Hyper Nationalism, Symbolism Undermine India’s Fight Against COVID-19

Pandemic is truly a global phenomenon. It requires a multi-dimensional response which can only be possible by a realistic assessment of where we stand. Instead, hyper-nationalism and symbolism marked India’s fight against COVID-19 right from the beginning. Anybody who raises pertinent questions is branded as unpatriotic and anti-national. Thus, the so-called ‘nationalistic and patriotic’ response landed India in the worst pandemic situation once again. India reported two lakh daily new cases and crossed Brazil to become the world’s second most affected nation.

Remember there was a time when our leaders and their sycophants in media trumpeting that India will not even witness any major COVID-19 disruption due to characteristics unique to it. Such characteristics often told include India’s climate, food habits, culture, genetic makeup, history of exposure to other epidemics, etc. But, many of these claims are scientifically unsubstantiated or inconclusive. It is a novel coronavirus. The world has no experience of fighting it. Instead of relying on science to face it, our policy planners were getting inspired by hyper-nationalistic faith and beliefs. This has inflicted huge damage on our country. Such unverified claims created laxity in people and led to a lack of prospective planning on the part of administration.

As the cases plummeted, the second round of self-adulatory discourse begun. India was cited as the best global model of fighting COVID and preventing the occurrence of the second wave. As such conviction loomed large on the nation, there was no preparation to combat the second wave even as the global experience suggested that it would be more virulent. This is evident from the fact that the situation that prevailed a year ago is repeated. Hospital infrastructure is simply unable to cope up with increasing cases. Scarcity of beds, oxygen, ICUs, medicines, and vaccines mock at our claims made till recently.

The gross failure is evident on the vaccine front. India is the world capital of vaccine manufacturing. This is not a hyper-nationalistic claim. India has been one of the world’s major suppliers of vaccines. But, why India is reporting vaccine shortages? Why are states closing down vaccination centres? Yet, the symbolism of tika Utsav marks public policy response to the fight against the second wave. Instead of ramping up production, supply, and availability of vaccines, the government of India wants the nation to observe vaccine festivals without adequate vaccines available.

On the contrary, developed countries like the United States were busy ensuring a confirmed supply of vaccines. According to The Ken Nutgraf, between July 2020 and January 2021, the United States paid for over 600 million does for a total population of 300 million. In the same period, India ordered 11 million doses for a country of 1,300 million. Three months later, we have still not placed orders to cover our population. This is albeit Prime Minister Narendra Modi having personally visited all the three centres where vaccines were being developed as early as end of November 2020. What is our plan for every adult in India to receive their vaccine? There is no transparency. No such plan is in the public domain. There are only official claims of denying any shortage. All this despite India being the largest producer of vaccines and has by now exported vaccines to 85 countries.

Therefore, the failure is not that of science but of politics that define policies.

-By Prof K Nageshwar

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