Naga Sadhus or Hindu holy men
Millions are participating in the Kumbh Mela even as India overtakes Brazil in Covid infections (File image) Image Credit: Reuters

The gut wrenching images of a man breaking down as he speaks of his ordeal to buy the Covid drug Remdesivir in the black market is the story of countless citizens across the country today. The panic and anger as patients stand in a long queue even to get admitted into hospitals is simmering at the surface.

Grief is a powerful emotion. In Gujarat the sons of a woman who lost the Covid battle tried to set the hospital on fire. In Maharashtra, relatives gathered in anger at a hospital after the death of 7 patients, blaming the doctors for the lack of oxygen supply.

For at least the past week, cases in the country have risen exponentially yet the export of the drug was temporarily halted only on Sunday. By then patients were being given oxygen in waiting rooms, lobby areas in hospitals were being converted into covid wards, doctors in the country’s top hospital were sick, en masse and the gas furnace grills at crematoriums were melting with bodies piling up at cremation centres.

Relentless outrage and questioning

It has taken relentless outrage and questioning- from citizens and the Congress alike for the government to finally fast track approvals for foreign made vaccines but with countries already placing their orders at the right time, procuring at this late stage may be far from easy.

The first doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V are also not expected for weeks. April 2021 is on course to leave a line of devastation. Even now there is barely any talk from the health ministry on the new variants- both imported and home grown that experts say are driving the second wave. India’s genome sequencing should perhaps have been part of an election manifesto.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been one constant- more control and negligible transparency. Most experts agree that the second wave is hitting the young the hardest but there is no data forthcoming on a section of the population that even before the vaccine shortage was being denied the jab.

A jab for everyone

A doctor says that out of the last 5 death certificates he has signed, three are of those under the age of 40. The government still insists that “only those who need the vaccine and not those who want it” will be given the jab. When a country has 1.2 million active cases, those who espouse this wisdom must know its secret.

Perhaps if our top leaders paused from their election campaign they will realise that the desperation of winning power in West Bengal in these elections may come at a grave cost- away from the surreal political rallies, the country resembles a house of cards.

Daily cases are at the cusp of two lakhs, cities after cities are reporting shortage of ICU beds, a doctor says they are being forced to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ vaccines and a gardener is now collecting samples in a hospital.

The Prime Minister though is addressing three rallies in a day in West Bengal, the Home Minister is constantly showcasing the big turnout during his rallies, politicians across parties have campaigned without a mask or a care- for the masses. Why have public events still not been banned?

The Election commission with 8- phase election in West Bengal could have a tragedy of immense proportions on its hands. The mass political gatherings in rural India will finally allow the pandemic to breach the hinterland, something that was in control during the first wave.

With a healthcare system already busted what hope do those in the villages have? The migrant exodus last year may not even be the tip of the iceberg to the humanitarian crisis that could unfold in our villages and small towns. Those campaigning have no accountability, and they will not look back after the results on May 2.

They are also looking the other way as the Kumbh Mela will most certainly become a super spreader in the days to come, if it isn’t already. Millions- most without a mask took part in the shahi snan on the banks of the river Ganga in Haridwar on Monday, reports say many have tested positive yet the silence at this travesty is deafening. As a famous proverb goes, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

In the constant obsession with headline management we can expect advertisements galore on how India is the fastest to reach 100 million vaccinations. It is convenient to not mention the percentage of citizens vaccinated or that it is all relative when the country’s population is 1.36 billion.

Even at the present rate, experts say barely 75% or less of the country will be vaccinated in a couple of years, assuming that vaccines are available. Before that there are elections in Uttar Pradesh.

But if everything fails we have yet another slogan. ‘Tika Utsav’ or a vaccination festival has now been launched by the Prime Minister, urging Indians over 45 to vaccinate at empty centres. But in India, a slogan a day keeps the image at play.

A country on the edge

Unlike last year, there is real fear today. The country is in complete meltdown. The complacency that ‘it doesn’t happen to us’ has finally been pricked- although not at the Kumbh- and we are paying a big price for the carelessness and disregard for social distancing.

Bollywood has fallen like nine-pins, judges have the virus, the variants are more critical than we realise and we are staring at lockdowns and frantic pleas for help. But what about the politicians at mammoth rallies and the administration that allowed the Kumbh at such a precarious time? Will they ever be held accountable- those who lead not by example. The onus unfortunately is always on the common man.

There is a feeling of déjà vu, the migrants are sandwiched again on a train or a bus back home. It is Yesterday once more. Only this time, we saw it coming and yet we didn’t do anything. As bodies continue to pile up in hospitals, our leaders are busy fighting elections and soon they may win the vote but lose the voter.

This one is also on us, it’s the cost of being an Indian.