The 42-year-old man died of COVID-19 ten days after testing positive. His grieving family said despite repeated SOS tweets to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who followed Jaiswal on Twitter, no help came.
The RSS, a far-right Hindu supremacist organization founded in 1925, is the ideological source of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party and counts the prime minister among millions of its members across India.
Jaiswal’s heartbroken family tore up Modi’s posters he had pasted on his car, claiming that they “would never forgive Modi for his indifference.”
“We are in a state of deep depression and cannot talk to anyone, no one can help us,” her inconsolable sister Sonu Alagh told Al Jazeera two weeks later.
For many supporters who believed in Modi, his response to the pandemic led to disillusionment.
Grieved and angry at the preventable deaths of loved ones from the coronavirus, thousands of Indians have piled up contemptuous criticism of Modi and his BJP, with bitterness transcending barriers of religion, class, caste and politics.
Over the past two months, social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter have seen anti-Modi hashtags like #ResignModi, #ModiFailsIndia and #ModiAgainstNation go viral.
But BJP politician Sudhanshu Mittal says the government “has done all we can” to fight the pandemic.
“When you take an unexplored path, there are no benchmarks to follow and no one knew that this would be the catastrophic scale of the second wave,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that health is a “state subject” and that “certain states play politics”.
“Now is not the time for politics or the blame game. It can happen later, ”Mittal said.
‘I will no longer vote for Modi’
Chetan Kaushal, a restaurateur forced to close his business due to the coronavirus lockdown last year, says he is among those who voted for Modi despite demonetization and “other faults” in his first term ( 2014-19) as Prime Minister.
Demonetization refers to Modi’s controversial overnight ban on higher value banknotes and the issuance of new banknotes in 2016, leading to enormous chaos as people crowded ATMs and banks. to withdraw their money.
“I thought he deserved a second chance, but I don’t think I’ll ever vote for him again,” Kaushal told Al Jazeera.
The specter of sudden and unnecessary deaths seems to have sparked unprecedented criticism, even among Modi’s supporters.
Achyut Trivedi, a New Delhi-based marketer and active member of BJP for 12 years, said: “People like me are determined not to make the mistake of voting for Modi for the third time”.
“At least I won’t do it after what my family has gone through,” he told Al Jazeera.
Modi, who has faced international criticism over a crumbling economy and a noticeable decline in civil and political liberties, faces his biggest threat nationwide as a vicious second wave of COVID-19 rages through India.
Supported by his seemingly unwavering popularity at home, Modi told world leaders at the World Economic Forum in January this year that India “had saved humanity from a great catastrophe by effectively containing Corona.”
This premature claim was soon followed by India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, which has donated and exported more than 66 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine to dozens of countries, a ‘vaccine diplomacy’ now widely criticized amid a severe shortage of home vaccines. .
On March 7, the Minister of Health, Dr Harsh Vardhan, declared that India was “in the final stages of the pandemic”.
“Picnic during a public hanging”
In February and March, despite warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new COVID-19 strain discovered in India as a ‘worrying variant’, Modi turned his attention to regional elections in five states , including the state of West Bengal to the east. where he and his BJP hoped to dislodge India’s only female minister, Mamata Banerjee.
Throwing all caution to the wind, Modi addressed dozens of election rallies attended by tens of thousands of BJP supporters jostling in the midst of a pandemic.
“Today, in all directions, I only see a huge crowd of people… I witnessed such a gathering for the first time,” Modi said at a rally in the city of Asansol in West Bengal on April 17, even as the country reported more than 200,000 cases daily. That day.
BJP’s Mittal says there is “no empirical evidence” to link the explosion of COVID-19 cases or deaths to polling campaigns.
“We can also say that the agitation of the farmers was responsible for the cases because that too was a great agitation. I don’t think we can conclude that people are angry, it is a subjective question which depends on your point of view, ”he told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, the maskless photograph of Modi made headlines in April, inviting Hindu worshipers to gather for a week-long religious festival on the banks of the Ganges in the northern town of Haridwar. of the state of Uttarakhand.
The Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, as the pilgrimage was called, saw nearly nine million visitors bathe in the river in less than three weeks, turning the event into a “super-spreader” of the virus. and resulting in dozens of deaths in India.
“Despite warnings about the risks of super-propagative events, the government allowed religious festivals to take place, attracting millions from across the country, as well as huge political rallies – notable for their lack of ‘COVID-19 mitigation,’ Lancet medical journal wrote in a scathing indictment.
Amid the raging pandemic, critics also criticized Modi for launching a $ 2.8 billion “Central Vista” project to build a new parliament, the Prime Minister’s residence and other federal buildings.
Senior reporter Nalini Singh told Al Jazeera that the ongoing construction work “is akin to a picnic in a public hanging”.
“What is crying going to accomplish?”
Concerned about a growing public backlash against his government’s handling of the pandemic and “misplaced priorities,” Modi and his RSS colleagues took part in a meeting on May 23 to plan the strategy for next year’s national elections in Uttar Pradesh.
It was in this northern BJP-ruled state, also India’s most populous, that chilling images of bodies floating in the Ganges River and mass graves found along its banks made headlines around the world. .
Led by controversial saffron-clad Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of state, the BJP suffered serious setbacks in local elections held in April and May, despite the pandemic threatening the lives of officials deployed to organize the polls.
Last week, the Uttar Pradesh Primary Teachers Association said nearly 1,600 teachers had died from COVID-19 after being forced to work as polling agents.
“If the government had accepted our request to be vaccinated like other government workers fighting COVID-19, so many of us would not have died,” Dinesh Chand Sharma, president of the COVID-19, told Al Jazeera. association of teachers.
On Monday, Delhi police “visited” Twitter offices to find out why the social media giant branded tweets from a BJP spokesperson as “manipulated media.”
In his tweet, Sambit Patra had shared an alleged “toolbox” prepared by the opposition Congress party, which the BJP said was being used to slander Modi.
Twitter on Thursday expressed concern for the safety of its staff in India following the Delhi police action.
Critics of Modi accuse the Hindu nationalist leader of “manipulating narratives” through “submissive and servile media”, of targeting his opponents using government agencies and of staying focused solely on winning the elections, often to the detriment of the governance.
Anand Singh, a well-to-do clothing trader from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, also the parliamentary constituency of Modi, said organizing political rallies during a pandemic and the decision to hold local elections in the state was like “rubbing salt in our wounds”.
“I never expected that we would have to endure such suffering despite the wealth and social capital,” Singh told Al Jazeera.
Varanasi mirrored the experience in many parts of the country, which saw a huge spike in COVID-related deaths, frantic calls for oxygen cylinders, and disturbing images of cremated bodies even in crematorium parking lots and lying in it. queues for the final rites.
“I had my reservations about the BJP and the Modi but I reasoned and I trusted its promise of development. Twice they were given an overwhelming warrant that could have been used to get things done, but there were so many announcements and no executions, ”a New Delhi-based entrepreneur told Al Jazeera who requested the anonymity.
“It seems like he’s a man who wants power for the sake of power. “
During a recent online interaction with healthcare workers in Varanasi, Modi became emotional while speaking. But reactions to videos on social media sites of his choking saw more “dislikes,” with many calling him for his “crocodile tears.”
“He cries although he is Prime Minister. We have lost lives and business in this pandemic. We expected better from him, ”Singh said.
“What is crying going to accomplish?”