Mody on Modi: SUNY prof. shares views on India politics

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May 30—PLATTBURGH — Dr. Susan Mody watches India's humanitarian crisis unfold in real time with reports of "Black fungus" and the escalation of COVID deaths beyond 300,000.

Mody compares this incongruous specter of pandemic India to the India, where she lived for 20 years.

"I married a man who was an Indian student at Dartmouth," said the former Gender & Women's Studies chair at SUNY Plattsburgh.

"This was at a time when there were not very many Indian students there. He wanted to go home, so I went with him. I went to India in 1970. My children were born there, and I became a teacher there."

Until about four years ago, her youngest son lived in India.

"He had married there, an Indian woman," Mody said.

"They have two children. They migrated to Seattle. In fact my Indian daughter-in-law has just passed her citizenship test. So, that's quite exciting. With COVID, she feels the travel restrictions, too. We all do."


Mody receives firsthand accounts and perspectives from friends, who like many citizens hold India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (no relation) and his administration responsible.

"Modi had enforced a really draconian lockdown," Mody said.

"When we had lock down at the beginning, we could go out for necessities to the grocery store, for example.

"There were restrictions in India where some people were not allowed to move. Even certain middle-class, wealthier people struggled. Others were forced to move, and many urban workers fled to their home villages."


Workers hosed with chemicals are among troubling media images disseminated.

"There were large migrations from the city," Mody said.

"There was chaos. But, the justification was the threat of the virus. This was months ago. Then things opened up completely. Now, of course, there's been a major election in the state of Bengal."

Modi's party, Bharatiya Janata Party, fiercely contested then-candidate, now Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee of the All India Trinamool Congress.

"There were very large political rallies allowed during this election," Modi said.

"People are blaming those and the general relaxation of masking. Somewhat as we see here for political reasons, more than science certainly."


Mody's friends in Mumbai are vaccinated.

"They are among a very small percentage of people who have been able to get vaccinated," she said.

"I think the percentage is 2 percent. There are horror stories coming out of the hospitals. India's hospitals provide very different experiences for different wealth groups, different classes of people, public and private."

Indians with less access to good medical care fall into the chasm of marked health disparities as the virus rages in cities such as the slum areas of Bombay.

There are alleged discriminatory practices against Muslims, who have worse medical outcomes just as BIPOC communities in the United States.

Grim reports surface from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Mody communicates with a friend using WhatsApp.

"CNN has been reporting from the hospitals in northern India," she said.

"People are lying on the floor desperate for oxygen. The impression I get from friends suggest there can be very local effects. A particular building could be shut down depending on the number of cases experienced."


One of India's alleged super-spreader events was the Haridwar Kumbh Mela, a festival in the northern state of Uttarakhand held every 12 years.

During the month of April, millions of Hindus gathered for a dip in the Ganges River, according to a New York Times report.

"Millions of people gathered with no masks," Mody said.

"That was allowed primarily because the ruling party is a Hindu chauvinist party. It allows major Hindu festivals to go on."

Appeals continue for Modi's resignation.

His administration's slow and inept response is compared to former President Donald J. Trump's administration here.

In some circles, Modi is called "India's Donald Trump."

"Over time, the BJP government removed people who were politically opposed or put into power people who were purely political appointments, people without skills and capacity to do what is needed," Mody said.

"My interpretation is this has happened over time, and there has been a deterioration of the government's capacity to exercise the kind of leadership that is needed.

"It's not just one individual, but the way in which a kind of incompetency has spread through many layers of government, which is why we're seeing the problem growing exponentially."


At the same time India actively produces vaccine and distributes the vaccine to other countries.

"But, not internally," she said.

"I don't know why there has been such a collapse except the focus has been politically rather than scientific. Some have suggested that too much vaccine was exported, especially to African countries.

"Certainly, India has the capacity. Many people within India are frustrated with the government response."

Mody hasn't been to India since 2014.

"Partly because my son moved," she said.

"Before Covid, I had been planning a trip this past winter. That was my big post-retirement focus. That plan has been put on hold."

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