The PM Doesn't Care Fund - Unless You're Bollywood: India During a Global Pandemic
Around one million cases of coronavirus confirmed, an estimated 27, 000 deaths due to the pandemic and India is not anywhere near its peak. The intense lock-down implemented over 14 weeks ago, comfortably abided by those who could take the hit of unemployment, left India’s poorest even more vulnerable. At this point you must ask, how did a man who based his entire campaign on his humble beginning genuinely believe that lighting a few candles was the appropriate response to the impending starvation of his people? What’s harder to understand is the fact that a significant number of people, namely BJP supporters, seem to believe that the PM has the pandemic under control, but given the numbers, the lack of relief and the cries of India’s most vulnerable, this heavily suggests otherwise.
Despite India’s cabinet being at the beckon and call of Modi, he markets himself a powerhouse, he is a one man show and a show is exactly what he gives. The beloved PM organised the army to drop petals from planes over hospitals, the very hospitals that are encouraged to turn away COVID-19 patients due to a lack of beds. He urged India to illuminate the skies by lighting candles, to bang pots and pans to feign unity, only to drown out the very real cries of the impoverished. All very strategically planned malarkey to draw attention away from the fact that his revival plan provides very little, nothing more than minimal food aid and previous financial schemes repackaged and re-branded as relief.
Around 90% of India’s workers are migrants, considered employed under an “informal” employment sector. What this means is those “informally” employed have very little to no access to social security benefits, working long hours, miles away from their homes with no safety net. When lockdown ensued, they were left to fend for themselves. Most of these informally employed workers were without access to clean water and food as well as having their temporary accommodation suspended. With public transport halted, the workers found themselves forced to travel hundreds of thousands of miles back to their home villages by foot in the scorching heat.
Those with disabilities and general health issues found themselves unable to access health care as hospitals could not keep up with COVID and non-COVID related visits, all were simply turned away due to a lack of beds. As well as this, those vulnerable due to health were now doubly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to a severe lack of sanitisation and simply a shortage of soap, an issue that spread across several Indian states.
Dear Amitabh ji, I join the whole Nation in wishing you a quick recovery! After all, you are the idol of millions in this country, an iconic superstar! We will all take good care of you. Best wishes for a speedy recovery - Harsh Vardhan, Indian Health Minister.
If the diyas and pots and pans didn’t bring people together, the three generations of Bachans who tested positive for the illness certainly had Modi and the BJP brimming with empathy. Thoughts, prayers and messages of strength and encouragement were sent across the country to the family, praying that they, and specifically the nation’s favourite – Amitabh, recovered speedily. Media outlets were seen publishing features on the Bollywood treasure, applauding him for reaching out every day to his twitter followers, despite contracting the illness. Meanwhile, a very real social stigma lays with the average man with coronavirus, he becomes an untouchable, unable to access medical help, received with caution and almost aggression upon returning to his home, these are the parallels that exist.
The “Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund” (PM Cares Fund for short), was announced days after the lock-down measures were announced. This was Modi’s answer to helping the people of India, by imploring that the very same people should donate to the fund for the government to help them. According to the PM Cares government website, the fund was set up to “further availability of quality treatment and encourage research on ways to beat Coronavirus”. Charisma and a well written speech enabled this strange idea to become a success, everyone from celebrity to members of the public donated, rallying a total of almost 100bn rupees. With the generous donations, Modi announced happily that 26mn rupees were spent on ventilators. This was then met with criticism when hospitals across the country were finding the ventilators to be anything but useful. Medical professionals at Kind Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai expressed that the oxygen support from these ventilators were inadequate, resulting in the loss of patients that could have otherwise been saved. The inadequacy of equipment in conjunction with the BJP refusing to be transparent about where else the PM Cares funds will be spent has left the nation in tatters as the fatalities due to the virus keep increasing.
It can be argued that not enough has been done by the Indian government to understand those most affected by COVID-19. In order to create a successful post-lockdown relief plan, Modi must take steps to understand the layers of socio-economic factors that come in to play when it comes to India’s most vulnerable. A “one solution fits all” method would never work considering the multitude of intersections the impoverished face. It must be considered that the needs for those with health concerns are different to those who were previously “informally” employed, and what is on offer for those who deal with both issues simultaneously? However, this barely scratches the surface.
There are two main challenges Modi and his cabinet of yes-men need to tackle. The first, the impending malnutrition and hunger the vulnerable will face due to a huge percentage of the population being hit with an incredible economic hardship. The second, the lack of medical infrastructure being implemented which has been under strain since the very start of the outbreak.
These two challenges can not be tackled and explained away by press and communications strategy, the favoured solution of the PM, the impoverished cannot be fed and sustained by petals in the sky and diyas being lit.