‘Super-Spreader’, ‘Campaign Opportunity’: Global Media on Kumbh

The Quint
·3-min read

With the Uttarakhand government giving no indication of cutting short the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar despite the surging cases across India, it has garnered a lot of attention from international media.

Calling the religious gathering a “super-spreader”, Al Jazeera reported that more than a thousand people have tested positive for the disease in Haridwar.

While pointing out the hypocrisy in how the government dealt with the Tablighi Jamaat gathering earlier, the report also noted that the Modi government has refused to call the gathering off, “possibly fearing a backlash from religious leaders in the Hindu-majority country”.

Amid criticism against the government by health experts for turning a blind eye to the ever-increasing threat of such a gathering in the middle of a pandemic, a piece in New York Times stated that “the pilgrimage this year has coincided with a national election”, speculating that PM Modi “whose party is rooted in Hindu nationalist beliefs, saw the pilgrimage as a campaign opportunity”.

An editorial in The Washington Post pointed out that “a wildfire of infection is spreading elsewhere in the world”. Talking about Brazil and India where the daily average has drastically shot up, the editorial criticised the political leadership in both the countries.

“Vaccines offer hope, but political leaders in Brazil, India and elsewhere must accept that in the short term, basic mitigation tactics — lockdowns, distancing, face masks and hygiene — will work and must be used,” the editorial read.

Reporting on the infections from the pilgrimage city, BBC said, “Hundreds of devotees, including nine top saints, have tested positive for COVID-19 in India's Haridwar city where huge crowds have gathered to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival.”

The Guardian, too reported that most of those who went to take a dip in the Ganga were not seen wearing masks or adhering to any COVID norm. Providing a direct comparison with other religious gatherings amid the pandemic, the article stated, “Many religious gatherings across the world have been cancelled or scaled back because of Covid. Only a few thousand Muslims took part in last year’s hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, compared with more than 2 million in normal years. The pope celebrated midnight mass on Christmas Eve with fewer than 100 participants instead of the usual 10,000.”

As evident from photos, hundreds of thousands of devotees have gathered in Haridwar for the Shahi Snan (holy dip) at a time when India has been recording 2 lakh new cases. Police have so far been unable to enforce strict social distancing norms owing to the large swathes of pilgrims.

While Mahant Narendra Giri, leader of the All India Akhada Parishad, was admitted to AIIMS in Rishikesh, Swami Kapil Dev, leader of the Maha Nirvani Akhada, died of the infection recently.

Owing to the cases, two akhadas – the Niranjani and Anand – have announced an early exit from the gathering.

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