Priyanka accuses govt of ‘suppressing’ COVID-19 data, prioritising propaganda over saving lives

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra focused on the data related to COVID-19 put out by the Modi government

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on June 7 accused the Centre of suppressing data related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and said the Modi government’s emphasis on propaganda over saving lives had caused “immense damage”.

Going ahead with her “Zimmedaar Kaun [who is responsible]” campaign, in which she has been asking questions of the government over its handling of the pandemic, the Congress general secretary focused on the data related to COVID-19 put out by the government.

Is it more important to save the Prime Minister’s image than it is to save Indian lives, she asked in her posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while alleging that the government was using data as a “propaganda tool”.

“From the very start of the pandemic, the Modi government’s attitude towards data was to utilize it as a propaganda tool rather than an invaluable weapon in the fight against COVID-19,” Ms. Vadra added in a statement.

The government’s propaganda machinery repeatedly indulged in the “suppression and manipulation” of data to serve the government’s political agenda even as lives were lost in “battling the scourge of a century”, she alleged. To emphasise her point, Ms. Vadra said right from the beginning of the pandemic, deaths and infections were reported as a ratio of the population while testing was reported as an absolute figure. “This was designed to mislead the public into believing that the infection and death rates were not alarming, while the testing rates were sufficient. In fact, it was exactly the opposite,” she said. The Modi government seems to be following the exact same pattern on data surrounding the vaccination programme today, Ms. Vadra said.

“The Modi government’s emphasis on propaganda over saving lives has caused immense damage. It is answerable to the people of India,” Ms. Vadra asserted.

Experts from across India have been demanding that data surrounding the virulence and spread of the pandemic should be made public, but this has never been done, she asserted.

Citing the examples of States like Uttar Pradesh, she said the government presented RT-PCR and antigen test data together in order to “manipulate the truth”. “In fact, it is widely known that antigen tests are unreliable in comparison. In U.P. even now, the ratio of RT-PCR tests versus antigen tests is 65:35%,” Ms. Vadra said.

Both infections and the actual number of deaths have been actively “suppressed” by the government in an effort to save face, she claimed.

Citing news reports claiming 2,000 dead bodies were found along an 1,100 kilometre stretch on the banks of the Ganga, Ms. Vadra said the stretch spanned 27 districts of U.P. and none of these deaths find space in government records. “Instead, when drone footage revealed hundreds of shallow graves along the Ganga in cities like Prayagraj, the U.P. government immediately set up a “Safaai Abhiyan” [cleaning programme] aimed at obliterating any sign of the graves,” the Congress general secretary in-charge of U.P. alleged. News reports from the State revealed a glaring difference between the official death records and those kept by graveyards and crematoriums in cities like Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jhansi and Meerut, Ms. Vadra said. The latter being many multiple times greater than the former, she added.

Posing questions to the government, she asked why the Modi government summarily ignored the advice of scientists and experts and not make the data around the spread of COVID-19 transparent and public.

Did the Centre not understand the importance of correct use of data as one of the most essential tools to fight COVID-19 or was there some other reason behind its actions, she asked.

Pointing to the alleged difference between official death records, death certificates issued and crematorium/graveyard records across India, Ms. Vadra asked why the Modi was government doing nothing to rationalise these differences and put the true figures before the people of India. “Does the Modi government’s image management matter more than COVID management? Is it more important to save the Prime Minister’s image than it is to save Indian lives?” Data is a double-edged sword, she said. On its own, it can never reflect the true human cost of a tragedy as it cannot account for the pain, the trauma and the suffering of people, yet it is critical in the management of any natural disaster — especially a pandemic — of the scale being experienced today, Ms. Vadra asserted.

The Congress has been critical of the Centre’s handling of the Covid situation in the country, but the government has dismissed the criticism of the Opposition party, accusing it of politicising the pandemic.

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