Decoding the great game of COVID-19 second wave

In this article…

The whole world is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. It has paused the world in the literal sense. India is not a unique country. Political activities, economic activities, and human activities have got affected due to this pandemic. COVID-19 has been coming before us in different forms. It has not left any community unaffected in India. The new variant of COVID-19 has been devastating India. Per day COVID-19 cases have crossed 4 lakhs.

Fixing responsibility in India

It is true that the second wave of COVID-19 has become more brutal than the first wave of COVID-19. One of the qualities of good leadership is to accept responsibility. If a leadership stands in the frontline to get credit for big happenings like surgical strikes and low prices of crude oil followed by good economic growth then the same leadership must come to the fore to accept and correct mistakes. Unfortunately, in a normal situation, the center fights to maximize power but during a crisis situation, it shifts responsibilities over the federal governments at different levels. Presently, ‘Health’ is under the State List. Thus, the responsibilities of the states are also genuine.

There are many other facets – First, Crisis management could be a better word than health infrastructure. Health infrastructure is made for normal circumstances otherwise budgetary load would be unbearable. Second, at the administrative level, the system fails to anticipate the second wave on time except for few districts like Nandurbar of Maharashtra. Third, We had provided a skeleton to the local government in 1992 through the 73rd and 74th amendment act. But it is still not in fully functional mode due to a lack of blood and flesh i.e. decentralization of power in the real sense. COVID-19 has reached the community level. It could have been better handled by the respective communities.

Fourth, Community and religious leaders have failed to control community festivals irrespective of religion. Worriers at social media defended their own community by attacking others. It is the duty of community leaders to suspend Kumbh, Public Namaz in Ramzan, and Prakash Parv. We, the people of India, acted at per own convenience. Thus, we are also a part of this problem. Fifth, It is true that we are constitutionally obliged to hold elections after a certain interval. This was a time to follow constitutional morality to defer election through all parties’ consensus. Otherwise, the opposition could blame Modi’s authoritarianism if the Election commission has deferred the election.

Sixth, State has resources and capability. It was their duty to act on time to minimize losses as much as position. But largely central leadership was engaged in elections. Thus, the attention of the media was also diverted toward elections in different states. Ideally, the government should have managed temporary beds as it was done during the first phase. Instead, the political class was attracting the masses in a public rally in five different states. It is unnatural to accept that people in the rally would follow COVID-19 guidelines and maintain social distancing.

Seventh, many people were seen who claim that there was no corona. People don’t believe until they get to suffer. At the societal level, people are still ignorant of this crisis. They still organize marriage functions and other community functions like normal situations. Eight, In cities, rent eaters forced the migrants to walk by bare feet for thousands of kilometers. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs came with the order for not taking rents. Ninth, the Media plays a vital role in spreading panic. They show a number of people infected and died but don’t show a number of people recovered in headlines.

Consequently, we didn’t only witness the spread of COVID-19 at the community level but it has damaged India’s human capital also. As per a report by Deccan Herald, over 1000 teachers died on Uttar Pradesh panchayat poll duty. The Allahabad HC had sent a notice to the SEC seeking an explanation on the alleged deaths of govt employees due to Covid-19 during panchayat poll duty.

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A study claims that 52 journalists died in India due to COVID-19 in the last 28 days, 101 in the last year. People are dying like an animal in different cities. Building blocks of the Indian economy, i.e. migrant laborers are walking by bare feet. According to the Indian Medical Association (IMA) registry, 244 deaths have been recorded in the second wave.

Federal tensions over oxygen crisis

The Centre says that it has allocated funds from the PM care fund to establish an oxygen plant but the state has failed to deliver on time. But the perspective of the state government claims that it was the duty of the center to supply oxygen in hospitals. First, A very poor kind of political culture the present political system is conveying to the new generation. Second, It is a time calling for unity to fight against the biggest evil of the time i.e. COVID-19 virus. Third, there is a paradox where the center centralizes power on all other matters but during the delivery of services, it passes responsibility to the federal system.

Amartya Sen in his book “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation” gives an entitlement approach to famine. He says that famine is not caused by a lack of available food, but rather by a lack of access to food. It means the leadership in a state fails to redistribute resources. The same logic can be applied to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in India over oxygen supply. The present crisis of oxygen cylinder in India is not due to less oxygen production in India but due to mismanagement in the administration.

A cacophony of arguments are coined to justify the administrative lacuna that there is a crisis of oxygen due to very high demand. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, oxygen demand in India was 750 MT. It is true that during the first wave of COVID-19 it was increased to 2800 MT. During the second wave of COVID-19, the demand skyrocketed to 6600 MT. The demand for oxygen in hospitals has reportedly gone up 600-800% over the past few days. But Government’s  Press Information Bureau claims that India has a daily production capacity of oxygen that is 7287 MT which is still more than the present oxygen demand i.e. 6600 MT.

The administration didn’t anticipate the second wave of COVID-19 on time. There was a gap between the first wave and the second wave where oxygen infrastructure could have been improved. Transport of oxygen has still been the biggest challenge before us due to which in spite of having large production we failed to meet demands. Largely oxygen production is done in the eastern part of India but the crisis is deep in the capital of India and cities located in the western part of India. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has already knocked us to be ready for cryogenic oxygen tankers.

Hope from Babus

PM Modi in parliament heavily criticized the civil servants. PM Modi said in parliament –

Sab kuch babu hi karenge. IAS ban gaye matlab woh fertiliser ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega, chemical ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega, IAS ho gaya toh woh hawai jahaz bhi chalayega. Yeh kaunsi badi taakat bana kar rakh di hai humne? Babuon ke haath mein desh de karke hum kya karne waale hain? Humare babu bhi toh desh ke hain, toh desh ka naujawan bhi toh desh ka hai” 

Babus have played a very vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic with very limited sources. I would like to put only two case studies out of many – First, During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a huge shortage of PPE kits. Under the guidance of an IAS officer Arvind Singh, rural women in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh have delivered global standard PPE kits in bulk. Shri Arvind Singh found that the PPE kit for COVID-19 in the market is neither available as per demand and whatever is available is very costly.

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He took advice from the doctors and started thinking about the ingredients. He requested 5 women to work for them. He managed to give the training to prepare PPE kits since these women were making pickles before this. In the end, Arvind Singh got a request from an army command to get PPE kits. Arvind Singh advised 5 women to train 20 women more. All 25 women delivered within 10 days to the army.

Second, During the second wave, Dr. Rajendra Bharud, an IAS officer of the Nandurbar district of Maharashtra cut Nandurbar’s single day COVID-19 pike by 75%. Team in the leadership of Dr. Rajendra Bharud, credited of this feat. As cases were down after the first wave of COVID-19, he anticipated the second wave on time by observing a massive surge in America and Brazil. He started preparing for the second wave in September 2020. He installed the first oxygen plant in the district.

He managed the limited resources in an efficient way. Most important of all was the money. Dr. Rajendra used a combination of resources, including district planning and development funds, state disaster relief funds, and CSR to meet expenses. He fulfilled all the needs of the doctor through proper communication. He utilized schools and community halls to convert into a COVID-19 center with nearly 7,000 beds just for isolation and 1300 beds with well-equipped ICU facilities.

These babus are helping India in many ways to get rid of the COVID-19 pandemic. On whom PM Modi believes more than bureaucrats i.e., wealthy industrialists are running from India in order to protect himself from Pandemic. Many countries are now closing their borders for Indians including the liberal US under the Biden administration. Wealthy people who acquired resources unevenly with the help of the State is getting private jets to drop themselves in the safest place on the earth. It’s bureaucrats who are fighting against pandemic together with the common man.

In the words of one of the successful bureaucrats, Anil Swarup, “A civil servant is not just an UPSC qualified officer but a man of good soul who understands India’s diversity and has a faith in constitutional principles”. Even Sardar Patel had a lot of faith in civil service. He called it a “Steel frame of India.” When a bureaucrat in British India, V.P. Menon offered resignation before Sardar Patel after independence, Sardar Patel refused to accept. The same person played a vital role in the integration of princely states.

Death of liberal world order

Currently, the liberal world order is in the process of taking the last breath. With the leadership of the present liberal order, the US is running away from responsibilities. Instead of coming to the fore to help the world, the Biden administration is busy listing countries to stop traveling into the US. With ‘folded hands’, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India urged Biden to lift the export ban from the raw materials used in vaccine development. After huge pressure from India, the US got ready to send raw material for vaccine development.

North Vs South debate at WTO has not even taken a halt during the pandemic. India and South Africa submitted a petition to the World Trade Organisation requesting a temporary suspension of the TRIPS agreement. But countries such as the US, European Union, UK, and Canada blocked the move and this may delay the mass vaccination to immunize poorer countries till 2024. The utilitarian premise that exclusive license promotes invention benefiting society as a whole. The liberal conception claims that Individuals must be allowed to benefit from the fruits of their labor and merit.

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There is insensitivity at the corporate level. Vaccine manufacturers are seeing this situation as an opportunity to maximize profits instead of looking at it as a bad time for humanity. In a recent interview, Bill Gates commented that a technology transfer of vaccines should not be considered because it doesn’t fit in with the realities and needs of the world. The vaccine rate is varying where it is available to the central government at a rate of ₹150 per dose, the state government at a rate of ₹300 per dose, and 600 per dose for private markets.

China and the US are playing at another level amid the pandemic. China as a revisionist power is continuously trying to show the US’s ineffectiveness. Parallelly, China is trying to revamp the image of the COVID-19 pandemic by getting goodwill. But Chinese relation has been transactional with other countries. Thus, China has been continuously trying to demoralize India being a center of vaccine manufacturers. In the words of Samir Saran and Shashi Tharoor, currently, the world order is disordered.

The major powers are using vaccines as a tool in foreign policy to extract maximum benefits. Brahma Chellaney claims that China tried to pressurize Paraguay to break ties with Taiwan in return for the COVID-19 vaccine. India rescued Paraguay from coercion by sending one lakh vaccine four days later silently. Till April 7, India has donated 10.5 million vaccines internationally. Similarly, the US is using the Pfizer vaccine for bullying other states for geopolitical needs. The US has asked some countries to put up sovereign assets, such as embassy buildings and military bases, as a guarantee against the cost of any future legal cases.

Time to unite against pandemic

COVID-19 pandemic is a problem without a passport. The world system needs to understand that closing the national border won’t protect any country from it. Unity among nations against this pandemic can only protect us collectively from this evil. Game theory suggests that cooperation among nations creates a win-win situation for all. COVID-19 is just one evil out of many. If we don’t cooperate at a global level then the whole of humanity has to be ready to bear the consequences of other challenges also like climate change, inequality, and terrorism apart from the current pandemics.

At the national level, instead of dividing ourselves at the community level, we must unite against this pandemic. The system doesn’t mean ONLY the government at different levels. We are also part and parcel of the system. Our cooperation plays a vital role in fighting against the pandemic. We should follow the declared guidelines. We should ask the leaders to fix accountabilities. We must stop the hero-worship of leaders. Identity politics won’t protect you. Your votes should have control over the political system and the political system should have no control over your votes.

Footnotes

  1. Decoding Dream India | COVID-19: A Geopolitical virus as well
  2. Amazon | Poverty, and Famines by Amartya Sen
  3. Business Today | 600% jump in oxygen demand from hospitals
  4. The Better India | UP IAS Officer Creates Top-Quality PPE
  5. The Better India | How This IAS Officer Cut Nandurbar’s Single-Day COVID-19 Spike By 75%
  6. Forbes | ‘Get Me Out’: Wealthy Flee India’s Covid Crises By Any Means
  7. The Hindu | U.S. remains non-committal on India’s move to get TRIPS waiver to COVID-19
  8. India Today | Bill Gates says Covid-19 vaccine tech should not be shared with India
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