Covid-19 drugs: Eager beavers of BJP play God

Topics Coronavirus | BJP | RSS

Cornering of scarce resources by those with money and power is unjustifiable under any circumstances.

Recently the former District Communication Chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for Delhi tweeted “There is fire everywhere in Delhi, has any Dilliwala seen BJP Delhi? Where is BJP4Delhi? Or is the state body dissolved?” Rajendra Tuli’s question could as well be put to the BJP and its leaders, generally missing from the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The RSS forced Mr. Tuli’s to delete the tweet but his question remains relevant. Where was the BJP while its top leaders were caught-up in the West Bengal election campaign? Many lay low to escape the pandemic but some it appears were more than active on the Covid warfront. They have been found to have channelled hoards of emergency drugs to their constituencies.

In Delhi, the Member of Parliament from East Delhi, Gautam Gambhir stockpiled the antiviral drug FabiFlu (brand name of Covid-19 drug Favipiravir) to distribute it to his constituents. The Delhi High Court was forced to ask, “Are these not prescription drugs? How is anybody able to procure large quantities? Is he holding a licence to deal in these drugs?”.

Gambhir was nevertheless a late comer to the game. Two weeks earlier, C R Paatil, BJP’s Gujarat state president and Navsari MP, had illegally acquired 5,000 doses of Remdesivir injection. He distributed them in Surat from the BJP party office. Legally, Remdesivir can be supplied only to hospitals.

The same day that Paatil announced free distribution of Remdesivir in Surat, the local manufacturer of the drug, Zydus Cadila, announced that its stocks had run out and Gujarat hospitals complained of shortage. A local newspaper published his mobile number across four columns on its front page telling people to source Remdesivir from him. Instead of ordering an inquiry into the illegal procurement and distribution of the drug, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani dismissed queries from the media with “ask him how he managed to get the stock.”

In Maharashtra, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was exposed when he intervened on behalf of a Remdesivir exporter. He was being questioned by the police for hoarding 60,000 vials of the injection worth Rs. 4.7 crore, ostensibly for sale to the BJP. A spokesman of the rival Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi claimed that the BJP wanted to distribute Remdesivir through its party offices in Maharashtra  just as it had done in Gujarat. Fadnavis claimed that the BJP intended to “donate” the stock to the Maharashtra government. However, the Food and Drug Administration minister of Maharashtra, Rajendra Shingne, clarified that he had not asked the BJP to purchase Remdesivir for the state.

Another BJP leader in Maharashtra, Shirish Choudhari, had hoarded “a stock of thousands of (Remdesivir) injections” in Nandurbar and sold it to people in Nandurbar and in Jalgaon districts. Once again, he had no licence to sell the drug. Choudhari’s brother told the media that they sold it at a “subsidised” rate as “social service”.

A run on scarce resources often takes place in a crisis situation. Even during the first wave of Covid-19 there was a run on Chloroquin tablets then thought to be a prophylactic for Covid-19. This time around the well-heeled are buying up oxygen concentrators and storing oxygen cylinders for personal use against a possible contingency. Hoarded anti-viral drugs are being sold at a premium on the black market. Such cornering of scarce resources by those with money and power is unjustifiable under any circumstances. It is all the more criminal when the scale of hoarding is of the order displayed by BJP leaders.

One cannot simply read these actions as the playing out of patron-client relationships with their constituents. Scarce resources cornered by those in power cannot be distributed in a way that signals that their party alone can save lives in a crisis.

Perhaps they reflect the BJP’s need to address public anger as it appears to have prioritised elections at the expense of saving lives during the pandemic. They are afraid that the raging funeral pyres could singe the party’s future electoral prospects. Controlled release of scarce and hoarded resources--anti-viral drugs, Oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators--has become a strategy for shielding the party from public ire.

It remains to be seen whether these patently criminal efforts will redeem the huge liability on the BJP for spreading the pandemic. The national vice-president of the Indian Medical Association has held Prime Minister Modi squarely responsible as a “super spreader” of coronavirus for holding election rallies and allowing the Kumbh Mela to take place. In West Bengal, which has the highest Covid-19 positivity rate of any Indian state, a direct correlation exists between the number of election rallies and the increase in Covid infections. Similarly, the BJP government in Uttarakhand has been criminally negligent in organising the Kumbh Mela earlier than scheduled on the advice of astrologers. Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat swept aside fears with statements like “The flow and blessings of Ma Ganga will ensure that coronavirus does not spread.”

Not only is the reputation of the BJP and its governments in tatters, the RSS, which claims to be the largest ‘social service’ organisation in the country, has been virtually absent in this crisis. Its ideological fellow-traveller, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, organised a massive fund-raising drive to construct a Ram Temple even as the Covid pandemic surged. While Sikhs have opened their hearts and their gurudwaras and Muslims have offered their mosques to set up makeshift hospitals, the champions of Hindutva have been chary of opening both their temples and purse-strings. 

Still, neither the government nor the BJP and its parent organisation, the RSS, appear to have taken public criticism seriously. Dattatreya Hosable, general secretary of the RSS, has warned the public of “anti-Bharat” forces. He said, “It is quite possible that destructive and anti-Bharat forces in the society can take advantage of these circumstances to create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust in the country.”

Such jingoistic appeals may try to deflect public anger but the patently political control and deployment of key Covid drugs by BJP MPs is only likely to increase disenchantment with the government.

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