India’s national government looks increasingly hapless: The Economist

A sense of utter abandonment, especially among the politically noisy middle class, is driving anger in Covid-hit India, wrote The Economist in its report on the Covid crisis in India.

In a scathing assessment of the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the pandemic, the report said that the national government is looking increasingly hapless as the epidemic continues to worsen.

“Mr Modi has done himself no favours. During much of March and April he devoted far more energy to campaigning in one state election, in West Bengal, than to increasingly urgent cries of panic,” it said.

The international magazine said that in response to the revelation that his government had hugely miscalculated the availability of vaccines, Modi turned to showmanship, declaring a national “Tika Utsav”.

However, since the launch of the vaccine festival, the number of people getting vaccinations every day has fallen by half, owing to shortages, it noted.

“Indians are accustomed to ineptitude and meagre support. Rather it is a sense of utter abandonment, especially among the politically noisy middle class, that is driving the anger,” it report said.

The report said that the Covid crisis has now forced the Modi government into embarrassing policy reversals.

“Its vaccine campaign, touted in January as the world’s biggest and most generous, has been sharply adjusted. After banning vaccine exports to address the national shortfall, the government abruptly declared that individual states and private actors would have to bear half the burden. Despite proclaiming self-reliance as the hallmark of his new India, Mr Modi broke with a policy begun by the previous government of rejecting foreign aid, and welcomed planeloads of medical supplies donated by more than a dozen foreign governments,” it said, adding that the oxygen crisis and public misery made it impossible for the government to not rely on foreign aid.

The report said that revelations of incompetence has flabbergasted the general public, which is already overwhelmed by the calamity.

“Initial shipments of aid, they discovered, had been held up by officials wanting to impose duties. These were eventually removed and local sales taxes abolished or reduced. (But on oxygen concentrators, a lifesaving instrument, this was from a crushing 28% to a merely gouging 12%.),” it said.

The report also highlighted the Centre’s “callousness” during its tussle with the Delhi government in the Supreme Court over the oxygen crisis as well as the government’s go-ahead to the $2.6 billion Central Vista project.

It said that the change in fortunes will only manifest itself during the general election, which is still some time away, but added that the results of the result state & rural polls could serve as early signs.

“Elections, of course, will prove the real test of what this change in fortunes may mean for Mr Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He does not face a national one until 2024, so he may have enough time to repair damage and right his ship.

“But early omens are not good. Results of state elections announced on May 2nd left the BJP and allies with just one out of four prizes. More tellingly, the party was hammered in West Bengal, the state it had fought hardest to win. This was not a referendum on Mr Modi’s handling of the pandemic: many Bengali voters dislike the BJP’s thinly disguised bigotry and see its Hindi-speaking, ostentatiously religious leaders as culturally alien … in UP, meanwhile, village-level elections showed a sharp tilt against BJP-endorsed candidates in parts of the state considered its fiefs. One of them was Varanasi, Mr Modi’s own parliamentary constituency,” it wrote.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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