External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in a virtual meeting with Indian ambassadors and high commissioners from around the world, said that the "one-sided" narrative that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration had failed the country by their "incompetent" managing of the second COVID-19 surge in the international media must be countered.
The meeting was convened on Thursday, April 29 in the wake of strong editorials and reportage in major foreign newspapers and television networks including The New York Times, Guardian, Le Monde, and Straits Times and news channels that accused the Modi government of ignoring warning signs, holding a prolonged election in West Bengal and failing to cancel the Kumbh Mela.
In the past few weeks, heartwrenching visuals of mass funeral pyres in overwhelmed crematoriums and ambulances incessantly ferrying COVID-19 patients to the hospitals while many others wait outside for beds in Delhi and in other states have been broadcasted on international television to highlight India's lack of preparedness and the government's misplaced priorities.
According to officials attending the meeting, the "context" for the meeting was to discuss India's efforts to mobilize resources, including oxygen containers, concentrators, ventilators, medicines, and vaccines, from countries that have provided assistance as the administration struggles with the spike in infections. The delegations had a number of questions about how to send the supplies as well as state-wise allocation and customs legal requirements, and other logistical issues.
The hour-long meeting was also attended by the Minister of State V Muraleedharan and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, according to The Indian Express.
Participants said Jaishankar's message was to take control and project the government's side of the story rather than being overwhelmed by "negative" media coverage. The members were told that the intensity of the second surge was something no public health expert in the world had predicted and that health infrastructure even in the most advanced countries had crumbled in the first wave of the pandemic last year, so this was not a disaster that was uniquely Indian.
They were also reportedly told that oxygen shortage was not due to a shortfall in production but due to restricted geographies of production which led to transporting the essential across vast distances. Additionally, they were told to disseminate that there could be no connection between the elections, campaign rallies, and rise in cases.