R. Laxminarayan , an Indian-origin scientist who heads the US-based Centre for Disease, Dynamics and Economic Policy (CDDEP), is beginning to haunt the government and people of India .
This scientist and his institute had been upping the ante , progressively projecting ever-worser scenarios for India in its battle against Covid.
For the ‘Hindu-Hriday Samrat’ (king of Hindu hearts) Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had predicted his government would take just a week more than the 15-day epic Mahabharata war to achieve victory against the virus from across the Himalayas , it could not get any worse.
The theatrics-loving and antics-driven PM has his job cut out. Some leaders of his Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have attracted public ire by making wild claims. Some of them suggested cow-urine and cow dung as a possible antidote to battle Covid and one Madhya Pradesh BJP leader even claimed India was ” land of 330 million Gods” whose blessings would secure the country against the pandemic.
But R Laxminarayan splashed cold water over the footsoldiers of Hindu faith , when his US-based CDDEP, in its report April 20 report claimed India’s total SARS-COV-2 infections up to September could be as high as 111 crore (1.11 billion) , even with “hard lockdown, continued social distancing and isolation of cases”. That is more than 80 percent of India’s population . Even this number , the report said, is the average of the expected range between 55-138 crore (0.55 billion-1.38 billion), the study claimed.
The range covers 50-150 per cent of the point estimate. “Estimates are based on latest available data but, given the novelty of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, these estimates still have some inherent uncertainty,” the report says.
The report, titled “SARS-COV-2 in India: Potential Impact of the Lockdown and Other Longer-Term Policies” , says that “emerging evidence suggests that asymptomatic or mild infections may account for a significant proportion infected population.”
The study observes that many other countries such as China, Italy, the US, the UK and Spain showed sudden explosion in cases after a long period of few cases “indicating the possibility of many undetected cases.”
That the Modi government is worried over Laxminarayan’s social media interactions predicting Kayamat (Doomsday) for his motherland (US is is fatherland, perhaps) was evident when India’s Press Information Bureau gleefully reported John Hopkins University disassociating itself from the CDDEP’s first report “Covid-19 for India Updates” .
“John Hopkins University has now disassociated itself from a study which had predicted a high number of casualties in India due to #COVID2019india and has also said that use of its logo on the report was not authorized,” Press Information Bureau, Government of India’s nodal agency for communicating with the media, said on Twitter.
The study titled ‘COVID-19 for India Updates’, which went viral on social media on arch 24) carried logos of the US-based research organisation Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) and Johns Hopkins University. It was also published on the CDDEP website. It had claimed that as many as 12.5 crore (125 million) to 24 crore (240 million) people are likely to be infected by the novel coronavirus in India.
But the Modi government and specially his party , which is notorious for unleashing its troll armies on social media to rubbish dissent and opinions contrary to its own, maintained a studied silence , with the exception of that PIB release, even as Laxminarayan created a flutter in interviews to the Indian media.
In private, BJP ministers in Delhi and the states ask mediapersons whether these predictions of millions of infections have any truth. Some also try to raise doubts about motives, though Laxminarayan heads a top institute in the land of Modi’s “best friend” Donald Trump. Obviously, the Indian politicians would rise to defend the motherland and rubbish such studies if they originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology or some institute in Pakistan . But these are emanating from Trumpland , which is home to millions of Indians and many more aspiring Indians sweating out for their work or student visas.
On March 24, quoting the the purported joint study , Laxminarayan had claimed 190 million Indians would be infected at the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic in India in the ‘medium’ scenario—the most likely scenario with moderate to full compliance with the current lockdowns in place but no change in the virulence of the pathogen (SARS CoV-2) or its sensitivity to temperature/humidity. The disputed new study , put out the day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day national lockdown, claimed that the projections are based on the India SIM model that “describes the actual Indian population in full detail of demography (age, gender), location, socio-economic characteristics and access to healthcare”. The release also claims that the model has been used by the National Technical Advisory Group for Immunisation.
Modi and his ministers would also be worried because the CDDEP report advocates continuation of tight restrictions. “Restrictions would need to be tightened often to avoid a high peak of infections and hospitalisations,” it says, adding that “fragmented frequent changes in lockdown policy or fragmented policies (states vs states and state vs centre) can result in policy confusion and community fatigue for enforcement.”
Surely, that is fatal for Indian economy and millions would suffer job loss and possibly starve if these strict lockdowns were to continue.
But Laxminarayan is no Wang Lin or Ishaque Rashid — his name is combination of two Hindu gods (actually a God and a Goddess) , a kind of semantic ‘plastic surgery’ akin to the physical one that created Lord Ganesha. There is much in the name, as some say to rubbish those who say what’s in the name. One does not known whether Laxminarayan also smashed coconuts like ISRO chief Sivan before he unleashed the CDDEP’s Doomsday report for India, but his predictions are worrying the BJP , their only consolation being that India’s top astrologers have predicted PM Modi faces no threat to his throne before 2029.
(Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC and Reuters Correspondent, is now editorial director of Easternlink)