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1 Billion Jabs: Let’s Join the Celebration! || Midweek Matters 35

03-11-2021published_dt 2021-11-03T10:27:45.151Z03-11-2021 15:57:45 IST
Updated On 13-11-2021 12:19:20 ISTmodified_dt 2021-11-13T06:49:20.728ZUpdated On 13-11-20212021-11-03T10:27:45.151Z03-11-2021 2021-11-03T10:27:45.151Z - 2021-11-13T06:49:20.728Z - 13-11-2021

Hello and 

Welcome to. midweekweek Matters.

           On 21st October, india administered the billionth dose of COVID-19 vaccination. The Prime Minister was present at a Delhi hospital when the injection was given to a person from his Lok Sabha Constituency, Varanasi. The PM wrote an opinion piece for a prominent English daily on his government's achievement. He also addressed the nation to mark the occasion. He made it as one of the themes for his Mann Ki Baat delivered on Sunday. Please go to narendramodi.in (http://narendramodi.in/) and you will find links to these. The Union Government made elaborate arrangements to celebrate the event well in advance. A song was composed and sung by a well known singer. One hundred buildings were lit up in tricolour. A number of heads of countries and international organisations tweeted to congratulate India. The BJP national president also, wrote an article for an English daily. A newspaper had a column penned by Bill Gates. A BJP CM too wrote an article in one of the pink papers. A functionary of NITI Aayog who is in charge of vaccination also wrote a column. Laudatory statements by BJP ministers and leaders were carried by newspapers in every part of the country. They overwhelmed the social media timelines with their posts hailing the achievement. Smaller leaders led thousands of  celebrations in villages and mohallas across the country. From the 21st till Sunday the 24th, for 4 full days and nights, our print and visual media were inundated by the news and views about the momentous event. Social media platforms too reflected this in their trends. Today I want to share with you what I made of the core messaging contained in these celebrations, what it set out to say as well as what it tried to hide. I also want to dwell on what this entire thing tells us about what is an achievement worthy of celebration in the reckoning of the present regime and what it tells us about what it thinks of us, the citizens. 

A billion is a big number. Administering a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine is surely a milestone. But it is just that, a milestone. Nothing more. Do we want to believe that it is too big a goal for a country like India, and by implication make India small? Is it too high a bar for us as a nation? For a country with a robust record of administering various vaccinations for at least the last four decades? For a country that is the hub of global vaccine production? For a country that is home to some of the world's best enterprise level software providers? Is it necessary for the regime to frame the objective as far too formidable and then tell us that it achieved it? Are we in need of a certification that we are not an underdog anymore, and a patronising nod from the big daddies of the world? Whence this new school boy inadequacy suddenly come from, which we did not have even ten years ago? 

Let me show you how our Prime Minister frames our achievement in his signed article to illustrate what I mean. In the essay he traces the journey of a vial of vaccine from its production centre right up to the vaccination centre describing in detail the logistics. He even talks about the time taken to drive home the point of the humongous scale of the operation. He says,

 "…assume that each vaccination took just two minutes for a healthcare worker. At this rate, it took around 41 lakh man days or approximately 11 thousand men years of effort to reach this landmark." 

Aren’t these trite, commonplace supply chain arrangements and delivery timelines that one need not really boast about? But the PM and the ruling party head think otherwise. Both the leaders do not find it necessary to mention the nation's past experience in carrying out such arduous tasks. At this point we must note what Bill Gates wrote on the same day in the same publication in which the PM wrote: Gates said, 

"India, which has successfully implemented many mass immunisation campaigns, has leveraged its longstanding experience, knowledge, and infrastructure…." 

He continued, "India's Universal Immunisation Programme is one of the world's most extensive public health programmes. It vaccinates over 27 million newborns with essential primary doses and over 100 million children aged 1-5 years with booster doses every year. India has close to 27,000 cold chain facilities. These staggering numbers demonstrate consistent investment over the years to build robust health system and deliver health services in the remotest locations in  of the country. During the pandemic, this infrastructure has proved crucial." 

About the vaccine prowess of India, Gates said, 

"Before the pandemic, Indian vaccines had already saved millions of lives from infectious diseases like meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhoea." 

Note this, that our PM and the ruling party do not want to even acknowledge what to Gates is the strength of India.

The Prime Minister in his essay and broadcasts sets up straw hurdles and phoney challenges. He then goes on to show how his mighty government overcame them. Example: He pointed out that that there was no VIP culture in the vaccination drive at all. I’m not able to figure out what he meant by that. I myself know a lot of VIPs and those who think that they’re privileged did not wait in any queue to get their vaccine jab. They walked straight to a centre and in a couple of minutes were out after a jab. This is in the free centres. And many I know who had got their shots in private facilities. This brings us to the PM's claim that 100 crore vaccine doses were administered free of cost. Which is patently false. At least about 25%, if not more, of the vaccines administered in the country were paid for. I will cite one more phoney claim by the PM. He said, 

"There are some among us who trust only foreign brands, even for simply everyday necessities." 

Here he refers to 'some among us'. Then in the next sentence, he goes on to talk about 'the people of India.' Here is what he says: 

"However, when it came to something as crucial as COVID-19 vaccine, the people of India unanimously trusted 'Made in India' vaccines." 

Let’s not forget that the most administered vaccine in India is a foreign brand, but made in India. The less administered one is the Indian brand, made in India. We do not also know if those 'some among us' are included in 'the people of India' who trusted the 'Made in India' vaccines. Just a padding to the list of achievements here. Not a real one. Also, it’s necessary to remember that the people of India have been trusting made in India vaccines against various diseases for decades. This is not the first time. 

The PM spoke about the COWIN portal as if it were free from glitches and access problems. I do not have to repeat the well documented problems that the portal posed to people in the rural areas and those with no access to Internet and smartphones. It did not escape the harsh comments from a Supreme Court Bench. It’s much later that mandatory online registration was relaxed. 

Let’s look at another passage from the same essay of the PM. 

He said: 

"In early 2020 when COVID-19 was rampaging across the world, it was clear to us that this pandemic will have to be eventually fought with the help of vaccines. We started preparing early. We constituted expert groups and started preparing a road map right from April 2020." 

The PM said he knew that the pandemic was to be eventually fought with the help of vaccines. But meanwhile he probably also tried to see if switching off lights, lighting Diyas, banging plates, and clapping also worked, just in case. And some of his Cabinet and party colleagues propagated a particular brand of papads, a medicine from the factory of a yoga guru, daubing cow dung on the body, drinking cow urine and, chanting of some syllables as sure cure for the infection. 

In that passage he also said that we started preparing early. I’m sure most of you remember the mess that we were in when the second wave was hitting us hard. We have not paid any advance to the two main vaccine producers in our country.

And placed very small orders by April: while we knew we needed a least 180 crore doses of vaccine to fully vaccinate our eligible population, we placed an order of only 26 crore doses with Serum Institute of India and 5 crore doses with Bharat Biotech by April 2020.  When many countries have made 'at risk' investments in vaccine producers like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson we did not advance money to our own companies until quite late. The Gates Foundation made advance payment to SII for about 100 million doses. However, when the situation became out of control, the government stopped the company from honouring its international commitments and forced it to give its production for Indian use. That’s ‘preparing early' by our PM's reckoning. One would also recall the resignation of a member of the Covid-19 task force in May 2020 lamenting the government's 'stubborn resistance to evidence-based policymaking.' That tells you something about the expert group.

It was not until the Supreme Court pulled up the government in June 2020 telling it to "wake up and smell the coffee" that the government got its policy right on vaccine procurement and pricing. Initially the centre had decided to procure only 50% and asked the states to procure 25% and left the remaining 25% for private buyers. States scrambled, unsuccessfully floated global tenders. There’s one more thing. From domestic producers, centre would buy at the rate of Rs. 150 a dose. The states were supposed to buy Covishield at Rs. 300 a dose and Covaxin at Rs. 600 a dose from their own resources. Centre limited its responsibility only to the people aged between 45 and above and frontline healthcare workers. Then under pressure from the Supreme Court it decided to procure and supply it to the states for administering to people between 18 and 45 years. The government did not yield so easily. It stoutly defended the differential pricing and its limited responsibility and gave in only after intense pressure from the Court. The PM and the regime wants us not to recall that phase of the vaccine mess in the country. The government doesn’t want to reveal any details of the newly created PM Cares Fund. We are yet to know how the 35 thousand crore rupees allocated in the budget for vaccination is utilised. They don’t want us o know.

Before the October 21 celebration, we have had another little celebration of vaccination achievement. That was 17 September when two crore doses were administered on a single day as a birthday gift to the PM. The government didn’t want us to take notice of the abnormally low doses administered on the preceding and following days. 

BJP national President wrote in a newspaper column that while the entire world administered 7 billion doses, india alone did 1 billion doses. Well, he doesn’t want us to know that no other country except China needs to administer a billion doses and more. Take for example the United States. Even if it fully vaccinates all its eligible population with two doses and a third booster dose, still it doesn’t need to administer a billion doses. So is every other country in the world. Let’s now look at China the only exception and that which is comparable in population size to our country. China administered its billionth dose in June this year, four months ahead of us. And by August it reached two billion doses, in just another two months after the first billionth dose milestone. But our ruling party wants us to look at the wrong examples and to countries of incomparable sizes to  feel nice and celebrate. The ruling party president admonishes those who look at the percentage of population vaccinated and insists that only gross numbers should be looked at. Now you understand why. But both the PM, the ruling party president and other government and party functionaries do not mention China and its gross numbers. China is far ahead of us both in gross numbers and in percentage. Johns Hopkins University dashboard tells us, China fully vaccinated 104 crore or 75% of its population.

 

Whereas we are able to fully vaccinate only 28 crores or 21% of our population. The important point is that China did it and remains quiet and confident. Without a song and dance or bragging. 

The Prime Minister and the government want us to celebrate. Celebrate every small thing. But that’s not all. They also want us to delete the past from our collective memory. Want us to believe that everything is happening only now and nothing worthwhile was done in the past. They want to queer code anyone who points out the negligence, the insensitivity, the unpreparedness, the fumbling, and the mess. They don’t want us to remember even the recent past. What happened in March, April, May, June. They don’t want us to remember that each one of us have lost either a family member or a relative or a dear friend or someone known. They don’t want us to recall that they all died because of lack of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, and timely medical help. They want us to forget the hundreds of bodies that floated in Maa Ganga. They want us to erase from our collective memory hundreds of dead bodies strewn on the pavements of our cities, the long queues at the crematoriums. And they want us celebrate a small milestone as a grand achievement. They want us to not wail, mourn, not be angry, not resent, not call them to account. To remember and to resent, well isn’t it being negative? Join the celebration and be patriotic. Why remember the tragedy and be unpatriotic? Celebrate. Be positive. Learn to move on.

Which regime wants us to celebrate every small thing? And wants to project a routine normal thing as a gigantic achievement? A regime that has no real achievements. Which regime wants us to forget the past? The one which lacks self-confidence and unsure of its record. Which regime lies? The one which has too many truths to hide. And which regime attempts these tricks? The one which has poor opinion of its citizens. The one which thinks that it can manipulate them and they won’t know.

This is what Nina Poblezova, a Muscovite said about Stalin: "He stands in the balcony and he lies. Everyone claps, but everyone knows he lies, and he knows we know. But he continues spewing lies, and he’s happy that everyone is applauding him."

I only wish that it’s not yet our reality. And I hope that we are not on our way of getting there.

 

That’s all for this week. Will be back again next week,

Wednesday, lunch time, at 1:00 o’clock. 

Stay safe and do take good care of yourselves, and all your loved ones. 

Until then, Bye.

 

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