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By Milind Sathye

The alarming rise in COVID cases in India, its strained health care system, and gory details of mass cremations have occupied pages of global and India’s domestic media in recent months. But the Indian situation is no different from that in the other major comparable countries of the world. As a matter of fact, India is doing remarkably well despite the legacy of a rickety health-care system and mismanagement, in particular, by opposition ruled Indian states that impact the overall performance of India.

The WHO data shows that as of 6 May 2021, confirmed COVID cases in India stood just over 21 million and it ranked just below the USA which has over 32 million cases. Furthermore, in terms of the proportion of the population, the Indian COVID situation is not that alarming as it is made out to be.  The confirmed cases form about 1.5% of the total population (1,339 million) as against about 10%  of the total USA population (335 million).  The USA has witnessed 573,000 deaths approx (0.018 percent of confirmed cases) while India has witnessed 230,000 deaths approx (or 0.001 percent of confirmed cases). Brazil has witnessed 15 million confirmed cases or about 7% of its total population of approximately 213 million. The deaths are 412,000 (or approx. 0.03 percent).

It demonstrates that as of date India’s performance both in terms of confirmed cases as a proportion to population and deaths as a proportion to confirmed cases is significantly better than that of the USA and Brazil, yet global media seems to be obsessed with India.

The global media conveniently forgets that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to deal with a health system inherited by him from the misgovernance of India by the Nehru dynasty that ruled her for most of the post-Independence years.  Before PM took over in 2014, only eight All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) were established in over 65 years. But in the last seven years, the Modi government established seven additional AIIMS and eight more are underway.

The Modi government has to cope with the shortage of hospital beds (0.5 per 1,000 population in 2017), yet another dynasty legacy.  Compare this with two and three hospital beds respectively in Brazil and USA in the same year. But it seems the opinionated global media has no qualms pushing these facts under the carpet and instead haul up Modi – their favorite punching bag.

Add to the above scenario, the politics of opposition parties in India at such a critical juncture. Delhi, a union territory, ruled by Mr. Arvind Kejriwal of AAP,  tops with 7,583 cases per 100,000.  Of the 21 million cases, over 25% or close to 5 million are contributed by one state only – Maharashtra – which is ruled by parties inimical to Modi and BJP. Of the other states, those which contribute over one million cases include Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, all ruled by opposition parties except Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh which are ruled by Modi’s BJP. But in terms of cases per 100,000 while Kerala ruled by the left-parties coalition has 5,348, other states have respectively 2487, 1798, 2930, and 714 cases. It is important to remember that health is a state subject as per the Indian constitution and India is a federal democracy. Yet Modi is blamed by the Congress-controlled domestic media to hide misgovernance by the Congress party over the years. The global media just echoes Indian media without applying critical thinking.

A court recently slammed Mr. Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, for oxygen mismanagement.  Modi is being blamed that his government ignored the advice of medical experts. But forecasting COVID-19 has been a failure across the world.  Similarly, though India does produce enough oxygen, with better logistics it could have reached where required more efficiently. But the Congress-backed farmers’ protests delayed transportation. Had Modi dealt with the farmers’ protest with a heavy hand, both domestic and international media would have gone berserk.

The vaccine developed by India and its help to over 40 countries including Canada was lauded by the WHO a couple of months back. Doses administered in India so far are 162 million against 252 million of the USA. Of course, one would expect the pace to speed up.

In sum, what is required is an objective look at the Indian situation and putting it in a global context. Unfortunately, when sensationalism rules, critical thinking is the casualty.

Milind Sathye is Professor in Canberra Business School, University of Canberra, Australia 

Image courtesy of (Illustration courtesy TOI)

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