Rajat Sharma

Focus on vaccination, stop the blame game

AKBLet’s stop the blame game once and for all. After touching too many peaks, the number of Covid cases are now showing a decline. Because of extended lockdowns, the numbers of Covid deaths have also started declining. Our entire focus should now be on vaccination drive. We must face the fact that until and unless 70 per cent of our population is not vaccinated, we cannot fully save ourselves from the virus.

What can we gain by saying ad nauseum that there are no vaccine stocks? What can we achieve by blaming Narendra Modi for not distributing vaccines to the states properly? In reply, those from the BJP will say, India is among a handful of nations which have developed their own Covid vaccine. They will tell you, production of vaccines is being ramped up and by December end, nearly 200 crore doses will be available.

Critics can question why the government did not ramp up vaccine production in the first place. Why orders for vaccines were not placed at that time? The other camp will then remind that Congress chief ministers were the first to say that the vaccines were useless. A former CM of Uttar Pradesh even described it as a ’BJP vaccine’. The net result was that a large number of health workers did not get themselves vaccinated. People in villages of India are still sceptical above the Covid vaccines.

Critics will question, why orders for vaccines were given only in January while the US had ordered the vaccines months earlier? They will say, we got emergency use permission only in January. Had the Centre given orders earlier, they would have then questioned why vaccines were ordered when there was no emergency use approval. That is why, I am saying there is now point in continuing with this worthless blame game.

Let them say that bodies were floating in the river Ganga, and it was a matter of shame. Those from BJP will then speak about the deaths in Maharashtra. They will tell you that the population of UP is nearly double that of Maharashtra. They will say, UP has 16.7 lakh Covid cases, but Maharashtra has 55.8 lakh cases. If you want to count the bodies, go to Maharashtra and count where 88,620 people died of Covid, while in UP 19,209 people died. My view is that, this is not the time to count the bodies. If the pandemic could have been brought under control by counting the bodies, I would surely have done that. The greater public interest lies in making medicines available in the villages and getting people vaccinated.

Critics will say that the virus spread because of Kumbh Mela. Those from the BJP camp will retort, was this Mela organised by BJP? Did not pro-Congress sadhus attend the Mela? They will also question, why nobody stopped the farmers staging protest for more than six months? Modi had at least appealed to the sadhus to make the Kumbh Mela symbolic, and they agreed to it. Did any Opposition leader tell the farmer to make their protests symbolic? That is why I am saying, there is no use scoring brownie points now.

Critics have said, there was acute shortage of oxygen, ICU ventilators, hospital beds and vital injections. Indeed, there was shortage of all these. It is also a fact that thousands of people had to suffer because of this. But, when the crisis erupted, did the government remain a mere spectator? Did it just sit and do nothing? Railways, Air Force and Navy were deployed to bring and transport oxygen across India. Green corridors were created to transport oxygen to hospitals in need. Oxygen tankers were brought from abroad in ships. Oxygen plants were erected overnight. The entire nation worked as one to provide oxygen to the patients. Then why don’t critics now say that this is Ambani-Adani’s oxygen? Such questions today are of no use because there is oxygen available in plenty throughout India now. There is no use explaining how this came about and who did this. Now, vital injections and hospital beds are available.

It seems the worst phase is now over. But it inflicted a colossal damage in its wake. We lost many of our near and dear ones. But, in India, we do not grieve over the past. This is not our tradition. We have faced many a terrible shock in the past, but we always managed to come out of crisis, to stand up and march forward.

Critics say, the government did not warn people about the impending second wave. Those in the opposite camp will remind you how many times Modi warned people of the danger. They will also show you how many letters Modi wrote to the chief ministers. The truth is that nobody, right from the CM to the DM, took serious note.

Why blame bureaucrats, ministers and chief ministers alone? What did most of us do? We partied in gay abandon, held big weddings, hugged one another, clinked wine glasses with friends and relatives, and all of us wishfully thought Coronavirus is gone. Do not forget: there were people who were demanding reopening of schools because children were tried sitting in homes. Even the courts stopped virtual hearings and started physical attendance. People came out of their homes and cities to travel to tourist spots. Film shootings resumed and the temples were now packed with devotees. Did the government tell people to do all these?

We must introspect about our shortcomings. Critics can ask, why Modi addressed election rallies. But was Modi alone who addressed the election rallies? Did not Rahul Gandhi address election rallies in Kerala and Mamata did the same across West Bengal? How long shall we remain locked in this “my shirt is whiter than yours” syndrome? Critics will say, the virus spread faster because of election rallies. The opposite camp will say, what about Maharashtra, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, where there were no elections and where the virus spread more rapidly compared to poll-bound states? I think, it’s time we call off this blame game. We should forget tool kits now and ask the troll armies who create storms in social media to observe a ceasefire.

We must collectively ensure that there is no repeat of the crisis that gave India a bad name across the world. We have to create a situation where the world may not tell us that our people are dying because of our poor health infrastructure. Of course, we can counter this by asking why the largest number of deaths took place in the USA, which has the world’s most advanced health system in place. It is a fact that there were long queues of bodies waiting outside crematoriums here, but we should ask US newspapers which published these photographs, whether it is not a fact that deep freezer trucks carrying bodies of Covid victims were taken to Long Island for mass burials last year? Were not many of these bodies kept in deep freezers for days awaiting burials?

That is why I say: we should not fight bitterly among ourselves over the dead, the prime objective should be to take out India out of this crisis. All of us must ensure that not a single patient should die because of lack of hospital bed or oxygen or medicine. We have three to four months left. We must use this period to carry out a nationwide massive vaccination drive. The lives of millions of people will be saved and India will return to normalcy.

There are many countries where people are waiting for vaccines, but they wear their mask in public, unlike many among us, who keep the mask loosely hanging around our neck. Those trying to compare our conditions with those of the US and Europe must know that there was not a single case of anybody selling fake injections in those countries. Nobody hoarded oxygen cylinders in the US and Europe. People did not hoard vital medicines and injections in their homes. Nobody in the US or Europe charged extra money for providing hospital bed. Nobody recycled the shroud of Covid victims to repack and resell them. In those countries, nobody could even think of robbing people by creating fake websites in the guise of selling oxygen cylinders and injections. None in the US or Europe could imagine selling fake injections by filling vials with tap water. Or, by colouring fire extinguishers and reselling them as oxygen cylinders.

This is not the time to level accusations, this is the time to search our souls. If all of us want to remain safe, just remember: three weeks ago, there was no oxygen, no hospital bed, no medicines available for those gasping for life. Now all these are available, because all of us joined hands and made it possible. People are not interested to know who committed mistakes? The Centre, or the state government? Officials or experts?Hospitals, or suppliers? People want relief from this seemingly unending pandemic. Let all of us stop indulging in fruitless debates and concentrate on vaccinating our people. There is no way out.

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