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Why did Harsh Vardhan write that obnoxious letter?

“The siren of ambulances rushing to hospitals has a plaintive sound that causes anguish.

While on the treadmill this evening at home, which is situated not far from a cluster of super-speciality hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram, I heard many ambulances passing by, leaving behind an eerie feeling and an inchoate heartache.

Things are looking very bad indeed.
This is a time when the nation looks up to its leadership to lead the way — when they feel deeply pained seeing the visuals of funeral pyres of Covid corpses on the sidewalks of roads in the outskirts of the national capital, when they run helter-skelter dazed in despair searching for a hospital bed for their loved ones, when they see their loved ones dying in the verandahs of hospitals, when they see their loved ones dying in the most horrific way imaginable out of asphyxiation for want of oxygen to breathe, when they cannot give a decent burial since the crematoriums are chock-a-block — and, of course, when they are turned away from vaccination centres because the central government failed to supply the local authorities with adequate stocks of vaccine…

That is why former prime minister Manmohan Singh did not deserve such a rude letter in reply to his communication addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

I have read Manmohan Singhji’s letter a few times.

I do not see in it a single word out of place, a single thought that did not conform to facts, a single sentiment that lacked sincerity or carried a trace of malice.

Above all, his great erudition and vast experience in statecraft was in full display.

PM Modi could at least have reciprocated by inviting Manmohan Singhji out of courtesy to have a cup of tea and to talk things over.

The Sangh Parivar people would surely have read the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata at some time in their childhood.

The one moral that stands out in the epics is that hubris comes before a fall.

Worse still, scan social media. No one believes the health minister wrote that obnoxious reply to Manmohan Singhji.

Many who know Harsh Vardhan seem to be convinced that he doesn’t even have such a command over the English language to convey insults.

Evidently, something has gone terribly wrong in the state of the Indian Union.

The rulers seem nervous that the pandemic is spinning out of control.

Quite possibly, the worst is yet to come. Surely, India’s image in the world community has been sullied beyond repair.

People will mock at us if we again stake claim to be the ‘world’s pharmacy’.

That is all the more reason why nerves should hold and prevent the tension in the body from taking over the thought processes.

When top people lose nerves, their minions get confused.

Two days ago, a Union minister from Kerala (who never has won an election in his life) hurled an abusive epithet — ‘Covidiot’ — at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

When asked to explain, he claimed, intriguingly, that he was defending the reputation of Home Minister Amit Shah! What has come over our Union ministers?

However, there is always a silver lining somewhere.

If the latest reports are any indication, the PM himself seems to have ordered the implementation of all the suggestions conveyed to him by Manmohan Singh ji.

Better still, the Congress party is not showing any rancour at the government’s boorish behaviour toward the former PM.

In fact, a top Congress leader tweeted: ‘The nation is gratified to know that practically all the suggestions in Dr Manmohan Singh’s letter have been accepted by the government. Better late than never.’

‘Two suggestions remain: ONE, there is an immediate need to provide funds to the manufacturers of the two India-made vaccines to ramp up production.’

‘TWO, there is an urgent need to invoke the provision of compulsory licensing of the India-made vaccines. That is the only way to use the enormous vaccine manufacturing capacity in India.’

Indeed, the nation must close ranks. That was the spirit in which Manmohan Singhji wrote that letter to PM.

I just got to know the sad news that Manmohan Singhji has been admitted to hospital.

I have had the great privilege of knowing him. I pray for his speedy recovery”.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years.

HARSH VARDHAN’S LETTER TO MANMOHAN SINGH

“Respected Dr. Manmohan Singhji,

Greetings! Hope my letter finds you in good health! I read your letter to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji, written in the spirit of constructive cooperation.

The emphasis you have laid on vaccination as an important tool to fight COVID-19 is well taken, which is exactly why India launched the world’s biggest vaccination drive and also became the fastest in the world to reach the milestones of 10, and 12 crore administered doses.

Your advice to not get tempted to go by absolute numbers, but to go by percentage of population covered, is not incorrect. However, I am sure that you will agree with me that this is a practice that must be followed uniformly and junior members of your party too must follow your advice. Quite obviously, it cannot be that the discussion on total cases, active cases or mortality is based on absolute numbers, which the Congress party often tries to do, but the vaccination numbers continue to be touted as a percentage of the population covered.

It is saddening, Dr Singh, that while you very well understand the importance of vaccination as an important method of fighting the COVID-19 battle, people in responsible positions in your party as well as in the state governments formed by your party do not seem to share your view.

Shouldn’t it be a matter of pride that India is perhaps the only developing country to have 2 vaccines?

It is shocking that senior members of the Congress party are yet to utter a single word of gratitude towards our scientist community and vaccine manufacturers for innovating under trying circumstances and empowering the world with vaccines.

Let alone thanking our scientists, many Congress members and Congress ruled state governments have taken extraordinary interest in spreading falsehoods regarding the efficacy of these vaccines, thereby fuelling vaccine hesitancy, and playing with the lives of our countrymen. A sitting Chief Minister of your party created a dubious world record of sorts by being the only head of government directly inciting people against an indigenously developed vaccine!

Some Congress leaders even shamed the vaccines in public but took their doses in private, quietly. A word of advice from you to them even if it had been done in private by you may have ensured better cooperation from these people. Knowing your penchant for constructive cooperation, which you have said you always believed in, I would assume that you did advise them and yet, quite clearly, your advice has been in vain.

The irresponsible public pronouncements made by some of your leaders have resulted in a below national average vaccination coverage of senior citizens and even front-line workers in some of the Congress-ruled states. Please do note that it is these very same states that have also become the big contributors in the second wave of COVID-19 infection. The test positivity ratio in these states during the second wave is alarmingly high and they too could benefit from your counsel and wisdom.

With due respect, and irrespective of the negativity that your party spreads, we take your suggestions at face value and with the belief that they are made keeping national interest in mind.

However, it does seem that those who drafted your letter or advised you, have done a great disservice to your standing by misleading you regarding material that is already in public domain. For example, take the point that you have mentioned about allowing import of vaccines that have already been approved by credible foreign authorities. You made this suggestion on April 18, 2021, but a decision on this had already been taken a week ahead of your suggestion, on April 11, 2021. The same is the case with your suggestion regarding providing funds and other concessions to augment vaccine manufacturing. This decision had also been taken many days before receipt of your letter and multiple vaccine manufacturing entities have been funded by the government to immediately enhance production.

Anyway, despite such factual inaccuracies, we understand your deep concern for the country and also assure you that we share the same.

We request your continued cooperation in the battle against the pandemic and welcome more such illuminating suggestions. However, as a senior leader, we expect that you shall offer the same advice and wisdom to your own party leaders as well.

I hope and pray for the good health and well-being of you and your family”.

MANMOHAN SINGH’S LETTER TO PM

“Dear Prime Minister

It is now over a year since the world, and India, have been grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many parents have not seen their children, living in different cities, in over a year. Grandparents have not seen their grandchildren. Teachers have not seen children in the classroom. Many have lost their source of livelihood, and several millions have been pushed back into poverty. With the second surge that we are currently witnessing, people are beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal.

There are many things we must do to fight the epidemic but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme. I have some suggestions in this regard. In making them I want to emphasise that I am putting them forward for your kind consideration in a spirit of constructive cooperation in which I have always believed and acted upon.

First, the government should publicise what are the firm orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. If we want to vaccinate a target number in this period, we should place enough orders in advance so that producers can adhere to an agreed schedule of supply.

Second, the government should indicate how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula. The central government could retain 10 percent for distribution based on emergency needs, but other than that, states should have a clear signal of likely availability so that they can plan their roll out.

Third, states should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age. For example, states may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend Courts as frontline workers. They can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45.

Fourth, over the past few decades, India has emerged as the largest vaccine producer in the world, thanks to policies adopted by the government and robust intellectual property protection. The capacity is largely in the private sector. At this moment of a public health emergency, the Government of India must proactively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions. In addition, I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law, so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AIDS disease. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, I have read that Israel has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly.

Fifth, since domestic supplies are limited, any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA, should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials. We are facing an unprecedented emergency and, I understand, experts are of the view that this relaxation is justified in an emergency. The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India. All consumers of such vaccines could be duly cautioned that these vaccines are being allowed for use based on the approval granted by the relevant authority abroad.

The key to our fight against Covid 19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort. We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated. Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population. I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly.

I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly”.
MB Bureau