10Pines aspires to have a flat hierarchy, and be transparent with employees, as much as possible. After a three-month trial period, new staff join the rest of the team in monthly, open meetings in which key company decisions are decided, such as potential new clients, expenses, company finances – and of course salaries.
The graph of new Covid-19 cases tells us that India may be past the peak of its brutal second wave. The actual news, however, remains dire.
As University of Michigan’s Bhramar Mukherjee put it, “just because we registered 414000 cases, 350000 cases are coming as a relief... We are still reporting the largest number of daily new cases & deaths. Hospitals are overwhelmed & people are dying.”
The crisis is shifting from Delhi, where the positivity rate is steadily falling and it now seems possible to get a spot at a hospital – though there still isn’t a centralised system for triage – to cities like Imphal, where one facility ran out of oxygen and Chennai, where ICU beds are scarce and the demand for Remdesivir has skyrocketed.
If the scramble for oxygen cylinders and the overwhelmed crematoriums spoke of how gruesome things were over the last few weeks, the situation got even more disturbing in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“The administration has information that bodies of those who have succumbed to Covid-19 or any other disease are being thrown into rivers instead of being disposed of as per proper ritual,” said an official letter from the Centre to district heads, according to Reuters. “As a result, bodies have been recovered from rivers in many places.”
“Days ago, the bodies were in scores, unclaimed, uncounted and unidentified. On Friday, at the Gahmar Ghat in Ghazipur, there were five. Two face down in the sand on the Ganga riverbank; one part submerged, the remaining two in fragments. Not far from here, in Unnao, again on the banks of the Ganga, an estimated 200 bodies were laid bare this week by the shifting sand after a heavy downpour.
These bodies, juxtaposed with images of overflowing cremation and burial grounds, frame a tragic rural postcard from UP and downstream Bihar touched by Covid…
“It was a sight that I have never seen before. We used boats to pull the bodies to the shore. The whole air was filled with the stench of death. The Gangaji turns here at Gahmar, so the bodies flowing downstream accumulate here. There could not have been fewer than 80 bodies,” says Kamla Devi Dom, who has worked at the Gahmar Ghat for many years.”
More distressing visuals and heartbreaking stories emerged of families without the money to cremate or fears about Covid contamination, of police allegedly helping some to do so, and in other places warning people not to dump bodies in the rivers.
The tragic development turned into something of a blame game between the administrations of UP and Bihar, both run by Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance governments. A minister from Bihar even announced that a net had been spread out across the Ganga at the border between the states to prevent bodies from flowing downstream.
The last week offered even more examples of the BJP’s infamous IT Cell – its online propaganda army – firing on all cylinders. Here is the head of the party’s IT Cell suggesting we should not be shocked by the bodies turning up in the Ganga because it has happened before:
Indeed, with the graph having turned a bit and international coverage moving away from India’s disastrous scenes, the ruling party was already out in force attempting to revise the history of the last few months and convince you that the thing to do right now is – presumably no pun intended – spread positivity.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh literally held a conclave called ‘Positivity Unlimited’ in which it offered mild criticism of the government, while apportioning equal blame on the public.
Here were some of the other narrative plot points:
Modi’s doing his best
Even if it’s just a quirk of the website, the all-caps headline of this story – tweeted out by top ministers and BJP leaders – seemed to tell you all that you needed to know. The piece also drops a line encouraging conspiracy theorists by claiming “few are talking about China and the possibility that the virus has been unleashed to weaken India.”
Nearly a month after his last address to the nation, and after mostly turning up in photos of high-powered meetings, Modi finally did speak about the Covid-19 second wave – at minute 59 of an event primarily intended at demonstrating how much his government had done for farmers.
One of the principal arguments along these lines is that no one could have predicted a ferocious second wave, and the prime minister is now doing all he can to deal with it, as both advisors and ministers have claimed – even though the reporting suggests this is patently untrue.
Modi warned us all along
Somehow, despite claiming that no one could have predicted a ferocious second wave, the government has also sought to convey that Modi knew it was coming – and had been warning states all along.
If it is unclear how those two arguments square up, it is also truly incredible that a central minister claimed the government was “simultaneous dealing” with all aspects of the pandemic, even as people are dying due to lack of oxygen and bodies are turning up in the Ganga.
The BJP attempted a U-turn last week. For months, the official line and party propaganda insisted India was the ‘vishwaguru’, teaching the world how to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. Now the party claims that 84% of exported vaccines were part of ‘commercial and licencing liabilities’, seeking to portray India’s manufacturing capacity as little more than outsourced contract work that it has no power over.
Naturally, the arrests prompted many Opposition leaders to put up the posters themselves:
Don’t ask about undercounting
Undercounting – of cases and deaths – is one of the big storylines of India’s Covid-19 crisis. It is why the government likes to insist that its fatality count is still lower than the other countries hit hard by the virus.
The Gujarat government offers a glimpse of what they are up against. Journalists in the state have been doggedly attempting to count the number of deaths that have taken place, even as official numbers seem to bear no resemblance to reality. Divya Bhaskar revealed that the state had issued 1,23,871 death certificates between March 1 and May 10, 2021, more than double the 58,000 it had issued in the same period the previous year. When asked about it, however, the government’s response was that confused families may be registering the same death multiple times.
Pointing out the government and the BJP’s constant turn to narrative propaganda may seem futile. That is, after all, what political parties do – and the current administration more so than most. It surprises no one, so why focus on it at all?
The answer to that comes from those analysing what led to the second wave. Much has been written about the Kumbh and election rallies, which are indeed an important part of the story.
But, as Ashoka University’s Gautam Menon points out in a sharp piece, the policymakers seemed to buy into their own propaganda that India’s experience was somehow exceptional. It wasn’t just that they decided political victories and religious pandering was more important than virus containment. It was that the country’s leadership believed that the virus had been defeated, and they could move on.
“As the first wave of disease wound down, there were some unknowns. The first was how widely the disease had spread in different parts of the country… The second unknown was how many had died of the disease in different parts of the country… The third unknown was what led to the winding down of the first wave…
The breathing space between India’s COVID-19 waves could have been used to try and shed light on some of these questions. Instead, there was self-congratulation and spurious analysis….
All said and done, weak science and compromised scientific institutions were at least partly responsible for the complacency and mistakes that allowed the second wave to take off so dramatically and tragically.”
If the administration continues to lean on the same approach of self-mythologising as soon as it has the breathing space to push propaganda and asserting, even illogically, that it did everything that was needed to be done, how will it make the adjustments necessary not just to see off this wave but prepare for the next one?
As if to underline that concern, days after writing in the New York Times that Indian scientists are facing “stubborn resistance to evidence-based policymaking”, Shahid Jameel – one of the country’s top virologists – quit the government’s official forum to research variants of the virus. Although Jameel didn’t give a reason for his resignation, it behooves the government to heed his warning that among the many casualties India has dealt with in this tragic time, it can also count “decision-making based on data” among them.
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Cyclone Tauktae – which intensified into a ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’ early this morning – is currently 160 km south-southwest of Mumbai and is “very likely” to reach the Gujarat coast this evening with gusts of up to 200 km per hour, the weather department has said.
Thousands have been evacuated from low-lying areas between Porbandar and Mahuva in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district in anticipation of Tauktae making landfall later today. Officials are bracing for very heavy rainfall and a maximum sustained surface windspeed of up to 190 km per hour. Warnings are also in place in Junagarh, Gir Somnath and Amreli.
Windspeed warnings – 120-140 km per hour with gusts up to 165 km per hour – have also been issued for Bharuch and south Ahmedabad. Similar warnings – 90-100 km per hour with gusts up to 120 km per hour – have also been sounded in Devbhoomi Dwarka, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Morbi and Kheda for early Tuesday.
Officials are bracing for damage across Kutch, Jamnagar, Valsad, Surat and Vadodara, and interior parts of Ahmedabad districts.
Tauktae is expected to cause major damage to thatched and mud houses and huts, as well as trees, embankments and salt pans, and coastal crops. Minor damage is expected to power and communication lines.