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India is crying for Maitri​: Maitri from its Government

05-05-2021published_dt 2021-05-05T08:10:52.385Z05-05-2021 13:40:52 IST
Updated On 19-05-2021 12:05:02 ISTmodified_dt 2021-05-19T06:35:02.959ZUpdated On 19-05-20212021-05-05T08:10:52.385Z05-05-2021 2021-05-05T08:10:52.385Z - 2021-05-19T06:35:02.959Z - 19-05-2021

Hello and welcome to Midweek Matters

India is crying for Maitri. Maitri from its Government. 

This week I will examine the narrative of denial of the large scale human tragedy that’s unfolding before our eyes, the compelling and inescapable reality on the ground, and then call out the Faustian bargain some influential sections of our civil society seemed to have entered into.

I came across a video that showed a cremation ground. Scenes of scores of burning dead bodies, the stoic narration of the gory details of the scene by someone who probably was in charge of the place, the wailing of a lady who lost her young brother, people doing the pradakshinam of their deceased kin before lighting the pyre. It moved me. I sent it to a few of my friends. 

After a while, a friend responded. He said, the news organisation that put out the video was anti-Modi. They choose only such things to bring down his image, that was his judgement. I was surprised.

I know him. He’s decent, educated. A thinking person. He reads, loves poetry and writes too. He saw a representation of the current tragedy in terms of pro and anti Modi. I set aside my anger, I thought I should understand his mind a bit more. I continued the conversation. Asked him if we should ignore that. He replied, yes. There was no hesitancy, or ambivalence in his tone. He was clear. Dismissive. Nonchalant.


I read a blog post by the newly appointed Sarkaryavaha of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He wrote to caution people about Anti India forces trying to take advantage of the COVID situation to defame India. At his level, he too saw the issue as pro and anti. Not primarily as a humanitarian issue. Not as a tragedy. Not as an issue of Bharatiyas dying. For lack of oxygen, hospital beds, medicines, ventilators, plasma, ambulances. To him the issue was attempts to defame India. Not so much the loss of lives of its people. 

A lot of people responded to what I spoke in the last episode of Midweek Matters. They expressed their agreement with what I said. They shared my agony, anxiety, pain. They have no axes  to grind. They are not anti this or anti that, nor are they pro something. Just like me. 

But there are as many who struck a different note. Leaving out the cheap ad hominem remarks, and below the belt comments, I will summarise them for you. 

One said, well Parakala, instead of criticising the government do something constructive to help people. Another asked, what have you done? You’re just sitting in an ac room and spreading negativity. He said that it’s time to support the government, not to criticise it. 

There was an interesting response to my separate post that referred to my article published in April 2020 in The Hindu. In that post I said that the second wave of COVID was not unanticipated. Its gruesome impact was not beyond our grasp. I was trying to suggest that we could have been well prepared. But a corporate honcho sermoned to me: 'I said so is looked down upon in corporate world. Tell us what can be done now and what you can do.' 

I am old enough to know that this is the crafty moral high ground of the incumbents to stave off criticism for messing up. Their way of telling that you need to carry the can. It's you who need to do your bit to clean up after the elephants have walked past. 

All these remarks have one thing in common.

Tell us what have you done! Or tell us what can be done. And what you will do. To them I needed to have done something, or tell them what could be done, or promise to do something and only on satisfying their criteria can I earn my right to be critical of the government. In other words, I have to prove my credentials. To them.

I was trying to see if our Gurus said some sane words on the present misery. The Gurus who hold forth for hours on what to eat, how to sleep, meditate, achieve calm and peace, and inner engineer one's self. All the Gurus who have massive following, who made spirituality instagrammable, chic, and trendy.

I also tried to know if the moral crusaders who once wanted to rid our country of corruption have anything to tell us about the tragedy that’s engulfing us. If they have any thoughts on why we see what we see, why we ended up where we ended up, who is responsible for what we are experiencing. And if they’re getting ready to take aim at those responsible for this mayhem.

I have not heard anything from these pretenders to the thrones of spirituality and morality. Or, have I missed something? 

We can’t expect much from our business leaders. Predictably.


I will now come to our Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat. The 75th edition, broadcast on Sunday. He spoke to two doctors - a Hindu and a Muslim. To two nurses, one North Indian and one South Indian, to an ambulance driver, and to a lady who recovered from COVID-19 infection and is now well. A well curated guest list! 

The PM has not betrayed the slightest sense of his awareness of the gravity of the situation. He chose not to speak to a family who lost its dear one. Or to a member of the family of a frontline worker who lost their life while serving COVID patients. The talk doesn’t give a sense that people are dying in our towns and cities and villages. It doesn’t give you a sense that they are dying because of lack of oxygen, ventilators, waiting for hospital beds, plasma. That they’re paying large sums to get hold of an ambulance. 

The PM gave us the impression that all was indeed well. Doctors on his show said there was nothing to worry. One doctor told us that the mutation of the virus was just like us changing our clothes. The pandemic was nothing much to worry about. The nurses, and the recovered patient too said so. The PM rested his case there and ended his monthly talk. I wondered for a moment if it was I who’s living in an unreal world.

The misery hasn’t moved him. He was lucid, energetic, didn’t struggle to find words to express himself. I remember that the retirement of a member from Rajya Sabha sometime ago choked his voice. He struggled to control his tears. He couldn’t find words to bid farewell to the member. But the tragedy that you and I see around us now hasn’t moved our Prime Minister. 


It seems to be a crime to think, write, speak about the tragedy that’s engulfing us. The Government was quick to order Twitter to delete posts that are critical of its handling of the COVID situation. The microblogging platform promptly obliged. I saw reports that in our largest state, people are slapped with charges under IPC who’d talk critical about that state government’s handling of the situation. 

What’s the working hypothesis to understand this phenomenon? What is the hermeneutics?

To speak, write, and talk about Covid misery is seen as anti or pro Modi. Anti or pro government. Anti or pro India. Not to critique the situation is pro india, pro government, pro Modi. And it is being positive. Constructive. Patriotic. Nationalistic. To critique is to be anti India, anti government, and anti Modi. Therefore, unpatriotic, anti-national. 

This is the narrative that can’t be wished away. Can’t be dismissed. It’s taken a firm hold in the country. It is held by my friend whom I consider an educated, middle class, professional, urban, who’s not unfamiliar with the hard realities of life. It is shared by a significant section of those who participate in the discourse on the various social media platforms. By virtue of their presence there, they’re influencers in their own right. 

An organisation, putatively the largest volunteer organisation on the globe - its chief executive looks at the situation from the prism of this narrative. And his words carry weight with millions of volunteers of his organisation. The weight that’s difficult for ordinary observers to grasp. And that weight has serious political implications.

I can’t guess the narrative of the moral and spiritual Gurus. But their silence gives me a strong indication of their cooption into the narrative. Cageyness of our business leaders lends strength to it.

Is it a surprise then that the Prime Minister thinks in any other way? How can we find fault with him if he thinks that criticism of his government's handling of the situation is essentially mala fide, primarily targeted to undermine him and his grand project of building a Shrestha Bharat?


Meanwhile, unmindful of this narrative, the virus is spreading. By the end of day on Monday, the number of cases registered on a single day is 3,19,329. Deaths are 2,762. Cumulative number of deaths are 1,97,880 . Infected cases are 1,76,25,749. We have second highest daily fatalities in the world after Brazil.

The pandemic's second coming is showing its impact on the economy. IMF upgrade of growth forecast for country from 11.5% to 12.5% no longer seems to hold. The country's premier bank is now forecasting a much modest number, 10.4%. SBI estimates show decline in business activity, lowest in 5 months. Lockdowns and restrictions cost about 1.8 lakh crore rupees loss of GDP so far this year. Unemployment has shown an uptick, from 6.52% to 7.8% in one month according to CMIE. Urban unemployment now stands at 9.2%. 

Data coming out from industrial nerve centre, Maharashtra are unsettling. The state lost 82 thousand crore rupees worth of economic value. Migrant labourers began their journey back to their homes. Railway data reveal that about 15 lakh people left Mumbai In the last two weeks. Other states' data is yet to come. Karnataka has announced a lockdown. Other states are likely to follow suit. Yet another scary picture on the economic front is looming. 

Pace of vaccination is slowing down. We administered only 9 lakh 95 thousand and 288 doses in the 24 hours ending 7:00 am on Monday. That’s the lowest in nearly a month. It’s 15.4 lakh doses less than what was administered in the previous 24 hours. We are seeing a decline in the rate of vaccination in the second half of April. Even the most efficient efforts to administer the vaccine cannot keep pace with the rapidity of the spread of virus. That’s what experts tell us. This tardy and declining pace is worrying. 

Studies on the spread of virus in the country tell us that we are not yet near the peak of its virulence. 

University of Michigan, epidemiology department's modelling suggests that by the middle of next month the daily number of infections could be between 8 and 10 lakhs. And the daily deaths around 4,500. 

The model done by our IIT experts tells us that peak tim¬ing is May 14¬th to 18th for active infections and May 4¬th to 8th for new infections. Peak value, according to them is 38¬ to 48 lakh for active infec¬tions and 3.4 to 4.4 lakhs for daily new infections.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation - IHME, of University of Washington model projects the daily infections at a staggering 50 lakhs, both reported and unreported, and daily deaths at 5,500 by 10th May, and a total of 6 lakhs 65 thousand lives lost to the pandemic by August. One should not dismiss these worst case scenarios.

Government is scrambling. Crying out for help for oxygen. The pharmacy of the world is struggling to vaccinate its people. Centre left the state governments to fend for themselves. They are free to procure vaccines, they are told. But at an unfair and higher price than the union government can. Reports are pointing out that there’s partiality in allocating vaccines to the states from the central pool. I hope they’re wrong. 


There’s this vast gap between the tragic reality and the government’s grasp of it. It’s not incapacity to grasp the reality. It’s the denial of reality that's plaguing this government. And so is the case with a significant part of our civil society that’s partnering in this denial. 

Some of them I think do genuinely believe that the leader is infallible. They’re under a spell. I have no problem with them. Only sympathy. 

But the issue is with others who do see the vast damage that is being done. They completely understand it.

Of them, some endorse the narrative of denial, actively promote it, even evangelise it. Some others stay silent. 

I saw the open letter of employees and former employees of an English television channel addressed to the editors. Can that letter not wake those editors up?

What’s the Faustian bargain? 

Why do these sections need it? For a few perks? Positions? Awards? Is it so difficult to break out of that the Faustian bargain? 


India is crying for Maitri. Crying for Maitri from its own government. 

From the leader it trusted as its saviour. It’s crying for oxygen Maitri, Vaccine Maitri, Plasma Maitri, ICU beds Maitri, Ambulance Maitri. Maitri for a dignified cremation of its deceased sons and daughters.

A cry for Maitri is India’s Mann ki Baat.

After hearing 75 editions of our PM's Mann ki Baat, it now wants him to listen to its Mann ki Baat. 

It’s first edition. Delivered in pain. 


That’s all we have time for this week.


Will be back again next week, Wednesday, lunch time, at 1:00 o’clock. 


Stay safe, take really really good care of yourselves.

Until then, Bye.