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: We are all watching the news from Madhya Pradesh and both Bhopal and Indore are reeling under COVID-19 infections. It seems that the state machinery is not able to respond to this crisis as well as we would have thought. The first thing I would like to ask you is that last week, on Twitter, you compared Indore with Wuhan. Can you explain what similarities you are seeing between these two cities? Why did you make this comparison?
Anand Rai: See, if you look at the infected cases per million population, Indore tops the list in India—it has more than three hundred per million of the population. If you look at fatality rate, it’s more than six percent here. Looked at this way, you will see Indore tops the list of India’s top cities affected by the virus. That’s why I made the comparison with Wuhan. The most important thing is that I hoped that drawing a comparison with Wuhan would perhaps draw the prime minister and the centre’s focus to this city. Because until you control pockets or epicentres, corona is not going to away from this country.