Politics override science, ICMR forced to play along with Modi


The country’s top science agency ICMR tailored its findings to fit the optimistic narrative of the Prime Minister, that is, Mr. Narendra Modi. Researchers said that this happened despite a looming crisis in the country due to the pandemic, Covid-19. The forecast was mathematically based, government-approved, and tragically as well as deeply wrong.

Everything happened before the outbreak of the second wave. In September 2020, it was eight months before a deadly Covid-19 second wave struck India. The government-appointed scientists downplayed the possibilities of a new outbreak. Previous infections and early lockdown efforts had tamed the spread. This is what the scientists wrote in a study. The Indian news media covered it widely.

The results fit neatly into Narendra Modi’s two main goals. One was restarting India’s stricken economy. Another was kicking off the campaigning for his party in the state elections. These elections were to take part that coming spring. However, Anup Agarwal, a physician who was then working for India’s top science agency was very worried. He had reviewed and published the study. He said that the conclusions drawn by the ICMR could lead the country into a false sense of security. In October, Dr. Aagarwal took his concerns to the agency’s top official October. As a response, he and another concerned scientist were reprimanded.

The second weave of Covid-19 killed hundreds of thousands of people. Many Indian citizens are asking how the government of Mr. Modi missed the warning signs. Part of the answer is that the senior officers forced the scientists at elite institutions to downplay the threat. This was done to prioritize Mr. Modi’s political goals. Dr. Aagarwal said, “Science is being used as a political weapon to forward the government narrative rather than help people.”

India is not the only country where virus science has become politicized. It follows the government of the United States, China, Russia, Spain, and Tanzania. India would struggle to contain the second wave no matter what. As the government had ordered to downplay the second wave, people stopped wearing masks and social distancing. Vijay Chauthaiwale is a member of Mr. Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party. He said, “Prime Minister Modi has never, ever said to lower the guard.”

Politics began to hamper the agency’s approach early last year. This came into view from the scientists who were familiar with its deliberations. A New York Times report has categorically stated that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s top leadership made a tailored report. It was published in October 2020. The report said that India has witnessed its peak in September 2020 and the country will be able to control the virus by the end of February 2021.

Playing along was PM Narendra Modi. The top leadership started chanting that the end game of Covid-19 in India was near. As a result, the people and other government agencies let their guard down. Due to this, the devastation the second wave brought left no Indian untouched.

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