Editorial: Prickly queries
A party is entitled to shower gifts on its prime minister on his birthday. But can public welfare be parcelled as a gift for such an occasion? The question arises on account of the impressive — but orchestrated — rise in India’s vaccination score on Narendra Modi’s birthday. Predictably, the states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party took the lead in the pageantry. Dissection of data shows that Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat experienced feverish activity in vaccination, accounting for 67 per cent of the 22.6 million doses that were administered on the chosen day. The historic feat was achieved with meticulous planning. This is evident from the fact that vaccination in some of these states — Gujarat, Bihar and Karnataka are examples — had fallen well below their seven-day averages, indicating that stocks had been kept ready to ‘create’ a surge on Mr Modi’s birthday.
Expediting inoculation against a pandemic is welcome in a country that has, according to some estimates, managed to vaccinate around 20 per cent of the eligible adults so far. But the administering of record doses on a single day will not be enough to address other concerns. For instance, does India have the ability to sustain this pace of vaccination on a daily basis? That would have brought the country closer to meeting its stiff target of vaccinating all eligible citizens by the end of this year. An ethical query cannot be brushed away either. Should vaccination — a ‘merit good’ — be tailor-made to reap political dividends? The BJP — it had promised free vaccination as an electoral sop to Bihar — seldom hesitates to indulge in unabashed populism. Finally, there is also the broader question of India’s medical resources, personnel and citizens being herded to observe the prime minister’s birthday as a spectacle. This kind of reverence is perhaps indicative of the rise of charismatic leadership that often turns out to be inimical to the democratic ethos. Has the transition of Indian democracy to electoral autocracy then truly come to pass?