LAST April and May, Prime Minister Modi was severely criticised by a Guyanese newspaper and a few critics, to the point of the criticisms coming across as a personal attack on the leader for his handling of COVID in India. Prior to that and since June, the PM was/has been praised for his handling of COVID with the lowest global infection and mortality rate per hundred thousand people. Because of India’s generosity in donating anti-COVID materials, Guyana and so many other countries were able to limit COVID infections and deaths. Yet, India was criticised for local COVID policy and the sudden increase of COVID. Guyanese and other critics failed to understand India’s federalist system of governance or what those of us who study India’s politics calls “cooperative federalism”.
When the PM assumed control of the battle on COVID last year, he was attacked for what critics described as usurping the power of the state governments or Chief Ministers who was the elected executive of the states. The PM felt humbled by the critics. Modi backed off. Fighting COVID was placed on the shoulders of state governments. Some handled it well; others did not.
Each state was given control over its COVID policy and vaccination drive and to procure its own vaccines. Funds were given to the states to combat COVID. The states proved to be inept in fighting COVID and in acquiring vaccines as the dreadful disease took an unfathomable and devastating toll across India. Millions of cases of infections were recorded daily. COVID swarmed the states; thousands died from COVID daily. No doubt, India was unprepared for the second wave that hit in April and May. After India’s low rate last year and through March of this year, the country was lax and the government felt it had ‘conquered’ COVID with its lockdown. The country let its guard down. During that period, India supplied the world with oxygen ventilators, PPEs, masks, etc., and later vaccines. India didn’t expect a second wave and did not prepare for it. So when the second wave came, India experienced shortages in equipment and vaccines. Modi was blamed for taking care of the needs of the world in vaccine diplomacy. And while happy to receive India’s vaccine, PPEs, etc, to combat COVID, some of the very recipients in Guyana blamed and attacked Modi for the rise of COVID in India and for shortage of equipment in his own country.
Instead of blaming the Chief Minister of the states for the record infections and deaths, the PM was blamed for neglecting his people and for focusing on international vaccine diplomacy. Yet a month earlier, the very critics were praising the PM for helping poor countries, including Guyana, to combat COVID, something the wealthy countries had failed to do. Modi wanted the world to be vaccinated and protected from COVID and committed to helping them. So he supplied the world with vaccines, including wealthy countries. Some seventy countries benefited from India’s vaccine generosity. Modi was also very generous in doling anti-COVID equipment handouts to many countries. Guyana and other Caricom members were beneficiaries receiving millions of vaccines. That assistance helped Guyana and other Caricom countries to control COVID and limit infections and fatalities.
After the PM was blamed for the rise in COVID casualties in May, the PM re-assumed control over COVID policy, securing vaccines, ventilators, PPEs, etc. and the infections drastically fell. Even when it was at its peak in April and May, India was among the countries with lowest infection and mortality rate from COVID in April and May, lower than Guyana and the US. Today, India has the lowest infection rate globally among major economies. In addition, while most countries, including Guyana, experienced a third wave of infection, it appears that the third wave has skipped India where it has been very mild. Today, India is praised for its handling of COVID by the leaders of all the major countries. This COVID is the biggest problem the world is facing in 100 years. It is the biggest pandemic, and hence efforts made in India to tackle the coronavirus are commendable. As the Indian PM stated some time ago, handling COVID has been most difficult for humanity. He did his best managing problem of state power versus national control.
Misunderstanding of India’s governance structure led to monstrous condemnations of the PM. People didn’t understand Indian’s system of governance – a federalist structure with each state having control over education, health, etc. It is similar to the US where each state has control over its COVID policy. When the PM intervened nationally, COVID was under control. Had he maintained control of COVID during the 2nd wave, perhaps infections would have been curtailed and deaths reduced. And had he not sent us vaccines, perhaps our COVID infection and mortality rate would be much higher than what it is currently.
Last Friday, India administered more than 25 million vaccines, unprecedented in the globe, a record for the issuance of any vaccines globally in one day. In preceding days, India administered record breaking vaccinations of 10, 14, 17, 21 million vaccines daily. So far, some 800 million vaccines were administered as compared with just over 300 million by the US and 400,000 in Guyana.
This is unprecedented handling of COVID-19. India has been able to control the third wave of COVID- 19 and limit its spread. The Indian PM should be praised for his handling of COVID. Unlike what critics claimed in April and May, Modi has done a remarkable job since then to reduce COVID infections not only in India but in other countries as well, including Guyana that were/are recipients of India’s anti-COVID assistance.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram