This month, Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, India’s capital and home to millions, tweeted that the city was facing an “acute shortage” of medical oxygen. The message was illuminating on a number of levels: First, his resorting to social media, rather than working through official channels, points to a lack of confidence in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government (though this is also at least partly because Kejriwal does not belong to Modi’s party); second, Kejriwal’s tweet emphasizes how Twitter has become a principal means by which Indians appeal for help.
Individual tales of people finding oxygen or a hospital bed via Twitter cannot hide the reality: There will soon be no beds left. Medicines are running out. There aren’t enough ambulances to carry the sick to get care, nor are there enough vans to carry the dead to graveyards. There aren’t even enough graveyards, nor enough wood to burn the necessary pyres.
Laying the blame for India’s coronavirus disaster—hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of deaths each day, both of which are certainly a huge underestimate—at Modi’s feet would be easy. Certainly, much can be attributed to his government: After the virus landed on India’s shores, he imposed a brutal shutdown—one that largely hurt the poorest and most vulnerable—without consulting the nation’s top scientists, yet did not use the time to build up the country’s health-care infrastructure; his administration offered little in the way of support for those who lost their job or income as a result of restrictions; and rather than taking advantage of low case counts in prior months, his government offered an air of triumphalism, allowing enormous Hindu religious festivals and crowded sporting competitions to go ahead. Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party has been accused of hoarding lifesaving drugs, and has held mass election rallies cum super-spreader events that would make Donald Trump blush. (This is to say nothing of how the authorities have used the pandemic to invoke a draconian colonial-era law to restrict freedoms, while Modi’s government has at various points blamed minority groups for outbreaks, arrested questioning journalists, and, most recently, demanded that social-media platforms including Facebook and Twitter delete posts critical of the authorities, ostensibly as part of the fight against the virus.)