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India’s Amit Shah has Covid-19 and little sympathy from social media


As India reels from its fifth consecutive day of recording more than 50,000 new Covid-19 cases, home affairs minister Amit Shah has come under fire for his decision to seek treatment at a private hospital – with social media users pointedly asking why he has not tried the dubious home remedies recommended by the government.

Besides Shah, the chief ministers of the southern state of Karnataka and the central Madhya Pradesh state have also been hospitalised with the disease. India on Monday reported 52,972 new infections in the past 24 hours, taking its total past 1.8 million – the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil. It also declared 771 new deaths, meaning Covid-19 has now killed 38,135 people there.

There is widespread unhappiness over New Delhi’s handling of the pandemic. Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan said people were looking for adequate health care solutions from the government, which claimed that everything was in order – so it was seen as “poetic justice” when Shah tested positive.

“The disappointment of people has turned to contempt and they want to [take every] chance of expressing it through social media,” he said.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has provided Indian social media users with plenty of ammunition. Addressing the country in March and April, Modi appealed for people to light candles and clang metal plates to “defeat the despair of coronavirus”, while a minister from his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March told the Assam state assembly that cow urine and cow dung could cure Covid-19.

Last month, one BJP parliamentarian launched a brand of poppadom that he said would help develop antibodies against the disease, while another MP from the party told Indians that reciting the devotional hymn Hanuman Chalisa five times a day would “definitely work and we will be free from coronavirus”.

A Twitter user, Khushboo, posted an image of a fake prescription for Shah that advised him to partake of these remedies. “The jibe was against the unscientific cures propagated by the government and the ruling BJP for the ordinary people,” Khushboo said.

A meme doing the rounds following the home minister’s hospitalisation pointed out that when Shah tested positive, he did not bang plates or take homeopathic medicine. “He got himself admitted in a modern hospital,” it said. “Amit is smart. Be like him.”

Harjit Singh Bhatti, a Delhi-based doctor and activist, said the government’s “propaganda” about Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines as Covid-19 cures had created hurdles for modern medicine practitioners looking to do their jobs efficiently.

“But now that the home minister went straight to a modern hospital for allopathic treatment without resorting to the methods that his colleagues had propagated, people will be convinced that only modern medicine can work,” he said.

Indians were angry at the state of the country’s health care system amid the pandemic, Bhatti said.

“Many people have not been able to get themselves tested on time and get beds in hospitals, yet the politicians are receiving all facilities even with minor symptoms,” he said. “People have understood that health care is only for the privileged in this country. This shows inequality.”

In a tweet on Sunday, home minister Shah said he was tested after he spotted initial signs of Covid-19, and was admitted to hospital because doctors had advised him to do so. He has been criticised for his decision to go to a top corporate hospital in the northern Indian city of Gurugram instead of the government-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, which caters to federal officials including the prime minister.

A team of AIIMS doctors, however, will visit him and monitor his treatment.

“By getting admitted into a private hospital, the minister gives the wrong message to people that private hospitals are the place for getting reliable treatment,” Bhatti said.

Two days before the first anniversary of the government’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status, some people from the disputed region have taken a swing at Shah on social media, too. But the home minister also has many well-wishers, some of whom have expressed hope for his speedy recovery while others have reported tweets wishing him harm.