Immaculate Inoculation : The Politics of Vaccination
The recent barrage of diatribe against the union government regarding the handling of second surge of Covid have left a bitter taste in mouth considering that its time for united action. It is fair to argue that role of opposition is to put the government in dock and hold it accountable for its acts of omission and commission. However, morality, ethics and decency require that there is a time for everything and not to play politics of over dead bodies, funerals and weeping relatives. Further, it is expected that the media and opposition have to buttress their points over facts and rather fictions and figments of their imagination. But this is exactly what is happening in India in the aftermath of second surge of Covid late in March, 2021.
In fact, the tryst of India with the Pandemic apart from its death and deficiency has been a theatre of absurd as far as politics around is concerned. In an effort to corner the government or cooperate the government its supporters and detractors have gone overboard leaving nothing for a scholarly and dispassionate debate. In a Levi-Straussian sense the binary polarization of opinions has resulted either in demonaization of the government or its rationalization of its efforts if not romanticizing. In this cacophony of distress, diatribe and divisive discourse the possibility of an honest effort to deal with the crisis is frittered with.
Let me explain why the surge in Covid cases were and consequent death needs to be analysed with a definite neutral and objective perspective rather than playing blame game which won’t provide any provide positive outcome further, it will help in understanding the situation better and prepare for effective neutralization of a possible third wave. It is this context, I would like to put my arguments which his neither an attempt to absolve the government of its failure in effectively managing things nor to held completely liable for the fiasco.
Frist, the government at the centre cannot be held singularly held responsible for the simple reason that health is subject under concurrent list of the Constitution of India and therefore, States have an equal if not more responsibility in managing their health sectors which they have not done. Neither they showed urgency either in emergency preparation of medical care or vaccination rather many State governments showed a completely lackadaisical attitude towards the disease and vaccination as early as mid -September, 2020. With the limited exception of Kerala where the commitment and competence of its nurses and to some extent its rich Ayurvedic tradition has helped in limiting the damage, no other State showed any effort in tackling the first wave of post-Covid situation. The other state that showed some concern snd effort is Odisha and have been able to stall the death rate despite its poor infrastructure and economic condition. The example of Odisha is indeed a lesson for all other states which are baling the centre for their own failure.
Secondly, when the vaccine came, many states refused to heed the initiative and some leader even made communal claims a la Akhilesh Yadav. surprisingly, no one is blaming him for the problems of UP. If one looks at the long queue for vaccination now then it won’t surprise one to see a part of that crowd consists of people who above 60. Then it begs the question, where were they when they were offered the chance in January. It means people too did not took the neither the threat of disease nor the call of government seriously. The inoculation process took a positive turn only when visuals of Prime minister taking the dose at AIMMS went viral. The lack of response to immunization drive probably made the Union go slow in terms of supply and procurement of vaccine.
The evidence and data show that Punjab and Maharashtra ruled by opposition parties not only ridiculed the process but wasted a huge quantity of vaccines. The poor response from the states and concomitant declining of cases led the centre to export the vaccine to other countries, a clearly a humanitarian and diplomatic intervention. European leaders, including the Spanish Prime Minister and the Portuguese head of state, individually expressed their gratitude to PM Modi as India extended support when the second wave of Coronavirus wreaked havoc across Europe last year. They also expressed solidarity with the people of India and committed to provide support in aiding India’s battle against the second wave. Further, the PM underscored the point at global leaders platform that the WTO has the ability to invoke a waiver of certain Intellectual Property rights, thereby ensuring greater accessibility to key drugs and vaccines across the globe. PM Modi’s call comes days after the United States declared its support for the waiver of Intellectual Property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
The people who are now questioning the government were either silent supporters or merely lying low then and simply using the opportunity to settle a score. This is bad politics and poor choice of timing forget about moral and ethical questions. In this context it is important to listen what the French President has to say India does not need to listen to lectures from anyone about vaccine supplies. India has exported a lot for humanity to many countries. We know what situation India is in”. In the same vein Matthew Hayden, Australian Cricketer writes that ‘I am not a data person, but some of the figures I gathered from some of the media reports are astonishing. India has already vaccinated over 160 million people (five times the population of Australia) and has been conducting 1.3 million tests a day. The point I am making is not to overlook the sheer vast numbers and the challenges associated with it’. And then compare it with the commnet of Ms. Brakha Datt, senior journalist in her write up to Washington Post. She writes, ‘India is collapsing under a second wave of coronavirus. Callousness and incompetence are killing us. Is it journalism, independent opinion or pure hatred to towards the government and the people who have voted for it. I think these weeds need to be reprimanded in no uncertain terms.
Thirdly, many are balming the Union government and Election Commission for holding elections which in hindsight may seems fair but if dug deep then it falls flat on its head. The EC is mandared to hold elections and it has no power to stall the process either temporarily or indefinitely unless it is countermanded due to death of a contestant or in an emergency. Since none of them were there its hand were tied. The Courts which are happy to put the EC under guillotine did not budge from their seat to take a Suo moto action on their own. The opposition political parties could have petitioned to the President of India or should have gone to the court for not holding elections in this time. It simply was not possible because there was no evidence to suggest contrary. There were neither facts nor logic available with anyone to convince either the press, public or party to stall the election process for the time being. Forget, all these if Ms. Mamata Banarjee and her party would held the stand not to participate election keeping the health security of people then would there have been an election in Bengal? It is all right to hail her as an effective opposition to Modi but it is also equally important to blame her for lack of honest and effort. Alas! When have we been neutral in evaluating political personalities?
Last but not least, election and Kumbh may have had a role in spreading the virus but what about Ramdan prayers, Sunday church congregations, crowd at railway stations and bazars or mandis? No social distancing, no mask and no hygiene, so to blame one of two events for the entire chain of events is either conspiracy or a plain poor political or ideological narrative. But if any one has to be blamed as super spreader then it has to be Tikait gang and if there is a failure then its has to be Maharashtra, Delhi or to some extent UP government.
We are also not sure of the efficacy of the vaccine, and could not procure from Pfizer or other companies because that would have been disastrous economically and politically. Further mass production of vaccine has its own limitation with infrastructural and patent issues, this is what common man can’t comprehend. It is not a government effort but a private company who is involved in the production with formulae patented by Oxford University. But certainly, this is known to our intellectuals. n a recent televised interview to Rajdeep Sardesai, an ardent critique of Modi government, internationally acclaimed and India’s topmost hear surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty clearly outlined the challenges of defeating Covid and lauded in no uncertain terms the Government of India’s effort in dealing with the pandemic. As Dr. Shetty pointed out in the interview, the government put earth and sky together to make oxygen availability a success but we need to understand the constraints. But in a free for all game, the State and its poor citizens are only causalities. I hope a better sense to prevail in coming times.
(the writer is the Dean, Department of Distance Education and National law Institute University, Bhopal.)