When the devastating wave of Covid infections began to sweep through parts of India last week, a worker in Gurgaon industrial zone near Delhi was heard to say “I think they just want to kill us”.
That’s exactly how it seems. Modi stopped short of announcing a national lockdown and carried on his election campaigns right up to last week. He appears maskless, as do his ministers, one of them even boasting that he attended a rally while suffering from Covid. No preparations for this outbreak had been made, even though Covid cases have been rising since mid-March.
Though there are now restrictions in many states, the Confederation of Indian Industry has delayed plant closures - although some have now shut for 2 weeks, taking the opportunity to sack contract workers! Migrant day-labourers from Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai had no option but to go back to their villages in an exodus on almost the scale of last March.
In the same Gurgaon, 7 Maruti factory workers are already dead from Covid, 1 has died at Honda and many more are sick. Yet Maruti keeps working; there is no lockdown in Gurgaon’s Haryana state.
The biggest factor in deaths - now reaching 198,000 - has been the lack of oxygen. Major hospitals just ran out. Staff had to watch their patients die. Two weeks into this shortage the government banned industry from buying oxygen supplies, but failed to requisition its stockpiles. Much of these have escaped onto the black market, as have stocks of the anti-viral drug remdesivir, which is selling at 4-5x its usual price.
Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants to make oxygen weren’t ramped up, even if this was part of the plan last year. It was done in Kerala, which now has surplus oxygen. Not even 10 of 162 planned PSA plants were set up in the rest of the country.
Modi now says everyone over 18 can get vaccinated! But companies can sell jabs (if they have them!) at “self-regulated” prices. So far, only 10% of the population has had a 1st dose, even though India is the world’s biggest vaccine-producer. There’s an acute shortage of supply; in his boastful vaccine diplomacy, Modi told manufacturers to send vials abroad, well into this new wave. Now many states can’t start a roll-out before 1 May at the earliest.
It’s true that India is one of the poorest and most populous countries in the world. But the virus has been aided and abetted in this present catastrophe by the policy of its government and its capitalist class. That worker from Gurgaon is right. It seems as if they want to kill “us” all.