Yogi regime takes refuge in hype amid corona surge

A sudden surge in COVID cases in Uttar Pradesh exposes the State government’s unpreparedness in handling the crisis.

Published : Apr 21, 2021 06:00 IST

Bodies lined up for cremation at Ghaziabad Hindon river crematorium in Ghaziabad on April 16. With increasing number of deaths caused by COVID-19, the waiting period at crematoriums has gone up.

Bodies lined up for cremation at Ghaziabad Hindon river crematorium in Ghaziabad on April 16. With increasing number of deaths caused by COVID-19, the waiting period at crematoriums has gone up.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav tested positive for COVID-19 on April 14. So did State Urban Development Minister Ashutosh Tandon and Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi. Scores of Secretariat employees, including those in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), also tested positive.

The cases of high-profile persons came to light at the end of a fortnight that marked a phenomenal tenfold rise in the number of the afflicted. As of April 14, there were 1,11,835 COVID positive cases in the State against approximately 11,000 cases on March 31. On April 14 alone, 20,510 new cases were recorded; on April 15 22,439 cases were recorded The number of COVID-related deaths on April 14 was 68; the next day the number rose to 104. Clearly, the country’s most populous State was experiencing a horrendous second wave.

Reports from different parts of the State, including the capital Lucknow, underscored how the Yogi Adityanath government, especially the Health Ministry, was found wanting in comprehending and addressing this grave situation. Crematoriums were overflowing in at least half a dozen districts, including Lucknow, and people were being forced to erect funeral pyres in the open. In every major town of the State, including Lucknow, Prayagraj (Allahabad) and Varanasi, people have been questioning the official figures on COVID deaths.

The public’s questions became even more vociferous when Public Works Department (PWD) workers were seen tying blue metal sheets, of the kind often used at construction sites, to cover up the view to the crematoriums and open grounds. This move came barely 24 hours after a privately shot video of a Lucknow crematorium with a large number of burning pyres was widely shared on social media. The “coverup” sheets were also marked with a notice stating that “unauthorised people are not allowed to enter” as the area is “COVID-19 affected” and that “trespassers would face stringent action”. As has been its wont over the past four years, Yogi Adityanath’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resorted to concealment and suppression when it faced uncomfortable questions from the public.

Also read: COVID second wave: Clueless Centre cannot hold

A massive, unannounced reduction in the number of tests has compounded the crisis. There have also been reports of the wrong vaccine being administered. For instance, the rabies vaccine was administered to three elderly women—Saroj (70), Anarkali (72) and Satyavati (60)—at Shamli in western Uttar Pradesh.

On April 15, after two consecutive days of unprecedented rise in daily cases, the merchants’ association of Lucknow announced a voluntary lockdown of main markets in the capital and a number of important towns. The State government has asserted repeatedly since the beginning of 2021 that there will be no lockdown. The Chief Minister has been saying that this was because the State had made “big gains” in the battle against the pandemic.

However, after April 15, the government did announce a night curfew in 10 districts that had reported over 2,000 active infections in 24 hours. As of April 15, Lucknow had reported a total of 35,865 active cases, Prayagraj 13,237 and Varanasi 11,562. Seven other districts also went into night curfew—Kanpur Nagar, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Gorakhpur, Meerut, Bareilly, Jhansi and Ballia. However, the Allahabad High Court said the government’s night curfew was an inadequate measure and asked it to consider imposing a full lockdown in the worst-hit areas. Prior to this, the government had taken steps to procure anti-viral medication Remdesivir from Gujarat. A special State plane was sent to Ahmedabad to bring 25,000 doses of the medicine.

Political and social observers of varied ideological moorings, including those associated with the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar, have pointed to the failings of the State government in recent times. Talking to Frontline over the phone, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activist based in Lucknow said on condition of anonymity that the Yogi Adityanath regime had not been able to evolve a proper plan taking into consideration all aspects of the pandemic, especially the different stages of its development.

Also read: Second wave of COVID-19 in India

Professor Sudhir Panwar, an academic and leader of the Samajwadi Party, asserted that the government had been seeking to cover up its administrative failures through media hype about the Ministry’s ‘efficiency’ and its ‘development initiatives’, along with the time-tested ploy of communal polarisation and sectarianism. He said: “The systems to combat COVID were steadily disintegrating right from January, but the Yogi Adityanath government’s focus was to facilitate pilgrimages to the Kumbh at Haridwar in neighbouring Uttarakhand. This was combined with a media blitz on how the government was functioning superbly. The fact of the matter is that this government has had no policy perspective on not just the pandemic, but on all vital health, economic and welfare issues of the people at large. The total neglect of the agrarian distress, the absolute indifference to civic amenities in the small and big towns and the pathetic collapse of the health machinery across urban and rural Uttar Pradesh are all testimony to this. But then, as one has seen time and again the ‘blue cover up wall’ of media promotion can be used to gloss over all this.”

Harvard University’s ‘certificate’

Panwar and many other social and media observers went on to list how the media—both mainstream as well as tangential ones operating mainly in social media—have pushed absolute falsehoods to project the regime’s efficiency in combatting the pandemic. There were references to the widely circulated news that a Harvard University study had praised the Yogi Adityanath government’s handling of the migrant crisis. The fake news was circulated extensively by the government’s public relation handlers and spin doctors on social media platforms, including WhatsApp. A number of mainstream and social media outlets including Times Now television, Hindustan Times , Jagran , The Free Press Journal , Swarajya and Shortpedia picked it up. The title of the WhatsApp message shared by the government’s public relation handlers was “A heaven on Earth for migrants in testing times”. A Sangh Parivar apologist in News Nation, a Hindi television channel, went to town stating “Harvard University salutes CM Yogi Adiyanath for COVID-19 restrictions and recommends the world to replicate.”

An investigation by AltNews, a fact-check portal, found that the so-called study cited for this promotion was not prepared by Harvard University. AltNews pointed out that the “report in question was published by the Institute For Competitiveness (IFC)”. It went on to highlight the details of the report stating that the “cover page of the report has two logos—IFC and Microeconomics of Competitiveness (MOC), an affiliate network of Harvard Business School”. “MOC is essentially a Harvard course on competitiveness and economic development.”

Also read: Rabble-rousing yogi

AltNews quoted Amit Kapoor, honorary chairman at IFC, who asserted that “it is not accurate to refer to a study by a MOC affiliate as a Harvard study”, and added that “contrary to media reports our study doesn’t conclude U.P. government handled the migrant crisis more effectively than other states”. Kapoor said that “the document is not a comparative statement on the handling of the crisis by different states”. It is documentation pertaining to the efforts of the Uttar Pradesh government. AltNews notes that on page 70 of the report, the conclusion states: “Although the Uttar Pradesh government has taken steps to build economic opportunities for them closer to home using existing schemes as well as by signing new MoUs, it is important to develop a long-term employment generation plan.” It quoted Kapoor as saying that “the document was for internal consumption and was not intended to be made public”. “In addition, as you note, the study/document was not projected as a Harvard study anywhere in the document, rather as a work of the Institute for Competitiveness. The interpretation was unexpected,” Kapoor stated on e-mail to AltNews.

The investigative report exposes how the Yogi Adityanath government uses its own agencies and the media to construct an image for the Ministry and its Chief Minister. But that, as Panwar pointed out, is small consolation for the hapless people of Uttar Pradesh.

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