On 7 April, Preeti Pandey, the wife of an Indian Administrative Services officer Rajkumar Pandey, released a video that went viral across Madhya Pradesh, and Bhopal in particular. In it, Preeti, looking grim and visibly anxious, methodically explained how her husband, who worked for the National Health Mission, contracted the COVID-19 virus in one of the meetings he had with his colleagues. The cruel irony of Rajkumar’s case is that the government officials had convened the meeting to prepare a strategy to combat the pandemic. Rajkumar is one of several NHM workers from Madhya Pradesh to contract the virus, compounding an ongoing crisis in the state where almost the entire health department has either tested positive for COVID-19 or been placed under quarantine.
“He got himself tested, and it came back positive, following which he was admitted at AIIMS hospital, Bhopal,” Preeti said in the video. “He’s been admitted for two days, but no doctor has seen him yet. In the name of isolation, he has only been given two medicines—cetirizine and paracetamol.” Pausing only to hold back tears , she added, “They are not following any government protocol. The food is also terrible. After getting frustrated for two days, he himself requested to be shifted to Chirayu Hospital.” The Chirayu Hospital, which is also a medical college, is a premier private medical institutions in Bhopal.
The day the video was circulated, the public-relations officer of AIIMS, Bhopal released a statement denying the allegations raised by Preeti, noting that the hospital was “treating all patients as per protocol with an untiring devotion” and that Rajkumar was attended to “on regular basis.” The PRO claimed that the video was “propaganda” and said it could adversely affect the morale of the state’s health workers. Yet, the next day, the state’s health commissioner, Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, wrote to the director of AIIMS, Bhopal, stating that 11 NHM workers, who were admitted in the hospital with COVID-19, would be transferred to the Chirayu Hospital. The workers are the latest among numerous health officials from Madhya Pradesh to test positive for the virus.
With nearly four hundred confirmed cases in the state, Madhya Pradesh is fast becoming one of India’s worst-managed states in its response to the COVID pandemic. On 8 April, as the state government ordered that three major cities—Indore, Bhopal and Ujjain—would be sealed completely. The next day, Indore reported India’s first case of a doctor to die of the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, Bhopal has reported at least 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which includes 34 positive cases among health-department officials and 15 among policemen and their families. “It is true that some number of infections have been found among police officials, health department, and their families and the places where they live are now in a containment zone,” Parikipandla Narahari, a secretary in the state government’s public-relations department, wrote, in an emailed response to queries.
In mid March, while other states prepared for a prolonged battle against COVID-19, Madhya Pradesh was in political turmoil, as the Bharatiya Janata Party toppled the Congress government, and Shivraj Singh Chouhan became the chief minister for the fourth time. On 23 March, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed the entire country under lockdown, Chouhan took oath in a packed ceremony in the state capital’s Raj Bhavan, the governor’s official residence. The government seemed to display no concerns about social-distancing protocols amid the COVID pandemic. Its inexplicable nonchalance to the prevailing health crisis seems to have continued, given that the government has still not appointed a health minister.