Some people took the pandemic very seriously from the start, they wore the masks, washed their hands, and stayed indoors.

Some on the other hand, we call them bhakts or useful idiots, had a lot of theories and reasons to not take it seriously. Some said this is just a conspiracy to weaken the economy. Some thought only the old ones will get it, and the fatality rate was just one percent, so what is the fuss all about.

Some in India made a strange concoction of pandemic, patriotism and Hindutva and drank it saying, “We are the Indians, we have got herd immunity. We are not so weak as the West.” Still others said, “We are the Virat Hindus, Maa Ganga would wash away Corona,” as 30 lakhs gathered to take a “holy” dip in the Ganges.

Some right wing Hindutva leaders decided that the Virus have had a ghar wapsi, so any Vedic trick would work like wonders.

“Put mustard oil in your nose, the virus would travel to your stomach and die of acid.”

Baba Ramdev

Many people followed the practice being absolutely convinced that the virus enters through the nose or throat and can be defeated before it reaches the stomach. Homely advise to eat papad and drink cow urine to prevent covid-19 was also much appreciated by the people.

In the beginning nobody knew anything about the virus but the moment they found out that there was a gathering of some Muslim people, they immediately concluded it was the root cause of the whole pandemic. The annual gathering of Tablighi Jamaat members were taking place in Delhi’s Nizamuddin when the lockdown was announced and in no time, they became media and right wing’s favourite punching bag.

Nobody cared to understand that the Tablighi Jamatis had gathered before the lockdown was announced, and they came to India following via proper VISA process before the pandemic was fully considered a threat.

Indian governments general response to the pandemic through March 2020 to April 2021 has been that of “sheer suddenness” and “unpredictability” without any rational or logical thinking.

Suddenly a lockdown was announced without consulting State governments. Millions of migrant workers who live on a day-to-day earning and have no health insurance or housing security or bank balance had no option but to go back to their villages where they will not die of hunger at least. As they walked miles making a spectre of their misery and the Pradhan Sewak’s apathy, it made some of us realize that they migrate to cities in search of a better life, an opportunity for social upward movement not just “do waqt ki roti” which they can find even in the village.

  • If the city throws them out at the first sign of trouble, why should they ever be back?
  • If they do not come back, how would the city function?
  • Who would do our dishes, wash our cars, walk our dogs, clean our sewers?
  • Who would provide cheap labour to the factories and other commercial establishments?

– Some of the urban elites enjoying the lockdown with Netflix had these questions but when they tried to express them through social media or society WhatsApp groups they were hounded and shouted out.

The migrant labourers were blamed for their own misery. Had Queen Marie Antoinette been around she would have asked, “Why are they walking? Why don’t they just take a flight?” Bhakt groups were no less than the Queen. They argued that when Modiji has asked everybody to stay put wherever they are, nobody should have walked. There must be some plan, migrants should have just closed their eyes and hoped for the best.

“Modiji ne kuch kiya hai to soch ke hi kiya hoga (If Modi took an action, he must have got good reason)”

It was the standard response to whatever idiosyncrasy Modi came up with. Modi announced 14 hours janta curfew which immediately got hailed as a “masterstroke” to achieve what no other country could, kill the virus for good at one go. It was claimed that 14 hours curfew would break some chain and kill the virus since it cannot survive outside human body for more than 12 hours. When Modi asked people to blow conch shells, bang plates and pots it was claimed that the virus would be killed by sound wave.

These idiotic claims were peddled by educated elite right wing influencers with millions of followers.

The lockdown was announced suddenly, and with the same suddenness Modi declared victory over Covid-19 at a speech at World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2021. In a very sarcastic un-statesman like tone Modi retorted that many experts from rich countries demotivated Indians by making exaggerated claims that there will be a Covid Tsunami in India, 700 – 800 million people will die, but we have still successfully defeated covid-19.

How did Modi know Covid was defeated? Nobody knows. Modi doesn’t need facts and logic to make a claim anyway. Further, his tonality made it clear that words of caution from global experts are not welcome. It was a deadly combination of pandemic, populism, and hollow nationalism.

Bhakts were thoroughly gaslight. After this bhakts started hounding anybody who raised any alarm about the impending second wave or questioned whether Modi’s declaration of victory was backed by research.

One of them was Rahul Gandhi. That man was the first political leader to alert us about the first Covid wave on 12th Feb 2020, the day when Modi was busy announcing Donald Trump’s visit to India and attending Times Now Summit. Everybody either ignored him or mocked him or abused him. A year later, on 17th Feb 2021 he again alerted us about, this time about the second wave and said that Government was being grossly negligent and over-confident. Once again people either ignored or mocked or abused him.

But the Bhakts have gone silent now.

Over the last few weeks as the fear of death came knocking on their own or their friends, family and neighbour’s doors and as their social media newsfeeds continuously stream death, funeral, cries for hospital beds and oxygen, they stand shell-shocked betrayed by their own theories.

Why all the theories that made Indians invincible fail? How did the tiny virus which was squirming in front of Modi’s feet till March’21, suddenly turn into this monster out on a killing spree? How could this anarth take place under Modi’s watch?

Through the year bhakts blamed the farmers protests, the Tablighi Jamaat members for maligning India’s image. Now they are not left with anybody else to blame. This covid-19 Tsunami must be their own fault.

“But why is it our fault? When Modij said lockdown, we listened and stayed indoors. When he said light a diya, bang plates and pots we listened. And when he said all is well, virus is defeated, we opened up. He allowed us to open up, didn’t he? Government gave us the assurance, and the signs were visible. If Kumbh Mela was permitted, that means pandemic is over, right? How would we have known this was going to happen? Whose job was it to know? Can anybody predict a pandemic?”

Former borderline bhakt

Indeed, there are people who study pandemics, contagions, virus and can predict where a virus would hit next and help the State infrastructure to plan ahead. Indian govt should have consulted such experts back in Mar’20 after the lockdown, and should have prepared for this surge. But for that we needed someone with knowledge, foresight and the willingness to listen. Not a street thug who got power by hook or crook.