Responsibility for the devastating second wave of Covid-19 now sweeping India belongs “first and foremost” to the government, according to Narendra Taneja, a spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“We are in power, we are the government in India so of course responsibility is first and foremost ours, good or bad, whatever it is. It is our responsibility and we’re trying our very level best,” Taneja told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
However, he also argued that the current crisis could not have been foreseen. “A lot of people are saying that… we knew in February. At that time, scientists and doctors were more or less of the same view,” he said.
“Evidently something went wrong, evidently we were hit by a tsunami, and as you know, you’re often not aware. In most cases 80-90% reasons could be external. We don’t know. We don’t want to blame anybody. We know we’re in power, we are responsible.. our focus is now on how we can save lives.”
India is experiencing one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks, reporting 379,257 new cases on Thursday, a new global record, according to figures released by the country’s health ministry. The country also reported 3,645 deaths, the highest number of Covid-19 deaths the country has reported in a single day. Even more deaths and cases may be going unreported.
India’s daily death toll is now projected to continue climbing until mid-May, according to prediction models from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations. The death toll could peak at more than 13,000 a day – more than four times the current daily death toll, the predictions show.
Mass rallies despite warnings
Indian Prime Minister Modi and the BJP have come under fire for holding several mass rallies in the eastern West Bengal state with thousands in attendance between March and April ahead of state elections. Thursday was the last day of voting and polls have now closed in West Bengal.
When pressed by Amanpour as to why his party continued to hold such events as cases rose, Taneja pushed back and said the “autonomous” Election Commission of India was responsible for allowing elections events to continue to take place over a one and a half month period.
Taneja said that BJP had “no option” on whether to hold rallies because of the Election Commission’s decision on when polls were held, saying “we as a political party – for that matter, all political parties in India – had no option but to go along with it.”
“These are regional elections which had been going for on the last one and a half months, it was not just one date, there was several dates and there were various state assemblies… that was planned a long time in advance by the Election Commission of India which is a constitutional authority reporting only to parliament,” he said, adding that the government could not give them a directive because they are autonomous.
Taneja did, however, concede that the rallies gave the public “a kind of message that Covid was over, the threat of Covid was over, that was a bit unfortunate, but as I said, that was not in the hands of the government.”
In February, BJP passed a resolution which declared victory over Covid and hailed PM Modi as a “visionary.” Tejera told CNN that such language was “overenthusiastic” but that it was drafted by a very small part of the political party.
The devastating Covid situation has also led India to accept international assistance for the first time in “14 or 15 years,” according to Taneja. “These are extraordinary times, and we are grateful and thankful to the people,” he said.
“Our focus is how can we basically now defeat Covid and overcome this. I can share with you that we will overcome it and shall overcome it very soon,” he added.