COVID-19 second wave: From IPL to elections, India undone by ‘opiate’ of cricket and politics

Telangana sanitise covid


A worker sanitises the road as a precautionary measure to contain the rise in Coronavirus cases, in Hyderabad
Image Credit: ANI

After 29 matches and 26 days of the 52-day competition, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally decided to suspend the 14th edition of the richest cricket league in the world — Indian Premier League (IPL).

Yes, the tournament was called off. Good sense prevailed at last — but not before several players started testing positive for COVID-19 and not before reports started circulating in a section of the media as to how the much tom-tommed “bio bubble” was breached.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a stern notification last week, stipulating strict adherence to physical distancing and other COVID protocol during counting of votes and banning all victory processions and rallies in the four states and one Union Territory on the day of the results on May 2.

After seeing rampant violation of COVID-19 protocol in every conceivable manner all through campaigning and electioneering, the ECI finally cracked the whip.

Yes, good sense prevailed at last — but not before India’s electoral regulatory authority was severely reprimanded by Madras High Court, holding ECI and ECI alone responsible for the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 in India.

In a microcosm, these are just two examples of how an institutional failure has wreaked havoc in public life in the world’s second-most populous nation that is now grappling with a disaster that the world hasn’t seen in several generations.

Chilling piece of data

The enormity of the crisis at a macro level becomes all too apparent when one takes into account just this one chilling piece of data: According to an estimate released by a section of the media in India on April 25, 2021, there was one person testing positive for coronavirus in India every four seconds!

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Juxtapose this spine-chilling bit of statistics with the fact that in January this year, even as the United Kingdom was being rocked by a ‘second wave’ of infection, India’s federal health minister Harsh Vardhan had come up with this baffling observation that “Corona was on its way out” from India!

Overconfidence, lack of a reality check, shocking myopia … call it what you will. And the very same government that the health minister represents, had to finally submit an affidavit in Madras High Court last week, saying that the government never expected a ‘second wave’ to strike India!

Suicidal dalliance

If we see these three institutions — the federal government, ECI and BCCI — not as separate entities, but as collective repositories of public faith, confidence, trust then one cannot but agree that all three institutions have displayed a shocking disregard for public health and safety and an almost suicidal dalliance with a disaster that has left the entire world’s demographics redrawn.

Yes, agreed, that IPL was being played in empty stadia, but didn’t the live images from all those 26 match nights on our television screens make at least some of us say: “Corona, what Corona?”

Now for heaven’s sake, please do not remind me of how many billions of rupees the BCCI stands to lose by way of contractual obligations to stakeholders by prematurely stifling this goose that lays golden eggs (read IPL).

For heaven’s sake, please do not try to convince me by saying that constitutional propriety could not have been compromised by withholding these state elections for a few months or by enforcing a model code of conduct not just in letter but in spirit, thereby forcing all political parties to shun those massive rallies that unfolded on our television screens much like a Ramsay Brothers horror flick.

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Just imagine, even when Nashik and Mumbai in Maharashtra were on the threshold of a lockdown with a daily case-count of 30,000-plus in that state, there were political rallies being organised in the heart of Kolkata, where crowds in excess of 500,000 were in attendance, making words such as ‘face mask’ and ‘physical distancing’ look like as if they existed only in the moon!

‘Vaccine diplomacy’

And for heaven’s sake, please do not tell me that in its exuberance to play “pharmacy to the world” India’s political establishment thought coronavirus was a thing of the past and people in India would not ever need a vaccine to hedge their bets against a killer virus.

Make no mistake — this is in no way a repudiation of India’s “vaccine diplomacy”. About four months ago, this very space in Gulf News was used to extol the virtues of India’s well-calibrated move to supply ‘Made in India’ vaccines, mostly for free, to several countries across the globe.

Of course that policy had its merits and there is no criticising New Delhi’s global outreach in humanitarian terms to convert diplomatic plaudits into a goodwill equity.

But having said that, there is also no denying that India let its guard down all too soon and for that, it is not just the federal government, but several state governments across the country that must take a fair share of the blame.

For instance, several doctors that Gulf News spoke to last week in Kolkata said that just as the COVID infection rate started showing a downward trend by early December last year, in many state-run hospitals across West Bengal, the COVID management units and the quick response outfits were wound up.

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Glum with the confidence of having weathered the ‘first wave’ with a reasonably less casualty count, India forgot that the ‘battle’ may have been won, but not the ‘war’.

Living in denial

So we continued playing IPL, we continued attending political rallies and we continued to export vaccines. We the people of India have actually failed ourselves, as much as the establishment did.

We all lived in denial, ignoring a grim reality that was staring at our faces and instead preferred to immerse ourselves in the ‘opiate’ of cricket and politics.

Many of us hounded out a few hundreds who had gathered for a Tableeghi Jamaat conference in Delhi last summer, terming them “super spreaders”, but turned a blind eye to 13 million taking a holy dip in the Ganges for Kumbh Mela this spring!

Even now there are people being seen daily on public transport across cities in India who seem to be treating the face mask far less as a protective shield and a lot more as a piece of dispensable nuisance!

So let us desperately run many more of those ‘Oxygen Express’ trains and run helter skelter for an oxygen concentrator, or even start stocking up on oxygen cylinders at home, if we can. But for heaven’s sake, for once, let’s not blame our stars.


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