A 14-line Gujarati verse has highlighted India’s shocking response to Covid – and Narendra Modi’s growing unpopularity
Parul Khakhar had little idea of the storm her 14-line poem would unleash. Posted on 11 May on social media, the Gujarati-language dirge expresses heartfelt despair and outrage over the pandemic deaths in India. Shab-vahini Ganga (“A Hearse Called Ganga”, as the river Ganges is known across India) is hauntingly rhythmic and charged with emotion, lamenting the tragedy that has stunned Indians.
India was spared the first wave of Covid-19, and the Narendra Modi administration rather smugly thought the country would be immune. Modi had hosted the then president, Donald Trump, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, at a large rally in February 2020, weeks before the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic. In the months since, other than declaring a brutal lockdown that disrupted the lives of millions of India’s internal migrant workers, the government carried on business as usual, permitting the world’s largest religious festival and holding vast political rallies for elections earlier this year (in which it suffered major setbacks). Modi donated vaccines to other countries, perhaps fancying the Nobel Prize for himself, and in January at the virtual World Economic Forum boasted that India had overcome the pandemic.