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Modi takes hit amid COVID-19 surge

By APARAJIT CHAKRABORTY in New Delhi | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-10 07:21

COVID-19 patients rest at an isolation center in New Delhi, India, on Saturday. The country's tally passed 22 million on Sunday, said the health ministry. [Photo/Xinhua]

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party has suffered defeats in state polls recently as the country struggles to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.

Kerala, in the country's south, is one of the states that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, was unable to win.

Relatively effective responses to the pandemic in Kerala have stood out and helped Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan secure a record-breaking second term in polls, experts said.

"This time the people of Kerala have given us a huge mandate after completing a five-year term," said Vijayan in a telephone interview, who is a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(Marxist).

"Despite being under tremendous attack from the national ruling party, the BJP, and India's former ruling party, the Indian National Congress, the left has managed to ensure its victory."

The Left Democratic Front, or LDF, led by the CPI (Marxist) won 99 seats in the 140-member Kerala assembly when results of elections were announced a week ago. The win was also historic for Kerala, with a ruling party coalition retaining power for the first time.

"The LDF government handled the COVID situation far better than other states," said Paul Zacharia, a Kerala writer. "The awareness level even in rural areas is much more impressive. Healthcare facilities throughout the state with necessary infrastructure helped to contain the virus."

The ruling LDF kept power largely due to the moves it took in the past 18 months to tackle COVID-19, according to a survey by a news channel in Kerala and political experts.

More than 64 percent of voters had a positive response to the LDF government's COVID-19 control measures, the survey found.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

'Trust of the people'

"We have won the trust of the people by being continuously with them and unleashing a plethora of welfare and development measures," Vijayan said. "People have realized that the Left Front led by the CPI (Marxist) can be trusted."

"Vijayan managed the pandemic relatively well," said Sanjay Rao Ayde, head of the political science department of St Stephen's College, New Delhi. The LDF's performance over five years had been almost unblemished, he said.

The success of Kerala in dealing with the pandemic was evident last year when Delhi recorded 93 deaths on June 16 and its neighboring state Tamil Nadu crossed the 2,000 cases daily mark on June 17, as Kerala reported just 75 cases.

Massive investment in infrastructure is also being credited with helping the LDF win, said M A Baby, a former Kerala education minister.

Despite the state's successes in battling COVID-19, Vijayan said in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, last Monday, that "the fight against coronavirus will continue".

As the second wave surges in India, he put the entire state under lockdown from May 8 to 16. The federal government has ruled out a complete lockdown.

India's COVID-19 tally passed 22 million on Sunday, reaching 22,296,414, as 403,738 new cases were registered in the past 24 hours period, the health ministry said, and 242,362 have died of the virus.

On Sunday more than 4,000 deaths were recorded in 24 hours, the fourth consecutive day with such a toll, and the second-highest after Saturday's record 4,187 deaths.

Modi has been criticized for his handling of a shortage of oxygen, though the government says it is doing all it can.

The medical journal The Lancet said in an editorial on Saturday that Modi's attempts to stifle criticism were "inexcusable".

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin said in a letter to Modi late on Friday that medical oxygen demand in the state could double in the following two weeks.

"The availability of oxygen in Tamil Nadu is very, very critical," Stalin said, adding that 13 patients died in a hospital on the outskirts of Chennai because of a lack of oxygen.

Agencies contributed to this story.

The author is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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