In the article published in ‘The Australian’, journalist Philip Sherwell blamed the Indian government for the alarming coronavirus crisis in the country.
India on Monday took strong exception to an article published in The Australian, which attributed the devastating second wave of coronavirus in the country to the missteps and complacency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a letter to The Australian’s Editor-in-Chief Christopher Doe, the Indian High Commission in Canberra called the article “completely baseless, malicious and slanderous”, and urged the newspaper to publish a rejoinder.
“It appears that the report has been written only with the sole objective of undermining the universally acclaimed approach taken by the Government of India to fight against the deadly global pandemic, at this decisive moment,” it said.
Written by Philip Sherwell, the article in question was originally published in The Times on Saturday with the headline, “Modi leads India out of lockdown and into a Covid apocalypse”. It was reproduced in the Australian daily a day later with the title: “Modi leads India into a viral apocalypse”.
Among other things, the article pointed to the “hubris”, “nationalist politics”, slow vaccine roll-out, an ill-equipped health system, and “promotion of the economy over containment” as some of the immediate factors behind the crisis in India, according to NDTV.
“Arrogance, hyper-nationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis of epic proportions, critics say, as India’s crowd-loving PM basks while citizens literally suffocate,” Sherwell wrote.
Arrogance, hyper-nationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis of epic proportions in India, with its crowd-loving PM basking while citizens suffocate. This is the story of how it all went so terribly wrong #coronavirus https://t.co/bL8VXkz5RD
— The Australian (@australian) April 25, 2021
It said that despite the repeated warning of health experts and a burgeoning shortage of oxygen and vaccines in the country, the government allowed religious gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela to continue unabated, while the prime minister himself spearheaded mammoth election rallies where tens of thousands participated without masks.
“Narendra Modi could not hide his delight as he surveyed his cheering supporters. ‘I’ve never seen such huge crowds,’ the Indian prime minister declared at an election rally in West Bengal last Saturday,” Sherwell wrote.
Urge @australian to publish the rejoinder to set the record straight on the covid management in India and also refrain from publishing such baseless articles in future. @cgisydney @CGIPerth @cgimelbourne @MEAIndia https://t.co/4Z3Mk6ru3W pic.twitter.com/4bgWYnKDlB
— India in Australia (@HCICanberra) April 26, 2021
‘Malicious and motivated report’
In its letter to The Australian, Indian authorities called the allegations needless. The High Commission said the article “has strangely rushed to blame” the surge on the “restricted election campaign” by Modi and “one religious gathering”, when his government was taking “all possible measures” to tackle the crisis “on a war footing”.
The letter referred to “a number of measures” taken by the government to combat the pandemic, starting from the lockdown in March last year to the vaccination drive.
“Welfare of every citizen of India remains the highest priority for the Government of India,” the letter said, also referring to the Centre’s “vaccine diplomacy” and how it had “probably saved hundreds of millions more around the world”.
The Commission said it hoped the newspaper will publish this rejoinder “to set the records straight” and also refrain from publishing “such baseless articles in future”.
“Coverage of such motivated and malicious reports in your publication only helps in spreading falsehoods and undermining humanity’s common fight against the pandemic,” it told The Australian. “Needless to add, it does no good to the reputation of your own publication.”
Social media users question government narrative
However, Indians on Twitter picked holes in the government’s narrative and questioned on what basis was it objecting to The Australian article, when this was the reality of the situation.
“The report is absolutely correct,” one user wrote. “Today also BJP leaders were campaigning in West Bengal. Infections in WB [West Bengal] has increased by 10 times after election rally started.”
“Modi’s image upkeep, however a failure, is pivotal and way more important than the exposed crisis wherein citizens at random gasping and dropping dead at hospital gates or at homes is in thousands. Undercounts is another feature trying to suppress the gravity of the catastrophe,” another Twitter user wrote.
Several others shared videos and photographs from Modi’s rallies in West Bengal, which showed thousands of his supporters with little evidence of masks or physical distancing. “Is this what a ‘restricted election campaign’ looks like?” a user wrote.
Is this what a “restricted election campaign” looks like?
Also I think you mean “one religious gathering of 50 lakh people” pic.twitter.com/I3BiFWtSyg
— Sarayu Pani (@sarayupani) April 26, 2021
In what you call as "RESTRICTED ELECTION CAMPAIGN", he said
"मैं जहां देख सकता हूं, मुझे लोग ही लोग दिखतें हैं, बाकी कुछ दिखता ही नहीं"
& in the one RELIGIOUS GATHERING, he welcomed lakhs of people & post covid surge, he himself appealed to keep it symbolic!
Base enough? pic.twitter.com/VY7OKCnt5X
— Ayush Mangal 🇮🇳 (@ayushmangal28) April 26, 2021
Just one of the countless “restricted election campaigns.” The state reported over 8,000 cases that day alone, and that’s just the official count. https://t.co/PqxuHYNdaw
— Amit Schandillia (@Schandillia) April 26, 2021