Calls for the Indian government to apologise for the high number of deaths, many of which are unreported, during the second wave of Covid-19 in the country are gathering momentum after a fiery speech on Thursday by an opposition MP.
The speech delivered in parliament’s upper house by Manoj Kumar Jha, a member of the opposition Rashtiya Janata Dal (RJD), was lauded by other parliament members and shared widely on social media.
Mr Jha hit out at the Modi government for its alleged lack of acknowledgment of the death toll from the pandemic, that researchers believe could be ten times what has been reported.
Mr Jha also attacked the government for its advertisements of free vaccines and blamed a lack of accountability for the “failure” of the country’s healthcare system.
He began his speech with an apology to those who died during the second wave of Covid-19, but whose deaths have not been acknowledged.
“This apology is not just from me. We should issue a collective apology from this House for those people whose bodies were floating in the Ganga [Ganges],” Mr Jha said.
“There is not a single person in this country, in this House and outside it, who can say they have not lost someone known to them [to Covid],” he said to loud applause from the other members of parliament (MPs).
Mr Jha called the worst times during the outbreak – when Indian hospitals sent out distressed calls to replenish their fast-depleting reserves of oxygen – a “nightmare”.
“People would call for oxygen, we could not arrange it,” he said and referred to the “success rate” of finding oxygen for those who placed numerous calls to him.
The people who died because of the pandemic “have left behind a living document of our failure,” Mr Jha said.
He also spoke about the deaths of his colleagues in both the houses of parliament, expressing shock that over 50 obituaries were read in the House in over two sessions, something he suspects may have never happened before.
“Was this any age for Rajeev Satav to go from this world? Raghunath Mahapatra? This pain is personal,” he said. Both Satav and Mahapatra died of Covid-19 this year.
“I don’t want to talk about numbers. My numbers [or] your numbers,” Mr Jha further said, dismissively.
“Search for numbers in your pain.”
Attacking the Modi government on their advertisements of free vaccines, Mr Jha said the Modi government must stop what he said were attempts to “denigrate” and “demonise” the taxpayers of the country and instead begin talking about the “right to health” and “without ifs, buts and maybes”.
Mr Jha further said that during the deadly outbreak, “it used to be said that governments didn’t fail, the system failed”.
“What is this system?” he added.
“From childhood we have heard, there is a person behind the system. If the system has failed, whether in Delhi, or in the lanes of a village, then the governments have failed, don’t give it the name of a system. They make the system,” he said, as the MPs applauded.
“There is a need for dignity in life, there is a greater need for dignity in death. We have witnessed undignified deaths,” Mr Jha said.
“If we don’t fix this, future generations will not forgive us. You can publish grand advertisements, colour four pages of the newspapers thanking anyone, but history should get the chance to thank us.”
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