MP’s “political turmoil is responsible” for COVID-19 crisis in Bhopal, Indore: Dr Anand Rai

25 April 2020
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Madhya Pradesh is spiralling into one of India’s worst-affected states by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the data released by the ministry of health on its website, as of 24 April, the state has shown the highest fatality rate, at 4.88 percent, with 83 deaths reported from a total of 1,699 cases. Several factors contributed to the crisis in the state, not least that while other states were preparing to combat the virus, Madhya Pradesh was in the midst of a political battle. The Bharatiya Janata Party toppled the Congress government in the state on 23 March, the day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown. Yet, it took almost a whole month before the new chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, appointed any cabinet members—or even a health minister. On 21 April, Chouhan appointed his first five members to the cabinet, and the next day, he finally appointed Narottam Mishra as the state’s health minister.

The state has suffered gravely in this period. The pandemic has spread rapidly across Madhya Pradesh, leading to it recording the fifth-highest number of cases across the country, and the third-highest number of deaths, as of 24 April. Indore has been affected most severely, reportedly with 945 confirmed cases and 53 deaths.

On 21 April, Vidya Krishnan, an independent journalist, spoke to Dr Anand Rai, a medical officer in Indore, about the escalating crisis in Madhya Pradesh, and how it devolved into its current state. Rai is a doctor empanelled with the National Health Mission and among the doctors who are part of the state’s “COVID-19 combat team.” He is also well known as an activist who was one of the whistle-blowers in the Vyapam scam—a corruption scandal that had embroiled Chouhan’s previous term as chief minister, which led to over a thousand arrests and is suspected to have caused at least forty deaths. Rai identified both  failures of the state machinery, for its inaction, and of the public, for violating the lockdown, as reasons behind the current situation in Madhya Pradesh.

Vidya Krishnan is a global health reporter who works and lives in India. Her first book, Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History, was published in February 2022 by PublicAffairs.

Keywords: COVID-19 Madhya Pradesh Bhopal Shivraj Singh Chouhan