The global media has highlighted what they called India’s ill-equipped healthcare system and Modi government’s “inept” handling of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the South Asian nation.
They ran commentaries and reports with hard-hitting headlines and sensational images of pyres burning and people crying on the street.
As of May 7, India has 3.65 million active cases and 234,083 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
US media outlet CNN slammed India’s federal government for considering the renovation of Delhi’s Central Vista as an “essential service” when the national capital is reporting about 20,000 new cases per day.
The UK’s Daily Mail went a bit further and called the project ‘The monstrous monument to Narendra Modi’s ego’.
The ambitious Central Vista Redevelopment Project envisages the construction of a new Parliament building, a common central secretariat, the Prime Minister’s residence and the Vice President’s enclave.
The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) is tasked with implementing the Rs 13,450-crore project aimed at revamping the British-era infrastructure in the heart of the capital city. It is scheduled to complete these constructions by December 2022, according to Hindustan Times.
From A Sudden Dip To A Shocking Spike
With daily cases plummeting from mid-September until February this year, India believed the worst of the pandemic was over. The government confidently prioritized vaccine production for the global market and shifted attention to infrastructure projects such as the Central Vista one.
But the country witnessed an upsurge in the second quarter of the year with what experts are calling a “second wave” of COVID-19. On April 30, India became the first and only country until now to report 4 lakh cases in a single day.
Many have questioned the Modi government’s priorities, asking it to focus on the scaling up of healthcare infrastructure, including hospitals, ICU beds, and the supply of oxygen. Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi has slammed the government, calling the Central Vista project a “criminal wastage” of money.
₹13450 crores for Central Vista.
Or, for fully vaccinating 45 crore Indians.
Or, for 1 crore oxygen cylinders.
Or, to give 2 crore families NYAY of ₹6000.
But, PM’s ego is bigger than people’s lives.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 4, 2021
The international media has also blamed the Modi government for the devastating effects of the second wave. Modi’s plans of invigorating India’s image abroad have taken a hit as India’s COVID story is framed more of a governmental failure than that of a vaccine savior.
Since April, leading global media houses such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Economist have published articles specifically blaming the national government for the lethality of the second wave.
The French Le Monde accused Modi of a “lack of foresight, the arrogance and demagoguery” which has led to a “nightmare.” The New York Times states that ‘India’s Covid-19 Crisis Shakes Modi’s Image of Strength’ as critics note that his “overconfidence and missteps contributed to the country’s devastating second wave.”
The Washington Post has pointed out that “In India’s devastating coronavirus surge, anger at Modi grows.” The Guardian talked about how “Modi practically confirmed it was each man for himself.”
One of the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s fierce critics, author Arundhati Roy called the second wave a “crime against humanity” while journalist Rana Ayyub put accountability squarely on Modi and his supporters.
The Economist, a leading British magazine, had emphasized in March on India getting a weaker strain of the virus and the population having cross-immunity while wondering why India’s fatality rate from COVID-19 was less.
But its more recent article on India’s corona wave published on May 7 mentioned Modi as a “paper tiger” and related his “humiliating defeat” in state elections to his mishandling of the pandemic.
Countering this trend, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, has, however, stated the international coverage is more about publicity and getting clicks rather than getting the facts straight. He believes that the global media has an anti-Modi bias.
India Draws Up Counter PR Measures
The article that was singled out by the Indian government was The Australian’s piece titled ‘Modi leads India into viral apocalypse’, which attributed the second wave to the federal government permitting election rallies, the mega religious congregation ‘Kumbh Mela’ while ignoring experts’ advice and neglecting health infrastructure.
The Indian High Commission in Australia wrote to the newspaper’s editor and criticized the piece as “baseless, malicious and slanderous.”
Urge @australian to publish the rejoinder to set the record straight on the covid management in India and also refrain from publishing such baseless articles in future. @cgisydney @CGIPerth @cgimelbourne @MEAIndia https://t.co/4Z3Mk6ru3W pic.twitter.com/4bgWYnKDlB
— India in Australia (@HCICanberra) April 26, 2021
Last week, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told the Indian ambassadors and high commissioners that they should do their utmost to counter the “one-sided” narrative and “negative” publicity in the international media.
Jaishankar countered that no public health expert in the world had predicted the second wave. Even the health infrastructure of the most developed countries had crumbled during the first wave last year.
But some have pointed out that during the first wave, every country was just getting used to the pandemic and its effects. A year later, most developed countries are secure after augmenting their health infrastructure.