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International Media Blitz and Yellow Journalism in Covid Times
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
In the earlier article about certain unusual and strange facts globally observed relating to the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, this author observed that the most other countries in the world have unitedly faced challenges posed by the deadly virus but for India it was a different story with a significant section of the opposition political parties, media and others engaged in exploiting the crisis as an opportunity to fructify own selfish interests and ambitions. In the process, they have not left any stone unturned to prove nationally and internationally that the responsibility for the Covid-19 pandemic entirely rests with one man in the top political leadership and his government, who have miserably failed on all parameters to control the present crisis in India. To prove this point, selective narratives and graphic details of the shortages and inadequacies at certain places including some life-saving drugs, people struggling for the hospital beds and even dying for the alleged lack of oxygen, mass funeral in open, and so on have been aggressively argued, written and crudely depicted by a section of national and international media during the last few weeks.
This may little be out of the context but the situation reminds the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, in which Hamas is fighting a bitter proxy war for the latter. Most of the civilized world sans Islamic countries treats Hamas as a dreaded terrorist organization. Israel, a small country of predominantly Jews population surrounded from all sides by hostile Arab countries, is currently going through a serious internal political instability but on the issue of the external aggression and own survival, all rival parties in the country are united like a rock to together face the enemies of nation. As against this, a significant section of people in India look at every national emergency and disaster as an opportunity to shine own image and nurture selfish interests. The class of people with this mindset object to idea of nationalism as hyper nationalism and patriotism as jingoism for political gains just because a significant populace of the particular minority community holds religion above the nation. Many of them have serious ideological and other differences but for their selfish interest, they join together in a symbiotic relationship to constitute a common ecology, some of them not even feel shy or ashamed in joining hands with external forces to serve own cause.
So it is not surprising that when the country is seized with the crisis of the coronavirus surge, the aforesaid people are engaged in maligning the image of the country rather than making any contribution to save the situation. Intensity of the virus spread in the second wave in India has been so rapid and widespread that the entire government machinery and healthcare sector was overwhelmed by surprise facing shortages of life-saving medicines, equipment, space and oxygen. The author does not want to dwell upon controversy by individually identifying them but they are the same people who habitually resort to irresponsible conduct at every national emergency or significant development in the country. Some such major developments in the recent past include the Sino-Indian border clashes, violence caused by Pakistan sponsored terrorists, counter insurgency action or surgical strike on terror outfits in Pakistan territory by Indian military, abolition of redundant laws providing special status to one Indian state, Supreme Court verdict on Ram Janmabhumi – Babri Masjid dispute, Citizen (Amendment) Act to rehabilitate people persecuted by the neighbouring Islamic countries, agriculture reform laws, and so on. The author proposes to briefly highlight the factual position of the international media reporting and conduct of such people during the current pandemic and leave on readers to derive conclusion(s).
International Media Coverage to Covid-19 Situation in India
The popular idiom “fishing in the troubled waters” perfectly fits into the current Indian Covid-19 crisis. The reporting of international media, particularly certain well known media groups in US, UK and Australia, is undoubtedly analogous to the vultures’ act. It is difficult to determine if it is their prejudice and preconceived notions about India or their spirit of sensationalising issues which is driving them crazy to report selectively by exceptions rather than covering an inclusive report with full facts on ground. It is also a fact that there are many attention seeking and self-proclaimed investigative journalists too in India, who are willing to sell their souls for a few hundred dollars to these media groups. Of course, all journalists are not saleable; for illustration, only last year in February 2020, one Delhi based senior Indian journalist took to Twitter to express his anguish how a US based newspaper group had offered him USD 1500 for a one-thousand-word article for reporting on Delhi riots on religious lines during President Trump’s visit that he refused to obelize.
Though there are many Indians and Indian born journalists settled in the Western countries, particularly in the US and UK, some of them on the regular payroll and others writing on case-to-case basis but, currently, two names of Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt are remarkable for contributing on India matters in The Washington Post as opinion columnist and other US newpapers/magazines. Barkha Dutt had a long career with NDTV India and earned name for courageous reporting during Kargil conflict in 1999 before adopting an anti-government stance when Narendra Modi led Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) came in power at Central in May 2014 spreading negativity against India. Rana Ayyub shot into limelight for her obsession for constantly writing against Modi and following her self-published book “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up” in 2016 which was widely endorsed by Indian leftists and the particular minority community, although the one-sided narratives in the book were dismissed even by the Indian Supreme Court in a court case ruling that the book is based upon surmises, conjectures, and suppositions with no evidentiary value. Needless to mention, during the current Covid-19 crisis these journalists have played a star-role in feeding fodder to the sensation hungry Western media.
Graphic details of the shortages of some life-saving drugs, people struggling to find hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and some allegedly dying due to lack of oxygen as also mass cremation of the dead bodies in open at places in India have been selectively covered and crudely depicted by a section of national and main stream international media to press for a single point that the life in India has become hell and mismanagement of Indian Prime Minister Modi and his government is solely and squarely responsible for the crisis and carnage. According to foreign media reports, Mr Modi and his government completely failed in handling the pandemic situation during the second wave due to their other priorities and focus by allowing Kumbh Mela at Hardwar, Uttarakhand, addressing rallies in the West Bengal and devoting time for vanity projects like Central Vista, and diverting the vaccines to other countries despite shortages in the home country. At home, the electronic and print media is divided: While mostly the left or left-centric English media has more scathing attacks but staying little short of the foreign media, the coverage in the news channels and papers in vernacular languages has been relatively factual and rational. The Western Media particularly US based newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times and Time magazine are full of reports which are so often lopsided and grossly exaggerated both about the pandemic situation and role of the top Indian leadership.
Having already summarized the crux of the International media reporting in the aforesaid paragraph, neither it is possible nor desirable to cite all details but some of the newspaper headings in the recent past on Covid-19 situation and leadership in India as published in the US leading papers like The Washington Post and The New York Times and cited below itself give a lot in creating impression as if India is completely doomed under the present leadership.
The Washington Post: In India’s devastating coronavirus surge, anger at Modi grows; India’s virus surge damages Modi’s image of competence; Modi’s party loses key state election amid pandemic note; Right wing nationalists failed during the pandemic. Modi’s pandemic choice: Protect his image or protect India, He chose himself.
The New York Times: Death mounts in Indian hospital after gas runs out; India’s Covid-19 crisis shakes Modi’s image of strength; Covid desperation is spreading across India; India’s strict rules on foreign aid snarl covid donations. In yet another piece, The New York Times has opined that the complacency and government missteps have helped turned India from a seeming success story into one of the world’s worst-hit places.
The hawks in these media groups, investigative journalists and opinion makers may now be disappointed that the same Indian leadership is fully geared and in control to take India out of the ongoing crisis with the further spread of the deadly virus drastically checked in the majority states and essential supplies of medicines, equipment and gas reasonably augmented.
In a recent opinion piece in The Times, one gentleman Phillip Sherwell has flung several scathing and unsubstantiated remarks on the country’s Covid-19 response with a headline that reads “Modi leads India into viral apocalypse.”
The Australian has recently published an article that comes with the subtext, “Arrogance, hyper-nationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis of epic proportions, critics say, as India’s crowd-loving PM basks while citizens literally suffocate.” The correct position was explained by the Indian High Commission but the Paper refused to amend.
The Guardian, in an editorial, has squarely blamed the Indian prime minister for the problem: “The Indian prime minister’s overconfidence lies behind the country’s disastrous Covid-19 response.” … “Like Donald Trump, Mr Modi would not give up campaigning while the pandemic raged. India went ahead with five state elections in April, and an unmasked Mr Modi held huge rallies. Mr Modi’s brand of Indian exceptionalism bred complacency.”
The Japan Times has opined that Modi is fast loosening his grip on India as it struggles under the crippling weight of the collapse of the healthcare system.
Al Jazeera, which is known for spreading all kinds of misinformation particularly about India and Israel, has published scandalous reports under the headlines such as “Punjab gasps as India’s Modi refuses to seek oxygen from Pakistan” and “COVID sick in India go under trees to raise oxygen levels”.
Well, the aforesaid are only a few illustrative cases, these and many others in the international media perhaps find nothing good or optimistic to publish about India and Modi as the government head. Apart from the personal criticism of the head of the government, the abusive terms like “right wing nationalists” used for the Indians in some posts smack of a clear bias and begotry in minds about the largest democracy in the world. While the leftist or left-leaning approach of many media groups is evident and well known in foreign media too but this vulture-like approach and conduct even during a national crisis does not auger well in the interest of wellbeing, peace and progress of the free and democratic world community. Famous American tycoon Jeff Bezos was refused a meeting with Indian prime minister during his India visit last year and media speculated his publication group’s approach towards India. The Washington Post has been consistent in India bashing with missionary zeal particularly during the current Modi regime and only recently in March 2021 the Indian Embassy in Washington was constrained to rebuff it for “a bitter polemic targeting the prime minister and people of India”.
Of course, necessary fodder to such media groups is provided by the likes of so-called investigative journalists Rana Ayyub et al; who are lauded by same media as a celebrity journalist writing ferociously about the alleged mismanagement by the government. The lady recently wrote about “India’s hell” in the Time magazine, later echoed by many foreign correspondents. In her piece, she writes about Narendra Modi that he calls himself the servant of 1.3 billion Indians, yet he criminally abdicated his responsibility. She further wrote, “If the apocalypse had an image, it would be the hospitals of India.” Later she tweeted too on 23 April 2021, “India is breathless. My latest for Time magazine on the devastation in India wrecked by the deadly second wave of Covid 19 and abetted by an insensitive, heartless government led by Narendra Modi.”
Traditionally, the biased and less-informed media treats such people with considerable gusto and recognition, and publish without recognising the need of cross-checking the information for facts. For instance, whether the information is selective and by exception or it represents a comprehensive picture. Rightly then it is so amusing to read the dialogue of the Boston based WBUR News host Scott Simon’s inquisitive queries and Rana Ayyub’s response as she tells him that there is not a single family in India which is not affected by Covid. While talking about the urban and rural India, she told the host that though the official figure was two thousand deaths a day but unofficial figures based on journalistic reports and her conversation with health officials suggested the death toll at least 10 times higher. Also, that the cremation ground in India were so full that there were more bodies than wood for the fire; and, people were cremating their loved ones on the streets as there was no place to cremate them. Who will know or bother in US even to cross check whether a small time and nondescript journalist in home country would have enough reliable data, information and reach to comprehensively speak about a country as vast and complex as India?
But then probably the fertile mind and extra-ordinary vision of such journalists can see and produce things that the men like this author would would not be able to even emagine despite a long exposure of over three decades in public life as an elite member of the Indian bureaucracy and close proximity of political leadership in various regimes. At another place, the same journalist lamented, “Is there a single newspaper in India that will publish the names of those we lost to Covid on the front page? Is there a single newspaper in the country that will ask for Modi’s resignation and ask accountability of the Prime Minister? NOT ONE. NOT ONE.” Following this outburst, she expresses satisfaction that the global media has finally woken up from the slumber and is not mincing words when it comes to asking the right questions without any apology. Barkha Dutt is another celebrity journalist who in one of the illustrative write ups in the Washington Post wrote that she had lost her (octogenarian) father to Covid-19 – along with her faith in India’s government to protect people.
What is mentioned above is only a trailor but enough to purplex and ashame any conscientious person; how the journalism, stated to be fourth pillar of democracy, could stoop so low as to ignore full facts and inclusive picture of a situation and, instead, rely on yellow journalism with one-sided scoop and narratives just using some selective data and incidents. Of course, the author would briefly respond to some of these lopsided, and even fake in some cases, assertions and averments of the international media in his analysis in the last section of this piece.
Opposition Parties on Government Handling of Covid-19
In fact, the media coverage and reports published in the international media have come as handy tools, forage and readymade narratives for many opposition parties in India spearheaded by the Indian National Congress in building their reaction and response to the country’s Covid situation. Some parties still have a rational and calibrated response but majority of them, particularly the Congress and Left parties have constantly criticized and found fault with every action taken by the Central government. The healthcare is actually a State subject but the Central too has obligation in the contingencies like the current pandemic situation. To sum up, rather a comic situation has emerged during this period that when an opposition ruled state is seized with the problem, the blame is squarely passed on to the Prime Minister and Central Government but if the problem is reported in the BJP ruled state, the Chief Minister concerned is held responsible for it. The classic illustrations are Maharashtra and Delhi in the former category and Uttar Pradesh in the latter one. Be it medicines, oxygen or vaccination issues, those in power in the Maharashtra and Delhi have constantly blamed Modi and his government at Centre while Adityanath Yogi who is currently perhaps doing best among all chief ministers is blamed for every failure in Uttar Pradesh.
When the coronavirus scare spread over the world and the pandemic started taking roots in February 2020, India was already struggling with the opposition incited and sponsored countrywide Muslims protests against the Citizen (Amendment) Act, while the law was neither against the Indian Muslims nor it was impacting them in any way. The national capital had faced a virtual seize for months for the same reason and worst ever communal riots coincided with the then US President Donald Trump’s visit to India. Needless to mention, the deterioration of the communal situation was the result of misinformation and false fear and insecurity caused in the minds of Muslims by some opposition leaders, clerics, a section of media and other vested interests. Then in the midst of Covid-19 crisis, the PLA troops (China) occupied several unmanned Indian posts in the Eastern Ladakh in a clandestine operation. When the Indian government and armed forces were engaged with the enemy politically, diplomatically and militarily, the opposition mainly the Congress and Left parties constantly engaged in misinformation and allegation that Prime Minister Modi and his government had gifted the Indian territory to China.
The approach of the main opposition party and associated ecology has been by and large similar all along during the current pandemic too for over a year now. Perhaps a political party with a dynastic legacy and rule for about 55 years in this country after independence in 1947, either directly or through proxy, is unable to reconcile with role of an opposition party in a constructive manner even during the national crisis like the Covid pandemic. The sensational news published in the Western media with half-truth or entirely concocted and fabricated narratives is often used by them as authentic source to oppose and embarrass the Central Government. In the present Covid crisis, the vaccination programme across the world appears to be the only silver lining giving some hope to the humanity against this manmade disaster. But the opposition is not leaving any stone untuned their endeavour to politicise even the vaccination programme. To illustrate the point, the nearly one year’s developments in India in the aforesaid context are briefly enumerated here.
While the vaccines were under development, the very set of the opposition people constantly raised questions and doubts about the credibility and capability of the scientists and government as also the efficacy of such vaccines in providing protection against the Covid-19 disease. When the vaccines namely Covishield (in collaboration with Oxford-AstraGeneca of UK) and Covaxin (indigenous by Bharat Biotech and ICMR) were approved by the DGCI for the emergency use in India, the same set of critics raised questions and scepticism about inadequate trial and unwarranted rush for vaccination in sheer disregard of procedures risking the life of citizens. A famous politician and erstwhile chief minister of a state is on record to link the vaccine with the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party in a rhetoric of inciting people to stand against the government on this issue. Now that the vaccination programme is successfully under implementation (about 190 million people covered on date), same people are raising bizarre and impractical issues to achieve vaccination for all without consideration of the obtaining resources and constraints in producing and supplying vaccines, as if they are the saviours and the Indian government is deliberately ignoring the welfare and well-being of the people. In the process, they are also putting the government under dock for helping other underdeveloped and poor nations with certain vaccine doses. Reports and images have now come up in social media how those leaders who opposed vaccines have himself got quietly vaccinated.
Of late, in a bizarre turn of events, one national spokesperson of BJP has released the screenshots of a recently fished out “toolkit” on 18 May 2021 allegedly prepared by the Research Department of the Congress. The document carries a logo of the party and is dated May 2021 while underlining a handful of underhand techniques to attack Prime Minister Modi and the BJP led central government during the Covid time. The alleged document has detailed pointwise instructions on cornering and embarrassing Modi and BJP on alleged Covid mismanagement. The key points made in the toolkit are briefly as follows:
About the recently concluded Kumbh Mela at Hardwar, Uttarakhand, the instructions call upon the organization to address it as “Super Spreader Kumbh” to remind the people that it is Hindu politics of BJP. In furtherance to this narrative, the toolkit recommends to collaborate with the like-minded international media and journalists. To malign and cause setback to the PM Cares fund, toolkit instructions ask to mobilize the former civil servants to raise questions and friendly RTI activists to file RTIs on every aspect of the fund. Also, if any celebrity donates to it, he should be aggressively questioned to embarrass on the social media and a momentum should also be built against still unused ventilators sent to Punjab and Chhattisgarh out of this fund that they are defective ones. On the Centra Vista, the document calls for the mobilization of friendly academics, journalists and other influencers to write open letters, tweets and articles against it and call the project as Modi’s personal house.
About the image of Prime Minister Modi, the toolkit admits that his approval ratings have been high and not dipped despite crisis and mismanagement. Hence to treat the Covid crisis an opportunity to destroy his image and erode his popularity, multipronged actions are recommended. This inter alia includes the creation and use of proxy handles that look like Modi or BJP supporter to question Modi’s incompetence, tailoring of the international media coverage exclusively on Modi and liaising with the foreign correspondents and Indians writing in foreign publications to brief them on talking points about his (Modi) mismanagement, and use of dramatic pictures and dead bodies may be facilitated to journalists and their reports magnified. It has also recommended a liberal use the term “Indian strain” for the virus and for the social media volunteers to call it “Modi strain”. In the meantime, a poster campaign has also started and endorsed by some leaders of the Congress and Aam Admi Party in Delhi reads “Modi ji, aapne humare bacchon ki vaccine videsh kyu bhej diya?" (Mr Modi, why have you sent vaccine meant for our children to foreign countries?)
The aforesaid toolkit has been also tweeted by many BJP central ministers and the party president. While the author is summarising these points, the Congress party has denied their involvement with the toolkit, called it fake and lodged a complaint with the Delhi police against the BJP spokesperson and other leaders. In turn, the BJP has now revealed the name of the author of toolkit as Saumya Verma of Research Department; the Congress has again countered partially admitting the claim that the document on Central Vista was genuine but the BJP has concocted the other one on Covid-19 to defame their party. As the case is now referred to the law enforcing agency and more litigation is likely to follow, considering the imminent political pressures and complexities involved, it is highly unlikely that the truth will ever emerge or at least in the near future. The right question could be as to who would be the beneficiary if the instructions contained in the toolkit are implemented. The author would not like to get entangled in any controversy in dwelling further upon the issue which is yet to be investigated but if anyone just bother to reperuse the recent tweets of the Congress MP yet de facto leader (unofficially) and PM aspirant of the party, one would find reasonable clues and concordance to form an opinion in the matter.
India’s Covid-19 Crisis vis-à-vis Other Countries
Under this section, the author intends to briefly evaluate whether the much highlighted and leadership denounced Covid-19 crisis by the international media and domestic critics is only India specific or other countries too have faced similar situation during their peak period of the coronavirus surge. It is an undeniable fact that during the second wave of the pandemic through April and early May 2021, India indeed faced difficulties in management and care of the Covid patients due to their sheer numbers, particularly in some hospitals of the metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Such difficulties mainly involved the scarcity of certain medicines, supply of oxygen and availability of hospital beds. Among the Covid victims, about five percent patients needed special care and / or hospitalization at any given time. Accordingly, the Central and respective State governments geared up to facilitate the available government and private hospitals besides creating commensurate temporary facilities for the accommodation and care of the patients. In additions, the assistance from several friendly countries have also poured in. The worst appears to be over now though it might perhaps take another couple of weeks to restore normalcy.
Now the total daily numbers are coming down dramatically and the situations appears to be largely under control everywhere in terms of aforesaid needs barring some sporadic reports to the contrary, some of which may be real and others motivated too. The author does not want to derive any conclusion but the available data suggest that at present almost 65 percent of the daily Covid occurrences belong to six states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, and all but one of them (Karnataka) are ruled by the opposition parties. The opposition often blames the ruling BJP as the power-hungry party but the biggest corona hit state Maharashtra has constantly topped the table in the number of Covid patients and deaths. The state is ruled by a coalition of three parties, the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena, the latter had joined the former two for the sake of the Chief Ministerial post after winning the State Assembly election in partnership with the BJP. Healthcare is primary responsibility of the state but three parties constantly blame the Centre for their own mismanagement. Then Kerala is a small state with only about 35 million population and has the record of first Covid patient to its credit from among the people returned from Wuhan in February 2020. Also the state Marxist government is among the most vocal critics of PM Modi and his government but rank only next to Maharashtra in the State’s list in the patient tally and consequent mismanagement while passing buck on the Central government.
Almost every country in the world which had an unusual number of Covid patients at a given time has faced similar situation that India had to handle more recently. Apart from the US, the affluent and developed West European countries too faced the same nemesis. For instance, Italy boasts one of the best healthcare systems in the world but when the corona wave started towards February 2020, the entire system became topsy turvy in the beginning itself with the shortages of basic needs like face masks, hand gloves, PPE kits, and so on. The shortage of medicines and hospital beds was so acute that the attending doctors were forced to choose which coronavirus patients to save - and they had reportedly chosen the young. Their crematoriums were full and army had to be called in along with their resources to handle the dead for safe disposal. Another neighbouring country Spain too had similar disastrous experience. It is all available on the internet and a simple google search can easily reveal the stated factual information. South American countries like Brazil and Argentina as also Mexico are in the same boat with the death rate as high as nearly 10 per cent in Mexico’s case.
The saga of human miseries on account of the coronavirus across the globe sans its country of origin is rather too long and painful yet its ending appears beyond sight as of now. As among the democratic nations, the US and UK are still considered among the mightiest and most resourceful, the author intends to briefly touch upon their Covid-19 experience. Reports available in public domain about the recently concluded corona wave in UK suggest the critical shortages of oxygen and beds with nearly 50 percent more Covid patients compared to last year. In certain parts of south-eastern region, dead bodies had to be stored at temporary mortuaries. Many hospitals were reported full, no space in the intensive care units with doctors fearing that unable to get admission, many people would be badly sick and dying at home. The ambulances carrying patients were trapped, queued up outside hospitals with a waiting period six to ten hours before the patient was offloaded to get them into the hospital. This overwhelming burden on the National Health Service badly affected other patients who did not have Covid but were in pain and many of them needed surgeries but many such facilities were repurposed and converted into ICUs for the Covid patients.
The situation in the US have been no better both during the first and second coronavirus waves, and such inadequacies and deficiencies are well documented in the Inspector General’s report(s) of the US Department of Health and Human Services. An independent review carried by Daniel Joseph Finkenstadt et al of the Harvard Business School (HBS) in September 2020 and some independent inputs of doctors too vindicate the same position. Some of these problems and issues included severe shortage of testing supplies and extended wait for the results, widespread shortage of PPE, difficulty in maintaining adequate medical and support staffing, difficulty in maintaining and expanding hospital capacity to treat patients, shortage of critical supplies, material and logistic support including ventilators. The HBS study expressed astonishment that the shortages of PPE and other critical health care supplies such as ICU medications and test-kit reagents necessary to deal with the pandemic were not yet solved and problem in some cases had gotten worse. Consequently, many organizations had to forage for critically needed equipment through back channels and black markets. According to this report, during a health emergency the states and healthcare organizations are expected to rely on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) but even this is not designed to handle a pandemic of this scale.
At many places, there was no room to store bodies in the morgues, and the funeral homes were backed up. Reports are still coming from the cities like New York with hundreds of dead bodies of the Covid victims lodged in trucks for identification and burial. The US has a population of about 330 million compared to India’s about 1.39 billion yet the death toll over there has been 602,616 compared to India’s 291,365 so far. The US has one of the best healthcare infrastructure in the world and vast resources/money yet they had to undergo an immense struggle during the Covid surge. While the bizarre accounts and crude images of open cremation from India are selectively chosen by the Western media and further escalated it to malign the image of the country seeking the resignation of the head of the government, ironically enough, they appear to follow double standards when it comes to their own nation. How many people as such know that the bodies of dead are cremated in open flames among the Hindus while they are quietly buried in other cultures. But then the main reason for this ignominious situation is that such emergencies are not exploited in US by either of the parties i.e., Republicans and Democrats, as opportunity; citizens largely understand the limitations of the government and healthcare sector; and last but not the least, the same media conducts a little more responsibly in reporting when it comes to own people.
The Author’s Take and Conclusion Drawn
The author finds a barrage of articles in the mainstream International media, particularly in US newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times on Covid issues alone in India; however, with the difference that they rarely find any silver lining or positive news to report about the country. With a battery of investigative journalists and opinion makers on their panel, one wonders if they would also use their extra-ordinary talent on panel to investigate and write about the role and ethics of the Chinese Communist Party and Government. Afterall, even top leaders in the world community have opined that China is responsible for the current nemesis either through accidental or deliberate release of corona virus, some others have even gone to the extent of suggesting it to be a virus with the potential of a bioweapon. Other day, I saw a report of Business Standard dated June 2020 that The China Daily, an English-language newspaper, controlled by the Chinese Communist Party has been regularly paying many US newspapers (The Washington Post: about $6 million) for advertisement, indeed a good symbiotic relationship.
The existing maladies in India’s oldest party carrying the legacy of freedom struggle (now main opposition party) are so deep rooted that it seems unlikely to expect any reform in their approach and ideology under the present dispensation. But this is also a ticket for their ever-declining trend of popular support and hold in Indian politics. This author feels that the party still has pan-India presence and organizational potential to provide a suitable alterative and option to the Indian electorate but continued negative role of their key leaders in nearly all matters of national importance is dampening this hope. Be it Covid crisis or stand-off with People’s Republic of China, the Left parties in India seldom take the right stand on right side. During the recent Chinese incursions in Ladakh and Galwan clash in Covid times, their stand remained suspect and unclear. Of course, it is the part of history now that during the Sino-Indian War in 1962, Prime Minister Nehru was constrained to put almost entire communist leadership behind bars due to their anti-India stand.
The shortage of medicine, oxygen, hospital beds and other equipment is not India specific alone and even the most prosperous and resourceful countries have faced these problems during the pandemic and some countries are still experiencing it. While it is the duty and responsibility of every government to mobilize their resources to cater for the demand of the healthcare and human services, it is grossly unfair to haul up them for every shortage or inadequacy. One needs to remember that none of the government systems with proper systemic checks and balances (Audit and Vigilance) in the democratic world are expected or allowed to create hundred per cent or more redundancy in any sector, not even in the healthcare, with the public money. Even the most prosperous and resourceful countries like US have to follow this concept.
In a democratic country like India, elections are held under the supervision and control of an independent and statutory Election Commission, the schedule and methodology for which is also laid down by the same institution. The prime minister or any government for that matter has no control or interference in the process. Now in few states where elections were scheduled and rival parties and their leaders were also canvassing and addressing people, it is beyond comprehension and grossly unfair why only Mr Modi is singled out for criticism unless it is suggested that the BJP should have given a walkover to the rival parties. An article in The Washington Post talks about Modi’s party losing election in a key state; the obvious reference is to the West Bengal where BJP was never in power, so calling it a defeat may be unfair. The party made a strong bid to achieve majority but was successful only in improving its tally from previous 3 to now 77 Assembly seats.
It is true that Kumbh Mela attracted mass gatherings with the protocol that anyone visiting the place to take holy bath will be allowed only if he (or she) carries a clear Covid-19 negative report. The author agrees that its postponement would have sent better message across the globe but also bitterness and resentment among the millions of devotees. Are the media and critics even aware that, misguided by the vested interests, a significant population of the particular minority community in India is neither properly following Covid protocols like masks or social distancing nor showing interest in vaccination due to fear inculcated in their minds that it is a conspiracy to kill them. Similarly, recently concluded festivals like Eid too invite mass gatherings and similar risk for the virus surge.
These are some compulsions under which world’s largest democracy has to live. These days the prominent leaders of the Indian National Congress are vehemently opposing the Central Vista project, that inter alia includes a new Parliament building, at all forums with grossly exaggerated cost estimates linking it with Covid crisis. Many people are not even aware that the need of having a new Parliament was felt in 2012 itself during the Congress led UPA regime due to space constraints in the existing British vintage building. Now that it is materializing in the rival party’s tenure, they are branding it a vanity project and waste of public money.
The foreign electronic and print media cited in this piece are mainstream and well-established media houses/groups which are expected to be responsible and truthful in their reporting. The ill-conceived and lopsided news items/articles, and at times even fake news, published by them about India’s Covid crisis smacks of the biased attitude and reporting as well as inadequate and poor knowledge about India. This one-sided and rather hit-and-run approach does not auger well to their coveted stature and recognition given to journalism as the “fourth estate of democracy”. Their continued yellow journalism would only erode their credibility and acceptability among right thinking people as an independent source of news reporting in the long run. Also, their double-standards in reporting, one set of norms for own people and country, and the another for foreign people and countries, undeniably shakes faith and trust of conscientious people globally.
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