Despite the best efforts of the opposition, particularly Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party, to paint the Narendra Modi led government as incompetent, especially by capitalizing on the death and depression that came along with the much more severe second wave of the Covid pandemic, that no doubt hit India and its health care systems much harder than the earlier first wave, it seems that not much of a dent has been made to the Teflon coated image of the Prime Minister. The Morning Consult, a globally reputed data gathering and research organization, shows that PM Modi as of June 17 continues to be ahead of other world leaders of 13 countries in terms of approval ratings at 66% Even the likes of Germany’s Angela Merkel: 53%, US President Joe Biden: 53% and Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau: 48% trail behind PM Modi. These are countries that have much better health infrastructure and far lesser poor or deprived people and one would expect that the level of disenchantment against these fairly popular leaders would be much lesser than that against Narendra Modi, who is almost halfway into his second term and given the sharpness and shrillness of the accusations leveled against him by the Opposition.
One of the thorniest accusations that PM Modi has had to grapple with is the alleged mismanagement of the vaccination drive and of the Covid 19 pandemic by his government- that it was unplanned and vaccination was not rapid enough to provide the much needed protection to the Indian people against the deadly virus. Various state governments accused the Centre, some would argue quite hypocritically, of abdicating its responsibility of procuring vaccines when under the liberalized third phase of the vaccination drive that kicked off in May, states were empowered by the centre, after they themselves had insisted for more autonomy in the months leading up, to purchase, procure and administer 25% of the vaccines to its population between the age of 18 and 45years.
The Centre not only countered this accusation with instances of how vaccine hesitancy was promoted by various leaders, from Akhilesh Yadav to Manish Tewari, Jairam Ramesh and even Congress’ social media activist Gaurav Pandhi, who targeted the indigenously made Covaxin, but it also decided and announced through a televised address of PM Modi on June 7th that the Centre would procure 75 per cent of vaccines and give them to states for free distribution to all citizens above the age of 18, a new phase of the largest vaccination drive that would commence from June 21st.
Now after the Centre took over the 25 per cent vaccination that was with states till now, it has been setting a record of sorts. On the first day of this new phase, it managed to administer a record 88 lakh plus vaccines, followed by 54 lakh vaccines on the second day and almost 51 lakh on day 3 ( by around 4pm). This figure can well be expected to cross 70 lakh by the end of day 3. The opposition, predictably unimpressed by the vaccination figure going up by almost 2 crore jabs in 2 days, has called this a “PR Event”. Some sympathizers of the opposition argued that it was nowhere close to the 17 crore Polio doses given on a single day in 2012 by the UPA government- a comparison that makes little sense because the same record so far as Polio drops are concerned was also attained by the NDA government in 2021 too so it isn’t a unique achievement.
Infact it would be laughable to compare a Polio drive that has been on for decades since 1985, which involves administering drops (not injections) to little children by thousands of Asha workers without need for post administration 30 minute monitoring window or protocol to a drive for Covid vaccines, that need monitoring time of 30 minutes post the jab and can be administered by only trained, medical professionals via an injection, which by the way has been developed just recently and globally approved in 2020, and introduced in India without any lag by around January 2021, as opposed to the vaccines of Polio, Rotavirus, Hepatitis B, etc that had an average lag time of almost two to three decades before they made their entry into India despite being available in other nations much earlier, some as early as the 1950s. Almost uncomfortable at this reality check, the opposition has instantly changed the goalpost to how some states like Madhya Pradesh “stockpiled” vaccines to create a record on Day 1. While the state government has come out and explained about how multiple vaccination drives are being run in the state on some days in the week and how a positive effort was made by enabling more Covid vaccination centres and giving a push via social media and by the CM himself encouraging people to become “motivators” the fact is that since the commencement of the drive in January the state has maintained an average rate of over 1 lakh vaccines / day throughout the drive. West Bengal is at around 1.2 Lakh vaccines/day , UP is at 1.7 lakh/day and Maharashtra at 1.81 Lakh vaccines/ day. On 22nd June , yesterday, Maharashtra administered almost 5.52 lakh vaccines and as I write this MP had administered almost 9 lakh doses. Rather than quibble about why states were outperforming perhaps the Congress could explain why some of its states were caught up in various vaccination related scandals like dumping and wastage of vaccines in Rajasthan , over which an audit has been ordered and vaccine diversion for profit in Punjab, an order that eventually had to be withdrawn after criticism by a Congress MP himself. Delhi which had almost a stock of 10 lakh vaccines on June 21 could not even cross a figure of 1 lakh vaccines on that day!
To top this Rahul Gandhi has also now come up with a white paper to educate the Modi government on where it failed and on how to manage Covid going forward. Ironically, some would argue that the states that most desperately are in need of a blueprint seem to be the ones led by Congress or its allies as data would bare out. Maharashtra , Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan that account for just 22% of India’s population have added 38% to the national Covid case count so far and a whopping 44% to the Covid death count. Maharashtra alone has contributed nearly a third of the Covid 19 deaths across India. India is on the verge of completing 30 cr vaccinations -that is almost equal to the vaccines given by US,UK, Germany and France put together. This is no small feat. Those “liberals” who wanted to replace PM Modi with the New Zealand PM Jacinda Adern would be happy to know that New Zealand with a population of about 50 lakhs will be just about completing its 1 millionth dose as we break that record on a daily basis! On June 21 we vaccinated almost 1.6 times the entire population of New Zealand! Perhaps, there would be more sense in uniting instead of socially distancing along political lines to fight this pandemic and to perhaps now allow the politics over this pandemic to take a break.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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