India's Covid Crisis Decimates Country's Middle Class

Indian economy shrank 7.3% in fiscal year 1920-21, its worst performance since independence in 1947. Nearly 230 million middle class Indians have slipped below the poverty line, constituting a 15 to 20% increase in poverty since Covid-19 struck last year, according to Pew Research. Middle class consumption has been a key driver of economic growth in India. Erosion of the middle class will likely have a significant long-term impact on the country's economy. “India, at the end of the day, is a consumption story,” says Tanvee Gupta Jain, UBS chief India economist, according to Financial Times. “If you never recovered from the 2020 wave and then you go into the 2021 wave, then it’s a concern.”  

India's Economic Performance Since Independence. Source: Bloomberg


Mainstream Indian media have long been afraid to cover the incompetence and failures of Prime Minister Modi's government. But this is finally changing with the COVID pandemic hitting India's newsrooms. Dozens of Indian reporters and their family members have died after being infected with coronavirus. 

Middle Class Decline in India, China. Source: Pew Research

The disastrous turn in the situation on the ground couple with the change in media coverage have brought focus on Modi government's failed policies in handling the deepening health crisis and its devastating impact. The images of large numbers of people gasping for breath and dying on the streets for lack of oxygen have shocked the world. The covid crisis has exposed the hollowness of India's super-power delusions fed by the country's western boosters who see it as a counterweight to China. An example of such western propaganda is a recent novel by retired US Admiral Janes Stavirides. 

Increase in Debt-to-GDP Ratio During Pandemic. Source: Business Sta...

Prime Minister Modi's government has taken on significant debt to cope with the crisis of covid pandemic. As a result, India's debt-to-gp has increased 17% to 89.3%, the third highest among emerging economies. By contrast, Pakistan's debt-to-gdp has risen by a mere 1.6% to 87.2% during the pandemic, according to figures released by the IMF.  

Modi's Hindutva Rate of Growth in India


The authors of "2034: A Novel of the Next World War" portray Indians as heroes whose statesmen-ship de-escalates World War III, negotiates peace and helps India emerge as the new global superpower. Patel, the Indian uncle character of the Indian-American deputy national security advisor Sandeep Chowdhury tells him, "America’s hubris has finally gotten the better of its greatness." The authors imagine the United Nations headquarters moves from New York to Mumbai after the war. Had this book been written after watching thousands of Indian victims of COVID19 gasping for breath and dying daily on the streets of New Delhi, I think Ackerman and Stavridis would have conceived  and developed a completely different plot line for their novel.  

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 5, 2021 at 9:39am

India’s public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) is likely to increase to a record high of 89.3 per cent in 2020, breaking the previous high of 84.2 per cent in 2003. The ratio was 72.3 per cent in 2019 and 68.8 per cent five years ago in 2015, according to the data from the International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook (WEO).

This makes India the most indebted major economy after Brazil and Argentina among the emerging markets. In South Asia, India now becomes the most indebted country after Bhutan and Sri Lanka and worse off than Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.


https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/india-s-pu...

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 5, 2021 at 5:00pm

Some #Modi Bhakts are trolling his critics. The tragedy unfolding for #Indian-#Americans is nothing to "lol" about as some #Hindutva trolls are doing on #socialmedia while attacking critics of #BJP. Many have lost multiple family members. Read "The Quint"

https://www.thequint.com/us-nri-news/unrelenting-covid-19-disparate...


A tech entrepreneur and community activist based in San Francisco Bay Area, Bhushan has lost seven family members in India to COVID-19. While he remains thankful for those recovering, the loss of loved ones has hit him hard.

Bhushan’s aunt passed away, followed by his uncle a few days later. Their California-based daughter and Bhushan’s cousin, Ruchika Kumar wrote in a Facebook post, “Mummy was right in calling papa a copycat. He copied her even in death…”


Indian Americans are an educated and high-income migrant community. Even though most of them have moved to the US willingly for professional opportunities, they always carry a bit of yearning for their motherland in their hearts. Watching India surrender to the virus, have left them bereaved and exasperated.





“The difference is access to life-saving health care. Here (Santa Clara county, California) the guidance was reasonably clear. Data was published, and you could trust the data. Numbers were not being underreported. In India the official figures have no bearing of reality. How do you have faith in what’s going on?” says Sanjiv Sahay.



Desis are constantly swaying between optimism in America and gloom in India. Happy and boisterous social media groups, connecting them with their loved ones in India, have turned into a harbinger of death. Laughter has been replaced by much-needed prayers.

A resident of Foster City in California, Sonia Bhanot was to be in Delhi this spring, to meet her mother and sisters. She felt confident to make the long journey after getting fully vaccinated. She has had to put her travel plans on hold given the public health situation in India.

“I haven’t met my sister after her husband passed away last year. I was hoping to visit. There are family members and close friends in Delhi who have COVID-19. Some are recovering. Hamare liye to COVID khatam hi nahi ho raha. Pehle yahan, ab wahan. I am not removing my mask, even if others do,” says Sonia.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 5, 2021 at 5:13pm

India’s suspect ‘Quad’ credentials. #COVID19 #pandemic has brutally exposed the hollowness of #India’s pretensions to power, status and influence and boasts of being a #vaccine superpower and #pharmacy to the world. #Quad #Modi #US #China #Hindutva #BJP https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2021/06/05/commentary/world-co...

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue process brings together Japan, Australia, India and the United States as an informal grouping of democracies to cooperate around the vast and critical Indo-Pacific maritime space.
India has always been the weakest link in the chain. Its sizable armed forces equipped with nuclear weapons are a bulwark against China’s much superior military might. Still, it’s a very poor country with a per capita income of only 3% to 5% of the other three; a weak state with limited capacity to govern a billion plus population; and a soft state without the political will to make and implement tough decisions.
The second wave of COVID-19 in April and May is India’s biggest national tragedy and international embarrassment since partition in 1947. The national and world press covered this in graphic detail (more than they would in their own countries), with images of people gasping to death on the streets, bodies piled up awaiting last rites and cremation and mass numbers of corpses floating in the Ganges River, many of which having washed up on its banks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s carefully cultivated competence bubble has been punctured by the open display of mass ineptitude.
In the wake of this stark and grim reminder of its manifold pathologies and weaknesses, the question must be asked: at which point would India become a liability rather than an asset for the other “Quad” partners? The question is important because the other three are bound together in formal alliances by security treaties and India is not, demonstrating less commitment.
The excitement, expectations and hopes of the Modi government in 2014, with promises of “minimum government, maximum governance” and “sabka sath, sabka viswas, sabka vikash” (with all, with everyone’s trust, development for all), are fading memories. On June 1, India’s official COVID-19 deaths per million was 238 compared to the world average of 457, the U.S. at 1,832, the U.K. at 1,873 and Brazil reporting 2,163.
The crux of the problem thus is not the unmitigated spread of COVID-19 but the lack of a fit-for-purpose public health infrastructure and the availability of medical supplies, equipment and drugs. India is a sobering reminder of why a strong economy is not an optional luxury but an essential requirement for good health.
Modi’s neglect of urgent economic and governance reforms in addition to requirements for a good public health infrastructure — choosing instead to go into a semipermanent campaign mode in every state election and focusing on a Hindu nationalist agenda — further aggravated the COVID-19 misery.
People’s health is vitally dependent on a healthy economy that gives the government the financial wherewithal to create an efficient universal-access public health system. No country achieves better health outcomes by becoming poorer.
The pandemic, for its part, hastened an economic decline that had already begun. According to World Bank figures, India’s annual GDP growth tumbled from 8.3% in 2016 to 4.2% in 2019. It contracted by 7.3% in 2020–2021 and the 2021 GDP forecast has been downgraded by around 17% — the worst among the G20 countries.
India got the worst of both worlds: a smashed economy and a massive COVID-19 toll that peaked in May with the official count recording nearly 400,000 daily new cases and over 4,000 daily new deaths. Recovery will be a long haul on both the disease and the economy front.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 7, 2021 at 5:02pm

#Modi's #vaccine policy flip-flops. Before 2nd wave hit #India hard, health officials had repeatedly said there was no need to vaccinate all adults. But in the past few weeks, the government has said all adults would be immunized for #COVID19 by December. https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indias-vaccine-policy-flip-flop...

India initially planned to vaccinate only 300 million of its health/front-line workers and the most vulnerable in the first six to eight months of the year. But Modi expanded the programme to all adults from May 1, though supplies were not meant to rise until June, leading to widespread shortages across the country. read more

* Modi's government asked individual states to buy vaccines from domestic manufacturers or import the shots themselves to inoculate their adults aged below 45 from May 1 onwards. Many states floated global tenders to import vaccines but none could secure doses via that route. Delhi's chief minister complained Indian states were made to compete against each other internationally for a scarce commodity. read more

Modi reversed the policy on Monday, saying the federal government would offer vaccines to all adults free of charge starting June 21. Rates for private hospitals - catering to those willing to pay for their shots - will be capped. read more

Modi said in a televised address all vaccine decisions have been taken based on consultations with state leaders.

* Modi's government placed no advance orders for vaccines from companies such as the Serum Institute of India (SII), the maker of the AstraZeneca shot, before it was approved in early January. It signed a purchase deal with SII nearly two weeks after the company's licensed version of the vaccine was authorised for emergency use. read more

Last week, the government placed its first advance order for a vaccine still undergoing Phase 3 trials, as it tries to speed up the immunisation drive. read more

* Until the second wave hit India ferociously, health officials had repeatedly said there was no need to vaccinate all adults. But in the past few weeks, the government has said all adults would be immunised for COVID-19 by December.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 12, 2021 at 7:08am

Can #Modi Shift Narrative? "So much death, so much despair — children lost their parents overnight, elderly parents lost their young children, people lost their spouses,” said Shruti Chaturvedi, an entrepreneur doing relief work in the state of Goa, #India https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/12/world/asia/india-modi-covid.html...

In the face of crisis, Mr. Modi has displayed a talent of inventing a new narrative and switching personas, including combative national champion, digital leader and spiritual guide. At times he could seem deeply relatable, at others above it all. And he had what the opposition lacked: an ability to take his message viral.

During the 2019 election, with the economy weakening, he emphasized the threat from Pakistan. Referring to an earlier comment Mr. Modi had made, his party projected him as the nation’s toughest “watchman,” boasting about the size of Mr. Modi’s chest as a sign of his strength.


-----------------

Mr. Modi’s approval rating is still above 60 percent, according to one poll. But the growing dissatisfaction suggests the prime minister may not so easily be able to change public sentiment by pushing emotional nationalist causes or shifting his image as he has done in the past. Rather, like any other politician, he may increasingly be judged by his ability to deliver.

“There was a template — that if you invisibilize problems you do not want to focus on and convince the rest of the population that only the visible part is the entire part, that seemed to work in the past,” said Kota Neelima, the founder of the Institute of Perception Studies in New Delhi. But in a once-in-a-century catastrophe, she said, “you actually notice the government is absent.”

Perhaps the most telling criticism has come from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a powerful organization with millions of members that has long supported turning India into a Hindu state and that has placed its hopes in Mr. Modi.

The R.S.S. recently tried to help the positivity campaign by holding a series of lectures by influential figures called “Positivity Unlimited.” But in his own speech, Mohan Bhagwat, the R.S.S. chief, couldn’t entirely deflect blame from Mr. Modi’s administration: Both the government and the people had lowered their guard, he said.


Mr. Modi picked up many of his skills as a communicator as an R.S.S. volunteer, said Badri Narayan, a social historian and political analyst who has written extensively about the group. Its “language of mobilization” emphasizes storytelling loaded with symbolism echoing thousands of years of history.

“He was trained in that pedagogy of oratory,” Mr. Narayan said. “He came to learn how to use storytelling for bigger messaging, and he evolved that training in his own ways.”

How Mr. Modi will emerge from the pandemic could depend on those talents, which have bailed him out in the past.

To become prime minister, Mr. Modi overcame a reputation tarnished by his alleged involvement in fanning religious violence when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat two decades ago. For a time, he was banned from entering the United States on grounds that he had violated religious freedoms. He successfully rebranded himself as the Hindu nationalist who could be India’s development champion. Soon after winning election in 2014, he traveled to the New York and spoke for an hour in a packed Madison Square Garden to chants of “Modi! Modi! Modi!”

In seven years as prime minister, he has tightly controlled his image. He prefers choreographed rallies and selective interviews over news conferences, avoiding vulnerability while offering plenty of content for his social media apparatus and network of celebrity supporters.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 13, 2021 at 12:38pm

#COVID #pandemic could be #Indian leader #Modi's undoing but he remains wildly popular despite his failure to kickstart #India's staggering #economy, to create millions of new #jobs and to provide #healthcare to India's poorest citizens. #BJP #Hindutva https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/12/asia/india-covid-modi-intl-hnk-cmd/i...


Dr. Satyendra Kumar Tiwary thinks of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as superhuman. A leader like Modi comes along "once in 2,500 years," he says, and should be remembered among the greats in India's history, like Mahatma Gandhi, and even the Buddha.

"The world will never see another leader like Modi," said the 47-year-old professor of general surgery from Varanasi, which is both Modi's parliamentary constituency and one of the holiest cities for Hindus. "He is not a man, he's superman. He's a saint."
Like so many Modi supporters, Tiwary boasts that the Prime Minister, at 70, works more than 18 hours a day and has never taken a day off work in 23 years, echoing a claim that senior officials from Modi's Bharatiya Janatiya Party (BJP) have made many times.
It is precisely this image of a hard-working people's man -- with little time for a personal life, but plenty for yoga and his Hindu faith -- that catapulted Modi to a landslide re-election in India's 2019 general vote. His party's unapologetic Hindu nationalist agenda attracted 100 million more votes than the main opposition.
Modi, who has ruled India since 2014, has remained wildly popular despite setbacks in his efforts to kickstart the country's staggering economy, to create millions of new jobs and to provide healthcare to India's poorest citizens.
Dr. Satyendra Kumar Tiwary pinned the blame on state governments for India's coronavirus crisis.
Dr. Satyendra Kumar Tiwary pinned the blame on state governments for India's coronavirus crisis.
But India is now gripped with a catastrophic second wave of Covid-19 that has left its crematoriums overflowing with bodies and put its health system under enormous strain. Modi is taking heat over his mismanagement of the national health crisis, for holding rallies during regional elections with no social distancing or mask-wearing rules, and for failing to prevent the gathering of millions of pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela religious festival, which contributed to one of the country's most dramatic surges in infections.
Just as the pandemic contributed to the defeat of Donald Trump in the US, Modi was "almost certain" to take a hit politically too, said Ashutosh Varshney, director of the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University.
"A very large part of the base is hugely disenchanted because they've lost their loved ones. They've lost their siblings, their parents, their children," he said.
Modi's loyal base
Modi may be 70 years old, but he also has legions of young Indian supporters.
Rishabh Mehta, a 24-year-old university student, said he was drawn to Modi's unwavering nationalism and thought well of the leader's achievements on improving India's defense systems.
When asked about the country's high Covid-19 death toll, Mehta said he believed the numbers had been inflated by state leaders seeking to tarnish Modi's image. Mehta believes there is a targeted "campaign going on to defame the ... central government."
Most experts and critics say the opposite, and Indian media organizations are gathering more and more evidence that show country is undercounting the dead, whether deliberately or simply because India is unable to measure the pandemic's true impact.
But Mehta's loyalty has remained strong, even after losing one of his close friends to the virus. Mehta himself took his friend to hospital in the capital, New Delhi, where he described chaotic scenes of "people shouting, people coughing, people crying" in desperation.
"It was a very horrific moment for all of us," he said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 14, 2021 at 7:48am

#COVID19 Punctures #Modi’s Aura as Some Supporters Sour on #India’s Strongman. There are few #Indians right now who don’t know, within one degree of separation, somebody who died in the past year. #BJP #Hindutva #Islamophobia #economy #jobs https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-punctures-narendra-modis-aura... via @WSJ

Veteran political experts said the Covid-19 crisis has tarnished Mr. Modi’s aura of invincibility and sparked the kind of vocal public criticism that his government has tried to muzzle in recent years. Indians have taken to social media to rail against Mr. Modi and the BJP, with hashtags such as #ModiResign and #ModiFailsIndia going viral.

“There are few Indians right now who don’t know, within one degree of separation, somebody who died in the past year,” said Irfan Nooruddin, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, a think tank based in Washington. The visuals beamed out from all corners of India—including people dying outside hospitals and dead bodies floating down the Ganges River—serve as a visceral punch reminding every Indian of how badly the government bungled the pandemic, he said.

“The notion that Modi could not be criticized, that you couldn’t really say anything against the government—that has been punctured,” he said. “And that I think is a big step.”

Even Indian media outlets, which in recent years have increasingly shied away from critical coverage of the government, have aggressively covered the breakdown of India’s healthcare system, Mr. Nooruddin said. The Supreme Court has also harshly criticized the government for failing to ensure hospitals had adequate oxygen and other medical care.

The opposition Congress party has repeatedly criticized Mr. Modi’s leadership and the government over the slow pace of vaccination and deficiencies in the country’s healthcare system. “The prime minister is also missing along with vaccines, oxygen and drugs,” opposition leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted last month.

The prime minister’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a spokesman for the BJP, said Mr. Modi’s government has been working to protect the Indian people by ramping up healthcare capacity, working to get oxygen to the areas that need it and creating supply chains to deliver vaccines. He said the farmers’ protests contributed to the spread of the virus and that the state governments, which are largely responsible for regulating healthcare in India, were unprepared for the speed of the surge. To blame the prime minister, he said, “is simply not understanding how governance functions in India.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 14, 2021 at 6:43pm

South #Indian state of Andhra Pradesh reported over 130,000 deaths in May 2021, or nearly 5X the usual number of deaths reported in the month. Excess mortality reported by the state from January to May 2021 was 34X the official #COVID19 toll in the period. https://scroll.in/article/997427/andhra-pradesh-saw-400-increase-in...

Death registration data shows the second wave of Covid-19 hit Andhra Pradesh much harder than what has been captured in official data.

More limited data available for Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, shows a more modest increase in mortality: between January 1 and June 13, Tamil Nadu registered 129,000 excess deaths over the average, roughly 7.5 times the official reported Covid-19 toll for the same time.

Officially, India has reported 370,000 deaths from Covid, substantially lower than the death tolls in the United States and Brazil, and among the lowest deaths proportionate to its population. India has officially reported just 266 deaths for every million people, as against nearly ten times that number in Brazil.

However, doubts persist over the proportion of its Covid toll that India is able to accurately capture. Some of the undercounting is a legacy of India’s problems with state capacity; even pre-pandemic, India was able to capture only an estimated 86% of all deaths, with death registration as low as 35% in states like Bihar as of 2018.

However, some of it is specific to the pandemic: despite the guidelines of the World Health Organisation and the Indian Council for Medical Research that encourage adopting as liberal a definition of a Covid death as possible, Indian states have systematically adopted an excessively stringent definition – only deaths of people who tested positive for Covid prior to death and died with a typical progression of disease in hospitals are typically counted as India’s Covid dead.

Simultaneously, there is some evidence that routine health services were severely affected. Doctors across the country have reported premature deaths in their patients with chronic disease on account of being unable to access life-saving measures, including dialysis and cancer treatments.


All of this has driven attempts in India to gauge “excess mortality” – the difference between mortality from all causes during the pandemic and in normal years. Across the world, countries make updated all-cause mortality data freely available. The United Kingdom and South Africa are among the countries that publish this data weekly, and Peru recently significantly revised its official count upwards to account for this excess mortality.

Indian states collect all-cause mortality data every day through the Civil Registration System which functions under the Office of the Registrar General of India. The process is decentralised down to the sub-district level in every district in the country. But states are not making this data public.

CRS data for Madhya Pradesh accessed by Scroll.in showed that Madhya Pradesh saw over 160,000 reported deaths in May 2021, or nearly five times the usual number of reported deaths in 2018 and 2019.

In all, Madhya Pradesh saw more than twice as many deaths between January 1 to May 31 this year compared to the 2018-’19 average. There were over 180,000 “excess deaths” in 2021 over the usual, and over 42 times the reported Covid death toll for the same period.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 16, 2021 at 1:07pm

Dangerous #India variant, also known as #DeltaVariant, is spreading rapidly in #US. The virus accounts for nearly 10% of #coronavirus cases in the US, according to the #CDC. The good news is that #vaccines appear to be effective against it. #COVID https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/16/health/us-coronavirus-wednesday/inde...

As states lift more coronavirus restrictions, experts are worried people who aren't fully vaccinated could contribute to further spread of the virus.

The Delta variant, first reported in India, accounts for nearly 10% of coronavirus cases in the US, according to the CDC.
With concerns it could become the dominant strain soon, medical experts are underscoring the importance of vaccination.
"I'm worried about those who are unvaccinated," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN on Tuesday, noting the Delta variant "is rapidly increasing here in the United States."

The CDC has determined the Delta variant is a "variant of concern," a designation given to strains of the virus that scientists believe are more transmissible or can cause more severe disease.
The Delta variant "appears to be significantly more transmissible than even the Alpha variant or the UK variant, which is now dominant in the United States," Murthy told CNN.
"The second reason it's concerning is that there is some data to indicate that it may in fact also be more dangerous, may cause more severe illness. That still needs to be understood more clearly, but these are two important concerns and they explain in part ... why this is become the dominant variant in the UK, where over 90% of cases are the Delta variant," Murthy said.
The good news is that vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant.
A new study by Public Health England found that two doses of a coronavirus vaccine is "highly effective against hospitalization" caused by the variant. The study found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalization after two doses.
Murthy said there isn't enough data to indicate the effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine in regard to the Delta variant, but the vaccine has shown it can help prevent hospitalizations and deaths when people are infected with other strains.
"The key is get vaccinated, get both doses," Murthy said.
As of Wednesday, 44.1% of the total US population was fully vaccinated while 52.7% has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the CDC.
This comes on the heels of the US surpassing 600,000 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That means about one in every 550 people in the US has died from the virus.
States continue to reopen
So far, 14 states have reached Biden's goal of vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4, according to CDC data.
New York is among the states that reached that milestone, pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift most state-mandated Covid-19 restrictions.
Restrictions were lifted across all commercial and social settings, including the requirements on social gatherings, capacity restrictions, social distancing, health screenings, cleaning and disinfection protocols, and contact tracing. Mask requirements will continue in pre-K settings, on public transit and in health care settings, Cuomo said.
Fireworks displays were put on at various locations across the state Tuesday night to celebrate essential workers and the lifting of restrictions.

"This is a momentous day, and we deserve it because it has been a long, long road," Cuomo said. "We can now return to life as we know it."
California lifted most of its Covid-19 restrictions Tuesday, ending capacity limits, physical distancing and mask requirements for the vaccinated.
Businesses in the state are already adjusting.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 16, 2021 at 10:37pm

#Modi #Vaccine Disaster Leaves #India Vulnerable to 3rd #Covid Wave. Modi has made himself the face of country’s #vaccination drive. Quite literally—vaccination certificates issued by govt feature a smiling photo of Modi, the only world leader to do so.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/06/16/modi-vaccine-failures-india-co...

As a deadly second wave raged across India through April and May, the Narendra Modi government made an unprecedented move: It shifted the responsibility of procuring vaccines onto different regional governments in the country.

For decades, India’s vastly successful universal immunization program has relied on the central government procuring vaccines and distributing it to different regional authorities. When the pandemic hit, the expectation was that the country would build on that model.

But on April 21, as India recorded nearly 315,000 coronavirus cases, the Modi government announced it would only buy half the country’s requirement of vaccines. Local governments and private hospitals would have to source the remaining by themselves, within 10 days.

The move left the 36 regional governments shellshocked—with zero notice, they were expected to locate and contact vaccine manufacturers around the world, negotiate prices and secure supplies, even as the country’s hospitals were overwhelmed with those struggling, while cremation sites overflowed with the dead. In doing so, Modi was—wittingly or otherwise—emulating former U,S. President Donald Trump, who in March 2020 passed off the responsibility of buying life-saving ventilators and masks to the governors, insisting that his government was “not a shipping clerk.”

With the Modi government’s announcement, local governments floated global tenders, and even municipalities tried their luck—Mumbai’s authorities wrote to its six international “sister cities,” pleading for vaccines. Nothing worked. Companies like Moderna and Pfizer offered a reality check, insisting that they would only deal with the federal government.

Even the Supreme Court of India, normally shy of crossing paths with the Modi government, came out and called the policy “arbitrary and irrational.”

Stung by the criticism, Modi last week came on television and announced that he was reversing the policy, adding that his government was now taking back responsibility for the country’s vaccination procurement.

But a steep price has already been paid. Six precious weeks were wasted in the race between vaccination and infection. Right now, the country is already opening up again, easing restrictions on everything from marriages to eating out. But with only 3.7 percent of its population vaccinated, the country faces the grim prospect of a being caught in yet another new wave of coronavirus infections.

Much of the blame for this should be shouldered by Modi and his government.


Since the beginning of the pandemic, Modi had made himself the face of the country’s vaccination drive. Quite literally—vaccination certificates issued by the government feature a smiling photo of Modi, possibly the only world leader to do so.

On the country’s Independence Day celebrations in August last year, Modi first broke the news to the country that there were “not one, not two, as many as three coronavirus vaccines” in different stages of testing, assuring citizens that the country was fully prepared to vaccinate the country as quickly as possible with indigenously developed vaccines. A month later, in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Modi said he wanted to assurethe global community that “India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis.”

In January this year, he reminded the world againthat India was “ready to save humanity.”

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