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Kumbh, elections and atmnirbhar COVID

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Kaustubh Chaturvedi
Kaustubh is final year student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He specialises in Comparative Politics, Communication and South Asia.

The two images here may seem like they are from pre COVID times, rather they were taken when second wave of COVID started to peak in India. Can you believe the second picture was taken the day India recorded more than 1.6 lakh cases? The home minister was in West Bengal campaigning for one of his party’s candidates while the rest of the country was running short on COVID vaccines. 

Political Rally
Kumbh Mela 2021

‘Second wave of covid infections in India has started and the number of daily infections is more than that of the first wave. On April 12, 2021 more than 1.6 lakh people were reported to be COVID positive on the day across India. On the same day more than 35 lakh devotees took holy dip in river Ganga in Haridwar with no respect for social distancing. In West Bengal thousands of people attended rallies of Prime minister Modi, Home minister Amit Shah and Trinamool Congress chief Mamta Banerjee for legislative assembly elections.

On one hand, the alarming number of cases in India is problematic, there have been market shutdowns, night curfews and total lockdown in places while on the other hand massive gatherings in the name of religion and political rallies are happening within some miles from these places. There has been shortage of vaccines, beds and ventilators in hospitals across India. These rallies and festivities can become a source of COVID super spreader and health infrastructure has already collapsed in some states across India. The message sent out to the common public is that central government cares more about its political gains than the lives of common public.

Kumbh 2021, Haridwar

Kumbh mela (Kumbh Fair) is a major pilgrimage and festival in Hinduism, celebrated every twelve years. People come here to take a holy dip in river but community commerce, religious education by saints and other religious and community activities takes place simultaneously. It is one of the largest religious gathering across the world. The 2021 Kumbh is organized in Haridwar on the banks of river Ganges. Large number of Hindu devotees arrive with their families from across India to participate in it. More than 35 lakh people bathed in Ganga on the auspicious day of April 12, 2021 and more than 100 people tested positive at Kumbh, the same day when only 18,000 were tested. 

In 2020, after prime minister Modi announced nationwide lockdown covid outbreak was detected at the Nizamuddin Markaz of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi. The gathering took place even before lockdown was announced. This gathering of about 3500 people was painted by media and some Bhartiya Janta Party leaders as an irresponsible group. Now, this Kumbh gathering in Haridwar is shown as necessity. Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat has said there should no “rok-tok (impediments)” and the mela should be “open for all”. “Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus,” he had famously said on March 20, 2021.

Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal told news agency ANI that it is difficult to maintain covid protocols during the large gatherings of the people. He further said that stampede like situation may arise if social distancing protocols are enforced at ghats. More than 1000 cases have been detected between April 10 and April 14 in Haridwar. The ruling party in New Delhi and Uttarakhand has been promoting this religious gathering, by advertising through different media channels. On one hand prime minister has announced “Tika Utsav” (Vaccination drive) in the wake of growing cases across India, while on the other hand his political party has been promoting participation in Kumbh Mela using his images on different social media platforms and media channels. This kind of mixed communication is a big failure of government communication to people as it shows that PM Modi is not sure of his steps in the wake of second wave of COVID-19.

Election Rallies

Legislative assembly elections are taking place for states of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. For these elections, massive election campaigns are organized by candidates and political parties participating in these elections. Some are following standard operating procedures in place for COVID while others are flouting rules these rules fearlessly.

An election rally in West Bengal
An election rally in West Bengal

In these campaigns and road shows thousands of people are participating. Very few people can be seen wearing masks in the images captured from the ground zero, but none is practicing social distancing. The images from these election rallies are very disturbing, when seen from the perspective of rising COVID cases in India. Prime minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Trinamool Congress chief Mamta Banerjee and other leaders can be seen without masks and surrounded by people.

In the table below, I have recorded the number of COVID cases and deaths from these states as on April 14, 2021 according to Government of India:

StateNumber of active COVID casesNumber of cases within past 24 hoursNumber of deaths due to COVIDNumber of deaths in past 24 hours
West Bengal29,0502,51910,43420
Assam4,2715371,1191
Kerala52,4504,5364,81420
Tamil Nadu49,9853,67712,94518

These alarming numbers should be considered with a pinch of salt because under reporting of Covid cases is a major concern in India. The urgency of conducting legislative elections should be looked at in the backdrop of rising covid cases across these states as well the country. When the state governments across the country are cancelling major exams of students, why is the election commission moving ahead with these elections?

Conclusion

What does the central government want to communicate to its constituencies? Is it that elections are more important than the lives of its citizens? Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and BJP campaigner in these states recently tested positive for COVID. If the cases of ordinary citizens were not enough for the central government, they should reconsider their strategies since their own leaders are also suffering in this second wave.

Health infrastructure in many states has suffered badly. There are no beds available in the states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There is a shortage of ventilators and drugs required for patients suffering serious illness. Maharashtra has announced complete lockdown for next 15 days while many cities in other states have night curfew. In these tough times, the leadership is promoting these gatherings which can become super spreaders.

People are losing their faith in the central leadership. In the middle of a pandemic, country’s leaders are attending election rallies to promote their candidates and parties. This kind of irresponsibility from the leadership fails to restore the faith of people. When the Prime Minister himself is not wearing a mask and is surrounded by thousands of people who are flouting COVID protocols, how can we expect common public to follow them. Prime minister’s “Atmnirbhar Bharat” (meaning self-dependent India) is now a clear message to the people that they should be self-dependent since the leader is busy winning another election.

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Kaustubh Chaturvedi
Kaustubh is final year student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He specialises in Comparative Politics, Communication and South Asia.

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