The New York Times notes that as of May 24, India’s official second wave Covid death toll was 307, 231. But NYT, with the help of a range of experts, said that even a conservative estimate amounts to 6 lakh deaths. A more likely scenario, according to the NYT calculation, would be 16 lakh deaths. A worse but entirely possible scenario according to NYT is 42 lakh deaths.
The Indian Government has of course tried to pooh-pooh these calculations. But it is worth noting that data analysed by NDTV had shown there were at least 4.8 lakh unexplained excess deaths in just five states: Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Delhi. If just five states accounted for nearly 5 lakh deaths, is it really a stretch to accept that India’s 28 states and 8 Union territories might account for 42 lakh deaths?
We cannot forget that the Kumbh Mela at Hardwar was advanced by one year and held in April 2021 instead of 2022 when it was actually due to be held.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic the then Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat insisted that only a restricted, symbolic Kumbh Mela would be held. The BJP fired him and replaced him with the current CM Tirath Singh Rawat who held a full-scale Kumbh. Tirath Singh Rawat brushed off Covid concerns and comparisons with the much smaller Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi in 2020 which the BJP had demonised as a Muslim ‘superspreader’ event. He declared that Covid-19 would not harm true Hindu devotees, and so no Hindu gathering no matter how huge, could ever be a ‘superspreader’. The implied threat was that anyone questioning the Kumbh would be branded “anti-Hindu”, which in BJP’s vocabulary, is “anti-Indian.” He also boasted of the Covid safety arrangements at the Kumbh, including Covid testing of the devotees. PM Modi also issued full-page advertisements in papers assuring devotees that the Maha Kumbh was “clean” and “safe” and encouraging them to attend.
Now we know that Covid test results at the Kumbh were fabricated. This scam came to light thanks to the efforts of an ordinary citizen who did his job of being stubborn and refusing to be dissuaded from asking inconvenient questions. Vipan Mittal, an LIC agent from Faridkot, received an SMS saying that he had tested negative for COVID-19, but he had not taken any test! "My COVID-19 report said I was negative, but I hadn’t taken the test. I went to local district authorities, but I was told to go away. Health department officials were also not interested in finding out what was going on. As a last resort, I filed an email complaint with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),” Mittal told a newspaper. ICMR promised to investigate but did not get back to him. He then filed a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act – seeking details of a lab that had conducted his test. The reply informed him that his swab had been collected and tested in Haridwar – where the Kumbh was being held. The probe that resulted revealed that Mittal’s was one among one lakh Covid tests forged by a single lab.
The official positivity rate also had clearly indicated a scam but the Uttarakhand administration had turned a blind eye to it. Haridwar’s positivity rate during the Maha Kumbh was 80% less than the rest of state. This clearly meant that test results were either faked or suppressed.
This is no ordinary scam – it is a scam made possible by Hindu-supremacist and Islamophobic regimes in Uttarakhand and the Centre, and the equally Hindu-supremacist and Islamophobic Indian media that baselessly demonised the small Tablighi Jamaat gathering, while refusing to ask questions about the decision to host the Kumbh Mela in the middle of the second wave that had already begun building up in February-March. This scam literally helped Covid-19 to kill lakhs.
A whopping 90 lakh devotees attended the Kumbh Mela – and then returned, falling sick and spreading the sickness as they returned to homes in villages and cities all over India.
Whereas the Tablighi Jamaat attendees were carefully tracked, tested, and quarantined, no effort was made to do the same for the Kumbh devotees. Hindu devotees’ lives were treated as dispensable by the Hindu-supremacist BJP. Yet the BJP vice-president, Baijayant Panda, said that anyone who called the Kumbh Mela a superspreader event had a “hinduphobic” agenda.
Here is the Guardian newspaper’s report on the Kumbh’s superspreader effect:
“Accounts gathered by the Guardian from the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kashmir and Karnataka indicate that the virus travelled back with countless devotees and found its way to poor rural communities where access to healthcare and testing was limited or absent, with often devastating consequences. “Pilgrims from all states carried variant viruses and seeded epidemics,” said T Jacob John, a former director of virology at the Indian Council of Medical Research. In the aftermath, Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, said the Kumbh Mela was possibly “the biggest superspreader event in the history of the pandemic”.
BJP leader Thakur Puran Singh from Rajouri (Kashmir) contracted Covid-19 at the Kumbh which he attended with his family. He died of it, as did his brother, but his family members hid the fact that they had attended the Kumbh, and went on to attend 4 weddings. As a result, they spread Covid-19 to at least 24 people.