Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in news again. This time for writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with suggestions on how to tackle the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. At first glance, the letter is seemingly apolitical and unexceptionable. Singh himself says he wrote the letter in the spirit of “constructive cooperation” and, therefore, a casual observer would be right in expecting a non-political response from the government. But is it that simple? Let us consider some of the issues raised by Singh and the record of his party on these issues.
The first point flagged in the letter is about vaccines. India approved two vaccines in early January 2021. It should have been a moment of celebration because one vaccine – Covaxin — was completely indigenously developed and manufactured while the other vaccine – Covishield — was also locally manufactured. What followed though was one of the most shameful chapters in modern Indian political discourse.
A concerted, full throttled campaign was launched by the topmost leaders of the Congress to discredit the entire scientific community that approved the Covaxin. That it was developed by one of the most reputed vaccine manufacturers in the world and approved by well-regarded experts made no difference to the Congress. Politics was its first and only objective.
Manish Tewari, a minister in Singh’s cabinet, tweeted on January 13, three days before the vaccination process was launched in the country, “NDA/BJP making Guinea pigs out of Indians”. This is the respect and confidence that a minister in Singh’s cabinet had on the scientific community of India who developed, tested and approved the vaccine. Tewari was casting grave aspersions on scientists and experts who worked day and night to complete a complex process in time. Singh sat silently as this was happening.
Tewari was not alone in leading the charge to sow doubts against vaccine usage. Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor – all ministers in Singh’s cabinet – played their part as well.
If this was not enough, Bhupesh Baghel, Chief Minister of Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, went a step further. He became perhaps the only serving head of a government to incite his own people against a vaccine developed by his own countrymen. His health minister, TS Singh Deo, issued a fiat that he would not allow the use of Covaxin in his state. Thousands of doses are lying unused in the state while it battles the second wave of the virus and lags behind the national average in inoculating citizens. Singh sat silently when this was happening as well.
The result of this concerted campaign – a direct seeding of vaccine hesitancy, especially in January and February. Obviously then, states ruled by the Congress are the laggards in vaccinating even the most vulnerable – healthcare and frontline workers and those above age of 60 years. Singh could have dispensed some of the sagely advise to his own party-headed governments on how to speed up the vaccination process. But he chose to remain a mute spectator.
Was the spirit of constructive cooperation that Singh has now offered to the government unavailable when his own senior colleagues in the Congress and those leading the states were indulging in the crassest form of low-level politics? Is it not a fair question to ask Singh – where were you when Indian scientists and medical professionals were essentially being called frauds by your party and its extended ecosystem?
Even now, we don’t know for example, whether Singh has been able to persuade Rahul Gandhi to take an Indian vaccine? Would Gandhi publically taking vaccine not have helped in removing vaccine hesitancy among those who may have been influenced by the high-pitched Congress campaign? Perhaps Singh tried to convince him but failed. We don’t know.
Singh has offered another suggestion on the vaccine front. That India should allow import of all vaccines approved by internationally reputed regulators like those in the EU and US without insisting on local bridging trials. Quite apart from the fact that Singh is a week late in suggesting this since it has already been approved, a more philosophical question arises on the entire mindset and approach of the Congress.
The Indian drug regulator had approved emergency use of Covaxin after following due process. The entire Congress party went to war against the drug regulator, questioning their knowledge and professionalism. The Chhattisgarh government, one of the few remaining Congress-ruled states, stopped use of Covaxin altogether until an extended multiple-phase process was complete in all its forms. The same party and same leadership is now happily promoting foreign-developed vaccines without even a modicum of trial in India. Covaxin has at least been tested in multiple phases in India. That was not good enough for the Congress. But a foreign regulator’s words are to be blindly followed, without any trail in India? Why? Because a foreign regulator is more trust worthy than an Indian one?
It is this mentality that is at the very core of Congress party and that Singh has again so eloquently displayed. Disparage, discourage abuse, mock, target and finally destroy everything Indian. And blindly follow anything Western. This is the Congress mentality that ruled India for 60 years.
It is this mentality of inferiority that makes us hop like a circus monkey every time a nondescript agency rates us on some parameter or the other. It is this mentality of the Congress that prevented any world class start-up or institution or process to develop in India during the 60 years of Congress rule. Singh would be happy to note that new India has firmly and decisively rejected this self-induced inferiority culture of the Congress. Singh’s advice to allow foreign-approved vaccine in India would have been credible had his party not first tried to destroy credibility of the Indian vaccine.
The cold truth is that even through this latest letter, Singh has played the same game that he has played for decades for the Grand Old Party. Positioning Singh as ‘apolitical letter writer’ while the Congress indulged and still indulges in low-level politics in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Punjab and obviously at the level of Rahul Gandhi.
This letter by Singh is an out-and-out political strategy and he is a willing pawn and must be treated like one. If he was being apolitical, he should’ve called out his errant colleagues first. But as we know from the 10 years of UPA rule, the only value of Singh was that of the use-and-throw shield, which was deployed by the Congress behind which it carried out nefarious acts of scam after scam.
The government is now opening up vaccination for all above 18 years from May 1. Hopefully, Singh would not write another letter recommending the same measure.