Such massive weapons procurements are excessive at the best of times, yet downright egregious now

by Vivashwan Singh

India’s handling of coronavirus has been shambolic. On 31 January, the day after India’s coronavirus patient zero was discovered, the Indian government issued a notification prohibiting the export of PPE. Just over a week later, it amended that order, permitting the export of surgical masks and all gloves and further relaxing the restrictions by the end of February. Now, PPE shortages have been forcing medical staff to use raincoats and motorbike helmets instead. Meanwhile, a consortium of Indian doctors has written to Narendra Modi to complain about health workers being threatened by police, transferred or forced to resign for complaining about poor working conditions. There is one isolation bed per 84,000 Indians and one quarantine bed per 36,000 Indians according to data collected till 17th March by the Health Ministry.

On 27 February, the same day the WHO recommended governments stock up on PPE, India was stocking up on arms. That day, it was reported that during President Trump’s visit, the two countries had finalised defence deals worth $3bn, including $2.6bn for 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters. This continued a trend witnessed throughout the pandemic. In early February, a week after the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country, the Indian government organised DefExpo, a biannual defence expo held in the north Indian city of Lucknow. This year, India and Russia signed 14 contracts worth more than $16bn, covering everything from Kamov helicopters to Kalashnikovs. The government has since signed a contract with US arms maker Sig Sauer for $92m, and a $117m contract with Israel Weapons Industries. 

As ever, India’s Hindu nationalist government is blaming its incompetent handling of the pandemic on Muslims, whom it calls “human bombs“ who spread the virus. Vishva Hindu Parishad, a sister organisation of the ruling BJP, declared the New Delhi conference of Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative Islamic missionary movement, the “epicentre of Covid-19 in India”; Modi’s minority affairs minister went so far as to call the gathering a “Talibani crime.” “#CoronaJihad” has been trending on social media. Meanwhile, India’s state-owned Hindustan Shipyard Limited has signed an $2.1bn deal with a Turkish shipbuilding company to design and build five 45,000-tonne vessels for the Indian Navy.