Police have arrested at least 20 people in India’s federal capital New Delhi for criticising prime minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the second coronavirus wave, which continues to ravage the country.
The Delhi Police, which is controlled by Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, effected the arrests of people putting up posters across the city that questioned the prime minister over the exportation of Covid-19 vaccines and demanded his resignation.
Carrying messages in Hindi such as “Modi Ji, why did you send vaccines meant for our children abroad?”, the posters appeared at a time when domestic vaccine supplies had run out, and the countrywide inoculation programme, touted widely by the BJP, had more or less halted.
About 40.4 million Indians – or just under three per cent of the country’s 1.33 billion people – have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, despite India being the world’s largest vaccine producer.
Experts warned that the vaccine shortage and the federal government’s muddled strategies in procuring it, could combine to create a situation in which it could take several years before a substantial portion of India’s population is immunised against Covid-19.
The BJP administration waited until January to buy the vaccines, with Mr Modi boasting at the virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos that same month, that not only had India “successfully defeated” the virus, but that it would help the world combat it.
The prime minister subsequently embarked on a series of massively-attended state election rallies and endorsed Hindu religious festivals, in which millions participated, turning them into super virus spreader events that transported the infection across India, poorly equipped medically to cope with it.
Consequently, hospitals in major cities such as Delhi and Bangalore, and in small towns and in rural areas, continue to face a paucity of doctors, nurses, ambulances, oxygen, medicines and beds, and are still turning patients away, leaving them to die in parking lots.
Mortuaries and crematoriums too continued to struggle to cope with the numbers of bodies piling, and some were being dumped into rivers or buried unceremoniously in secluded areas.
For several weeks now the virus’s highly contagious B1.617 new strain has fuelled a surge in infections across India, averaging 400,000 cases daily and a fatality rate of over 4,000.
Analysts, however, say virus testing is inadequate and that the positivity and death rates could both be five to 10 times higher.
India’s overall official fatality rate since the pandemic erupted in late January 2020 stands at over 274,000, but the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington estimates that this could hit one million by early August.
World Health Organisation chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan too has warned that there are still many parts of India where virus cases are still mounting. She told the Hindu newspaper on Monday that numbers by themselves meant nothing, but had to be taken in conjunction with how much testing was being undertaken.