Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back

Ahmedabad At 5000 Cases And Counting: Anatomy Of An Epidemic

Author: Venu Gopal Narayanan
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date:  May 9, 2020
URL:      https://swarajyamag.com/politics/ahmedabad-at-5000-cases-and-counting-anatomy-of-an-epidemic


* Bulk of the coronavirus cases reported in Ahmedabad thus far, are from the old city area, and the bulk of those are a result of the Tablighi Jamaat exodus, from the Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi in late March.

The ongoing Wuhan Virus pandemic has matured to a stage where micro-detailing is now the need of the hour. This is since state-, or district-level analysis is no longer representative.

The ten largest clusters, accounting for well over half the cases reported in India, are actually located in one-square-mile-sized postal districts of a few cities; and within those postal districts, the core zones are restricted to selected wards.

This has become all the more necessary in Ahmedabad, where the old, walled city area on the left bank of the Sabarmati River, now threatens to become the most dangerous hotspot in the country.

The statistics are undisputed: 5260 cases out of 7403 in Gujarat, or 71 per cent.

To put it in perspective, that is a staggering 9 per cent of all cases in the country, behind only Mumbai. Thus, if we are to correctly understand the cause of this fearsome proliferation, in one corner of one city of one state in a huge country, we have to study the anatomy of the pandemic there. Without that, all containment strategies will fail, and the virus will spread.

Studying local dynamics has always been an administrative prerequisite, but here, we see that the need has become even more urgent in the walled city part of Ahmedabad.

That is because containment measures are now being violently defied. Matters have reached such a head that five policemen were injured on 8 May, by stone-pelting mobs in the Shahpur area of old Ahmedabad.

In turn, the police were forced to lob tear gas shells, to disperse the mob, and over a dozen young men were arrested for this crime.

We thus see that a public health issue has suddenly mutated, in grotesque fashion, into a law and order issue.

None of it makes any sense.

Why would people riot in the midst of an epidemic lockdown?

Why would people defy lockdown orders?

What earthly reason would cause young men to pelt stones at a police force, whose sole intent is to ensure that people stay confined to their homes, for their own safety?

Where is this crazed angst coming from? Is it atavistic or organized?

Unfortunately, there is an overlap.

The bulk of the virus cases reported in Ahmedabad thus far, are from the old city area, and the bulk of those are a result of the Tablighi Jamaat exodus, from the Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi, in late March.

This is also where most of the city’s Muslim population is situated.

Various estimates put the community’s share of cases and deaths at around 60 per cent (the addresses are a dead giveaway). That is an abnormally high ratio for a group which only constitutes 14 per cent of the city’s population. A map below tells it all:

Description: Ahmedabad Map 1: Major hotspots and sealed bridges as on 04 May 2020. Shahpur, where the stone-pelting occurred, is close to Gandhi Bridge. 

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani sensed this might happen, and has to be credited with voicing key concerns first.

As early as 1 April, he said that over 1500 residents of Gujarat had attended the Nizamuddin Markaz. He appealed to the attendees to come forward and be tested, and warned against irresponsible acts which could harm society.

Sadly, his plea went ignored, and Ahmedabad is now at over 5000 cases. This lack of response was reflective of the socio-political issues faced by the city’s Muslim community, and constitutes a vital part of this epidemic’s anatomy.

Part of the old city’s problem lies in the absence of control.

For a long time, this function was ably shared between former Congress Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel, and a gangster-associate of Dawood Ibrahim named Latif. But Patel died in 1994, and Latif was killed in 1997, after which, things were never quite the same.

So, while control of the city’s profitable bootlegging trade continues to remain in old hands, discipline has weakened. This decline was exacerbated by the end of vote-banking in Gujarat, and the rise of the BJP, which relegated a formerly-crucial swing-vote to the margins of political obscurity.

Another part of the problem lies in the appalling lack of enlightened community leadership.

Ideally, the passing of Patel and Latif should have been followed by the rise of a new crop of community leaders, who would have built the necessary bridges to match power shifts. Instead, we have local Dariyapur MLA Gyasuddin Sheikh of the Congress Party, for example, who is emblematic of both this lacuna, and, the problems which municipal and district administrators presently face.

As a result, the big picture, and the art of compromise, have both been lost in the Sabarmati, leading to the growth of a dangerous recklessness, fuelled by imaginary woes of minority victimhood.

This is but natural, since without a voice to lead, a sane head to think, and discipline, base emotions always have a tendency to prevail over reason. Look at how Sheikh’s Pavlovian response to the stone pelting at Shahpur, was to first, and instinctively, indulge in the vulgar art of monkey-balancing.

According to his statement in the press, the police were perhaps doing their duty, but since it was Ramzan, and since the shops were closed, people were going hungry and were thus forced to step out of their homes to hunt for food.

Readers should pause for a moment here, and think: if all shops are closed, if people have been asked to stay indoors, and everyone knows that, then who would step out to buy food from closed shops?

What sort of politician would use such inane illogic to justify such lunatic acts?

How difficult is it for people understand that if Muslim areas become no-go areas for health teams, then the entire city is put at grave risk? How can a citizen not care? And why throw stones at the police?

Obviously, Sheikh’s statement doesn’t fly, and is founded on gross untruths. There is no mass starvation in Ahmedabad, and the rioting happened just a day after the closure of shops was officially notified. No one runs out of food that quickly.

So, instead of the situation being mitigated, it has instead been exacerbated. Traders who have patiently suffered scarring financial losses, because they appreciate the gravity of the threat posed by the Wuhan Virus, now risk being forced to endure even greater losses solely because a few hotheads and politicians are acting bereft of civic sense.

Now, it is unsavoury that even an epidemic gets reduced to such needless Hindu-Muslim segregation, but if young Muslim men in the old city area of Ahmedabad will aggressively and violently challenge orders of public safety, solely because of their communal identity, and elected representatives will fuel those divides instead of aiding the administration, then the problem is a lot bigger than we think.

Indeed, if tear gas is being used to quell rioters in the midst of a critical public health lockdown, then the forecast is actually grim.

In a nutshell, this encapsulates the problems faced by the authorities; and in a sense, Ahmedabad is a microcosm of what is happening in other clusters, in other parts of the country.

Episodes like stone-pelting at Shahpur, and the concomitant spread of the epidemic, are not stray, bizarre responses to an existential threat. No. Communities are being actively instigated into violent insurrection by political forces, for no moral reason.

By this, the livelihoods of millions are being lost. And sad as it may seem to make this awful prediction, while the rest of Ahmedabad is quiescent for now, there could be a backlash to this mulishness beyond a point. Administrators should be on their guard.

So, while Amdavadis wait for things to return to normal, when they might indulge in their two pet activities – making money on weekdays, and eating out on weekends – once again, here is the gist of the matter:

Once epidemiology becomes geography and demographics, then the anatomy of a pandemic teaches us the physiology of its manufactured obduracy, and offers a blunt pharmacology for its treatment – without clemency.

May that happen soon, peacefully.


«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements