Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.” “So power is a mummer’s trick?” “A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” — An excerpt from A Song of Ice and Fire

The world has been suffering and pushing through the hardships caused by COVID for almost a year and a half now. And while the reporting on COVID, its casualties, the mismanagement, the vaccinations, the awareness, the anti-vax drive and all that is important, one must also look beyond and see how internationally this pandemic has become a matter of life and death for people not just in terms of the disease, but also in terms of the projection of power, the declaration of victory, the fragility of image and the rampant bigotry that flows in the very veins of people whom we look upon to save ourselves. This is not a report on the pandemic. It is a report on the people that were supposed to lead us out of it but could not.

Political leaders form the centre of the calculus of pandemic management. Only through sheer political will and expert analysis of their region, state, country or even constituency can this pandemic be brought under control. This is where many of the world leaders fail – and the most significant failure comes from the new epicentre of the pandemic – India. COVID has struck the heart of the Indian Republic, and it has struck hard.

While leaders like Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, Sanna Marin of Finland, Angela Merkel of Germany and many others have been very successful in their handling of the pandemic in their respective countries, countries like India and the US have not been that fortunate in their choice of leader. These two leaders all have one thing in common – their love for their public image, their lust for a very devoted and publicly active cult and their desperation in projecting victory and power even when there is none. Fortunately, Donald Trump was voted out of office, but Narendra Modi keeps the saga alive, and the Indian public keeps paying the price.

In January 2021, he famously declared to an international audience that the “war on COVID has been won” and that India “had saved humanity by containing corona successfully”. Even as the country had not fully recovered from the pandemic, Modi and his party, the BJP, held outdoor rallies, election roadshows and boasted, very publicly, about the “millions who had joined the movement despite the risk of disease”. The government allowed millions of devotees to attend the annual Kumbh in Uttarakhand. It continued to export vaccines, medicines and oxygen to other countries, despite not providing for its very own population. The inability to control large scale public disobedience of laws is one thing, the very promotion of disobedience of COVID norms is another.

It is negligence.

It is apathy.

It is murder.

This pandemic is no longer a disease or a war.

It has now become a genocide.

The air and flair of megalomania that Mr Modi carries around with himself exude this very sentiment. His public image, flamboyance, victory march, invincibility and infallibility is the only thing that matters – and the right-wing is ready to go to any lengths to fulfil that desire of its Supreme Leader. Covid numbers are being fudged like anything else. Over the last month, COVID cases in India have averaged well above 300,000 new cases per day with 3,000 deaths every day – and these are just official statistics that state “COVID” as the cause of death in the death certificates issued to the deceased. Reports coming in from all around the country state that a large number of deaths are listed under the categories of “pneumonia”, “Acute Respiratory Distress”, “Influenza-like Illness”, or simply “hypoxia” and “asphyxiation” as causes of death. All these still do not consider the death caused by mismanagement, lack of oxygen supplies, lack of ambulances, lack of medical care or even lack of any medical facility tens of kilometres in any direction.

The maintenance of this image comes with a cost. The corruption that was initially limited to less testing and inaccurate reporting has now transformed into outright coverups and blatant lies. The rates of COVID testing has dropped significantly in the last few weeks, the number of cases being reported is being hidden, and the utter shamelessness in underplaying the number of COVID related deaths has skyrocketed the gross carelessness of the Modi government. India needed oxygen, so they publicized a few “Oxygen Express” trains but paid no attention to how the production deficit would be managed. Local, (a few) national, and many international media outlets exposed the actual number of deaths happening in the country, so taking and publishing photos of crematoriums and burial grounds have been banned. In order to silence the remaining voices, arrests and FIRs are pouring in like teardrops outside of a hospital. People like Srinivas BV of the Indian youth Congress, who do their bit to help, are subjected to state-sponsored harassment. Even MLA’s are now afraid of their government, so much so that they prefer death over speaking against the saffron-robed individuals. Cow-dung and cow-urine and Patanjali – everything is available for the public, just not actual healthcare.

However, no true nationalist is supposed to point to all this “because what we need now is positivity in our lives.”

“When a king fails to uphold his duties, that is when this happens. Premature death takes place. The evil rises. There is disorder everywhere.” — The context of the Ramayan.

If Mr Modi had actually read the Ramayan instead of just chanting Lord Ram’s name to oppress those he did not like, maybe he would have seen this coming. But perhaps all he wanted as a small man was to cast a large shadow on the wall. And true to their nature, shadows do kill. 

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