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Covid crisis threatens Narendra Modi's grip

Centre fails to grasp the growing sense of panic among citizens

Covid crisis threatens Narendra Modis grip

Covid crisis threatens Narendra Modi's grip 

As India recorded more than 234,000 new Covid-19 infections last Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an election rally in the West Bengal town of Asansol and tweeted: "I've never seen such huge crowds. The second wave of the coronavirus has since grown into a tsunami. India is now the global coronavirus hotspot, setting records for the world's highest number of daily cases. Images of hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying are flooding social media, as medical staff and the public alike make desperate appeals for oxygen supplies.

The political and financial capitals of New Delhi and Mumbai are in lockdown, with only the sound of ambulance sirens punctuating the quiet, but there's a growing chorus of blame directed at Modi over his government's handling of the pandemic.

Modi cancelled another planned appearance in West Bengal on Friday to hold meetings on the pandemic response, and on Sunday he implored Indians to get vaccinated. Whether it's enough to prevent the political fallout may become clear on May 2, when election results are due to be announced for the five States voting over the last month: West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

"At this crucial time, he is fighting for votes and not against Covid," said Panchanan Maharana, a community activist from the State of Odisha, who previously supported Modi's policies but will now look for alternative parties to back. "He is failing to deliver he should stop talking and focus on saving people's lives and livelihoods."

"There is no doubt an outpouring of anger at the mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis in India," said Nikita Sud, who teaches international development at the University of Oxford and has published a book on Hindu nationalism. "The question is, will this anger trump the hate that has been systematically sown in our society for years? And will public memory last long enough for the pandemic-related anger to be manifested at election time?"

Those are not easy questions to answer.

Modi's government has sought to block some recent criticism of its response to the virus on Twitter, where the anger and disappointment in India's leader is manifest. When Modi addressed the nation on Tuesday, it seemed that he had failed to grasp the growing sense of panic among citizens. As he spoke, without providing any details on how his government would turn the situation around, the Hindi hashtag that translates as "Stop the speech, not the oxygen" was tweeted more than 108,000 times. Other hashtags, including #ModiMadeDisaster and #ModiResign were also popular.

Footage of Modi, unmasked, addressing huge crowds who were also mostly without masks or social distancing, stood in stark contrast to images of exhausted doctors and nurses desperately trying to create more capacity in the country's decrepit, underfunded health system.

Noting that at least six high courts are hearing disputes about Covid-19 management including oxygen shortages, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the federal government to come up with a national plan for the distribution of essential supplies and services. (Bloomberg)

Archana Chaudhary, Sudhi Ranjan Sen and Bibhudatta Pradhan
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