On Sunday, August 2, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah, 55 - often described as the second powerful political figure in the country after Prime Minister Narendra Modi - announced that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. He explained that he had mild symptoms and had been admitted to Medanta, a healthcare facility in the city of Gurugram in the north Indian state of Haryana.
There, Shah’s treatment is supervised by a team of doctors from India’s top medical institute, the government-run and Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
On the same day, the Chief Minister of the South Indian state of Karnataka B S Yediyurappa also tested positive for COVID-19. He was admitted to Manipal Hospital, a private healthcare facility in Karnataka’s capital city of Bengaluru, where doctors announced that he was clinically stable.
In total, four senior politicians including the Governor of the southern Tamil Nadu state tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. All of them sought treatment at private healthcare facilities.
Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, who underwent health checks at a private hospital in the state’s capital Chennai, has been advised to stay in home isolation. Two leaders of Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh—party president Swatantra Dev Singh and Minister of Water Resources Mahendra Singh—have been admitted to private hospitals.
VICE News reviewed news reports where the treatment details of 22 elected representatives across India who have tested positive for coronavirus since April 2020 were available in the public domain. Only two of them opted to go to government-run healthcare facilities.
Among those who preferred private healthcare facilities were the Chief Minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Electricity P Thangamani and BJP MP Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Uttar Pradesh’s Minister for Technical Education Kamal Rani Varun and northern state Uttarakhand’s Satpal Maharaj were the two who checked into government-run facilities. Varun, 62, died on August 2. She had tested positive on July 18 and was admitted to the state government-run Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow.
Opposition politicians and journalists criticised leaders, especially Home Minister Shah, for using private facilities.
When Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendar Jain tested COVID-19 positive on June 15, he was initially admitted to the Delhi government-run Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital. However, as his health deteriorated, he was shifted to Max Hospital in Delhi’s Saket, a private facility. He explained he decided to move from a public to private hospital because the public hospital did not have facilities for plasma treatment.
India’s private healthcare providers have come under severe criticism for overcharging COVID-19 patients. Successive Indian governments have been criticised for spending the least amount of money, per capita, on public health. This means out-of-pocket spending comprise 70 percent of all health expenditure in the country, with private healthcare costing about four times as much as public health facilities.
The recent spate of COVID-19 test results come just a few days prior to the event in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya city to inaugurate the newly-built foundation of a temple for the Hindu god Ram.
The promise of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, considered the birthplace of the god in Hindu mythology, was a fixture of the BJP’s election manifesto from 1996 to 2019. This was after Hindu nationalist volunteers called Kar Sevaks took part in a campaign led by BJP leaders and destroyed a mosque named Babri Masjid at the site in 1992. This led to communal riots across the country.
This ceremony comes after a 2019 verdict of the Supreme Court that allowed for a temple to be built at the contested site.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 69 years old, is among those scheduled to attend the event. The organisers have decided to hold the event despite the temple’s priest and four security guards testing positive for COVID-19 last week. They have even stated that those up to 90 years old can attend the event, presumably to allow senior political leaders to attend. Journalists had pointed out that PM Modi’s presence would be a violation of his own government’s standard operating procedure, which prohibits those above 65 years old from visiting places of worship.
After senior politicians tested positive, some BJP leaders and stalwarts of the movement for the Ram temple, like Uma Bharathi, have cancelled their visits.
While Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was all set to visit the site of the Ram temple on Sunday, he cancelled his scheduled visit after the death of minister Varun.
Digvijaya Singh, a Member of Parliament and senior Congress leader, urged PM Modi to postpone the Ram Mandir function, saying it would be “inauspicious” to go ahead with the festivities at such a time.
India reported 52,972 COVID-19 cases on Monday, topping the global charts for the first time when it comes to the daily number of cases out of any country. India is also the third-worst hit country, with more than 1.8 million confirmed cases and 38,135 deaths.
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