RTI filed by the Times of India showed that the real case fatality ratio was 1.11% (roughly same as the all India average of 1.1%) and not 0.36% as reported by the Kerala health department. One should note that these are not estimates of possible unreported Covid deaths. These are Covid deaths that have already been officially certified by doctors, but the state health department just hasn’t listed them. If there are unreported Covid deaths in Kerala, as alleged in a number of states, that would be over and above the certified Covid deaths that the Kerala government is hiding in plain sight.
Instead of asking real questions, the media made poor states into a punching bag during the second wave. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are backward states with large populations and few resources. For a couple of weeks in between, their systems became overwhelmed, as would be expected. But these were BJP ruled states, and so their misery became the focal point of media coverage.
See how quickly Gujarat recovered. Karnataka is between Maharashtra and Kerala, the two states which together account for half of all new Covid cases in the country. Why is Karnataka doing so much better? Clearly, there is a governance gap.
And now, this is going to happen again. You can shield Kerala and Maharashtra governments from criticism, but you cannot hide the virus itself. A third wave is coming and who knows how deadly it is going to be.
The media knows this too. And that is why the hunt for scapegoats has already begun. For a while, the media kept us busy with images of people crowding in Manali. The plan was of course to deflect from the systemic failure of liberal governments in Kerala and Maharashtra. Another national newspaper has given front page coverage to rising Covid cases in the North East. Yeah, blame the least developed states with the least resources. Maharashtra government may be the richest in the land, but why blame them? Kerala was supposed to do just one thing right. And they didn’t even manage that. But, who cares?
But all those were just Plan B. Their real hope is something else. Now they have already taken up the issue of Kanwar yatra in a big way. Hindu youths in BJP ruled Bihar and election bound Uttar Pradesh going on a pilgrimage wearing saffron shirts? This ticks all the boxes and the media is salivating. With some “luck,” the third wave beginning from Maharashtra will reach Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh around the time of the Kanwar yatra. And then, they can blame all the problems on saffron.
If anyone asks what about Maharashtra or Kerala, there is always the stock response: two wrongs don’t make a right. If that doesn’t silence people, accusing them of whataboutery always will.