Covid Outbreak in India: The Role of the Far-Right and Authorities

As of April 2021, India has become the country with the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world, after the United States, based on the data of the World Health Organization. The South Asian country has now 19 million confirmed cases, reaching over 400,000 only in the last 24 hours. The number of Covid-19 confirmed deaths in the country is over 200,000. [1] Moreover, experts claim that the situation is worse than it seems due to low testing.[2] Many Indian cities and states have imposed new restrictions including nighttime curfew and lockdown for restaurants and bars except for takeout service.[3] But how did the coronavirus outbreak in India get so bad? After all, India was known for its success against the Covid-19 during the first wave of the virus. To be fair, even then experts were warning about the early celebration of the danger of Covid-19’s ‘success models’.[4] In India, misdistribution of economic aid and overconfidence of authorities are the main causes of this current crisis.

First of all, many countries and organizations provided financial support to help the nation’s battle against the current pandemic. Unfortunately, an important part of the economic aid did not reach the places it should have. It was revealed by the United States’ Small Business Administration that a significant part of the economic aid went to the five organizations which are affiliated with Hindu supremacists and religious groups. In fact, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an Indian counterpart of one of these groups, is designated by the CIA as a religious militant organization. Accordingly, these groups have received over $830,000 of US COVID-19 fund.[5] Considering that hospitals across India are now experiencing a deep shortage of oxygen, a key treatment for seriously ill Covid-19 patients, the importance of economic aid to solve the crisis can be understood more clearly.[6]

Graphic 1: Estimated Daily Oxygen Requirement in Cubic Meters for Covid-19 Patients in India

Source: “Covid-19 in India: Cases, Deaths and Oxygen Supply”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56891016,  (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021).

Secondly, the success in the first wave of the pandemic instilled a false sense of trust in the authorities and the people in India. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party declared in February that India had “…defeated Covid-19 under the able, sensible, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi . . . The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid”. The Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, said in early March that India was “in the endgame of the Covid-19 pandemic.” After the first wave, many people stopped using their masks and socialized. More importantly, restrictions were lifted.[7] In short, the negligence from both the public and the political elite caused the virus to spread.

Thirdly, the vaccination rate has declined in the country for political reasons. Modi administration has donated millions of Indian-made vaccines to strengthen the relationship with its neighbors and create more political influence in the region.[8] In addition, the government has allowed only two vaccines, both made in India, against the deadly disease. As of May 1, less than 9 percent of the population has received one shot while less than only 2 percent of the population has received two doses which are crucial for their protection against the virus.[9] The vaccination rate indicates that the effect of the virus will continue in the country for a while.

Fourthly, statements and actions of authorities against the virus have led to a weakening of the health system in India. When fast-moving mutations emerged neither doctors nor hospitals were prepared for such a situation. There is still a significant lack of data on the mutations of the virus.  It is not clear how these mutations spread or whether they are immune to vaccines.[10] Furthermore, there is a lack of an effective death registration system in India, especially in rural areas.[11] Therefore, there is an undercount of death and diagnosis which complicates the picture even more.

In conclusion, the overconfidence of the authorities and the difficulties in distributing economic aid put India into a major virus crisis whose effects will last for years. It should be also noted that countries around the world including Russia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and the United States are now helping India by delivering medical supplies such as oxygen concentrators and medicines.[12] In spite of this help, it is obvious that this crisis cannot be solved before a boost in the vaccination rate and developing effective non-political strategies. To overcome the issues related to the pandemic, lessons should be learned from previous mistakes.


[1] “WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard”, World Health Organization, https://covid19.who.int/table, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2021).

[2] Billy Perrigo, “Officially, India Has the World’s Second-Worst COVID-19 Outbreak. Unofficially, It’s Almost Certainly the Worst”, Time, https://time.com/5954416/india-covid-second-wave/, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2021).

[3] Niharika Lal, “Night Curfew, Limited Passes Hit Delhi’s Delivery Boys Hard”, Times of India, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/82018093.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst, (Date of Accession: 29.04.2021).

[4] “India Coronavirus: Why Celebrating Covid-19 ‘Success Models’ is Dangerous”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52527534, (Date of Accession: 30.04.2021).

[5] Raqib Hameed Naik, “Hindu Right-wing Groups in US Got $833,000 of Federal COVID Fund”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/2/hindu-right-wing-groups-in-us-got-833000-of-federal-covid-fund, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2021); “Over $830,000 of US COVID-19 Fund Goes to Hindu Right-wing Groups”, Daily Sabah, https://www.dailysabah.com/world/americas/over-830000-of-us-covid-19-fund-goes-to-hindu-right-wing-groups, (Date of Accession: 30.04.2021).

[6] Benjamin Parkin, Amy Kazmin and Harry Dempsey, “Critical Oxygen Shortage Underlines Severity of India’s Covid Crisis”, Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/9b892baa-5b2a-41a6-8a71-9a46d9ac9262, (Date of Accession: 29.04.2021).

[7] Gideon Rachman, “Narendra Modi and the Perils of Covid Hubris”, Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/fa3096ff-4325-4a02-97fd-89095e44d5c1, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021); Jeffrey Gettleman, Hari Kumar, Karan Deep Singh and Sameer Yasir, “India’s Covid-19 Crisis Shakes Modi’s Image of Strength”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/01/world/asia/india-covid19-modi.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021).

[8] Mujib Mashal and Vivian Yee, “The Newest Diplomatic Currency: Covid-19 Vaccines”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/11/world/asia/vaccine-diplomacy-india-china.html, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021).

[9] Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, “How Fast can Vaccines Solve India’s COVID-19 Crisis? It’s Complicated”, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/how-fast-can-vaccines-solve-indias-covid-19-crisis-its-complicated, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021).

[10] Jeffrey Gettleman, Shalini Venugopal and Apoorva Mandavilli, “India Blames a Virus Variant as Its Covid-19 Crisis Deepens”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/28/world/asia/india-covid19-variant.html, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021).

[11] Murali Krishnan, “Coronavirus: Is India Counting All COVID Deaths?”, Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/india-coronavirus-death-toll/a-57338733, (Date of Accession: 30.04.2021).

[12] Rahul Shrivastava, “India Receives Medical Supplies from Russia, UK, UAE, Romania amid Covid Surge”, India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-outbreak/story/india-medical-supplies-russia-uk-uae-covid-surge-1796457-2021-04-30, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021); Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak, Kylie Atwood, Jasmine Wright and Jason Hoffman, “Biden Administration will Deploy Additional Supplies and Support to India as Country Faces Covid-19 Outbreak”, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/04/25/politics/covid-supplies-to-india-from-united-states/index.html, (Date of Accession: 01.05.2021).

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Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ was born in 1994 in Adana. He completed his primary and high school education in Osmaniye. Kıldiş, who graduated from Gazi University International Relations Department in 2016, has been continuing his graduate education at Gazi University in the Department of Middle East and African Studies since 2017 and writes on "Syrian Refugees and the Rising Far Right in Europe". During his undergraduate studies, Kıldiş did his internship at the Economic Development Foundation in Istanbul, he did Erasmus internship at TÜSİAD in Brussels and an internship at ANKASAM strategic analysis center in Ankara. The author studies immigration, Islamophobia, the far right and the European Union.

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