Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched the world’s biggest vaccination drive that will cover 3 crore frontline workers now and 30 crore Indians in Phase 2 with Manish Kumar, a Safai Karamchari at AIIMS getting the first jab.
The strong symbolism of this gesture is not lost out on anybody even as a historic and herculean effort gets underway. Covid-19 and the subsequent damage it has heaped on us, as a society and as a nation, will take many years to heal particularly for those who live on the margins. It has led to widening of gaps between the haves and have nots- be it access to education, health, jobs and opportunities.
Many, especially in the opposition, argued that this exercise should have perhaps kicked off with the prime minister or other prominent politicians taking the first shot. But the visuals of an ordinary health worker Manish, getting inoculated before netas, VVIPs and even the AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria and NITI Aayog’s senior member, Dr VK Paul was empowering and egalitarian in ways that can hardly be encapsulated in words.
In many ways that image defines the amazing story of a resilient Bharat, that emerges every now and then from the shadows of a privileged India, through this pandemic and through the last 74 years. It reassures each one of us that project of democratization, social, economic and political- that We, The People embarked upon, is very much alive and kicking.
The theme of this historic vaccination drive strikes an auspicious and welfarist note Sarve bhavantu sukhina?- sarve santu niramaya? roughly translated as may all be at peace, may no one suffer from illness. That even as India gets back on track, the life and health of every Indian, regardless of his stature or religion is important to the nation. While being optimistic and soaking in the Atmanirbhar moment marking the roll out of 2 Indian vaccines, Covishield by Oxford Astra Zeneca and a completely indigenously made Covaxin by Bharat Biotech, PM Modi delivered a sagely message of caution too.
Dawai bhi, Kadai bhi – citizens must stay vigilant and maintain all precautions against the virus, including masks and distancing even as the task of inoculation continues. After all the fight against Covid 19 has not ended but has just about begun.
What this fight will require however is not just vaccines, budgetary allocations and healthcare facilities. It will need the coming together of a people in common cause for attaining a national objective nay a humanitarian objective. And any effort that is predicated on the galvanizing of 1.3 billion people must necessarily be founded on public confidence, national resolve and trust. And this is where our politics can either be helpful or destructive- depending on what we choose. We can, for the sake of petty Modi virodh indulge in vaccine virodh of the worst kind. We can oppose for the sake of opposing.
Label the vaccines, like one opposition leader did as a BJP vaccine or spread fake rumours about it causing impotence. We can couch subliminal fears that lurk in the minds of communities in the language of seemingly legitimate questions , that are only aimed at eroding the collective confidence we have in Indian science and medicine, little by little instead of bolstering accountability or transparency. Or we can attempt to keep certain issues of Rashtra-niti above and away from Rajniti.
We can be petulant and doubt every institution and remain divided or stand in unison, firm and upright. Yes, democracies must be noisy. Questions of accountability very often need to be asked loudly. But the din of political cynicism and opportunism must never be allowed to drown out any or all sound of national reason. That, would be a disease far worse for the health of our democracy.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.