New Delhi: As the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi face intense criticism for their handling of the second wave of COVID-19 in the country, a host of Union ministers and BJP functionaries on Tuesday tweeted an article published by a website called ‘The Daily Guardian’ which screamed in bold, capital letters that the prime minister has been “working hard”, asking readers not to get trapped by the “opposition’s barbs”.
This coordinated move by senior government functionaries to rush to the prime minister’s defence has drawn a range of reactions on social media, from humour to exasperation.
Union ministers seem to be working 18 hours a day on convincing us that the PM works 18 hours a day.
— Asmita Bakshi (@asmitabee) May 11, 2021
Modi’s pandemic choice: Protect his image or protect India. HE CHOSE HIMSELF. pic.twitter.com/QjXmXRvl6A
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) May 11, 2021
The article was an op-ed written by Sudesh Verma, described as the “convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP” and was published in ‘The Daily Guardian’, an obscure e-newspaper which does not have a print edition. (The Twitter handle of the newspaper boldly proclaims that it is the “finest daily newspaper of the country”.) Verma was earlier a journalist with NewsX channel before quitting the media to join the BJP.
For some time, the link shared by the ministers did not open, inviting another set of humorous reactions.
Me visiting The Daily Guardian’s website pic.twitter.com/Pcqgv4yaGV
— SpiDeY™ (@Parody_guy10) May 11, 2021
When you try to open The Daily Guardian website. pic.twitter.com/87g4PXtwgR
— Tweeting Quarantino (@rohitadhikari92) May 11, 2021
While many on social media speculated that the website was ‘fake’, this is not the case. The ‘Daily Guardian’ is the daily edition of the Sunday Guardian, a newspaper that was founded by former BJP Union minister and journalist M.J. Akbar but is now owned by the iTV Network. The media group owns at least 12 news channels, including NewsX and India News, and publishes newspapers in various languages. It is founded, owned and promoted by Kartikeya Sharma, the son of former Congress politician Venod Sharma, now a member of the Haryana Jan Chetna Party, which he founded.
The article shared by the ministers is an angry defence of the prime minister, as the writer himself makes it clear in the piece. Verma hands out misleading figures, throws up conspiracy theories and blames opposition chief ministers in his efforts to absolve Modi of any blame.
For instance, he states that while deaths are in focus, critics of the prime minister should note that “more than 85% of people recover without hospitalization and it is only the 5% or so which needs critical hospital care”. This is not unique to India. Since the global case fatality rate is around 2.07%, it means that 97.93% of the people who are infected with COVID-19 will recover, many of them at home.
In India, deaths have been in focus because many of them could have been prevented. The Wire has tracked at least 223 deaths which have occurred due to oxygen shortage in recent weeks. Many more have died in ambulances, waiting for hospitals – which have been overwhelmed by the massive increase in COVID-19 cases – to admit them.
Verma then says that if we are to find who is to be blamed for the pandemic, “Very few are talking about China and the possibility that the virus has been unleashed to weaken India. A pertinent question to ask would be why countries similarly or worse placed such as Pakistan and Bangladesh have not reported the same severity. Have people there become very disciplined or has the health infrastructure there become better than India? This is something inexplicable.”
This argument is a milder version of a bizarre conspiracy theory being circulated on WhatsApp which would have us believe “COVID 2.0 is a ploy to destroy Narendra Modi’s image because he is the one impediment who, unlike Donald Trump, is not bending to the whims of Pakistan and China. This biological war on India, aided by maoists and jihadis, is aimed at destabilising the Modi government and destroying India’s vaccine production capabilities.”
Verma adds, “[N]obody in the world had expected that the second wave would be so pervasive. Everyone thought this would be less severe.” This claim is not true, as several scientists – including Rakesh Mishra, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology – have said that the Centre ignored warnings about new variants of the coronavirus which are more contagious in early March. Mishra, in fact, told The Wire that it was “impossible to believe Modi wasn’t told” about the projections.
The BJP leader poses some of the questions Modi’s critics in India and around the world have been asking – “Why did he [Modi] address election rallies? Why did he allow the Kumbh Mela? Why did he not impose a nationwide lockdown like last time?” – but does not provide satisfying answers to them.
At the end of a nearly 2,800 word piece, Verma concludes, “Because of space constraints, I have focused largely on what the prime minister has done and how unfair we have been to his efforts. In the next, if needed, I would write how various chief ministers have failed their respective states.”
Note: The story was edited on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 to update the number of patients who died in hospital because of lack of oxygen and to remove repetitive and irrelevant details.