Why does Narendra Modi avoid difficult questions

Shashi Tharoor: "Chancellor Merkel disappoints me"

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The 65-year-old Shashi Tharoor has been a member of the opposition Congress Party in the Indian parliament since 2009 and represents the state of Kerala. He was between 2002 and 2007 Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and then, for a short time, State Secretary in the Indian Foreign Ministry. Tharoor lives in New Delhi and is a renowned writer, many of his novels have also been published in German. India was also the subject of an EU summit last weekend. At a video conference between the heads of state and government of the EU countries with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of the topics was the severe Covid crisis in India. Tharoor was also sick with Covid-19.

ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Tharoor, after your hospital treatment in New Delhi for Covid-19 only a few days ago, you are on the mend, but prefer to conduct this interview in writing. How did you get on with the disease?

Shashi Tharoor: When the virus got into our house, it hit not only me, but also my 85-year-old mother who lives with me, my sister who was visiting and one of my employees. We'd all been vaccinated twice before and supposedly safe. But then I had to watch my mother struggle with the virus and the symptoms that came with it in her old age. That was an emotionally difficult time for me. But when it was me who had to be hospitalized for a short time after my pulse dropped dangerously due to a Covid-related heart complication, it was a time of considerable fear and uncertainty for my mother and sister.

ZEIT ONLINE: How did you experience your time in the hospital?

Tharoor: In the hospital, the pandemic suddenly became a very intense, personal experience. I saw nurses and doctors heroically treating an intolerable number of cases. I saw patients and their concerned families struggle with the virus up close.

ZEIT ONLINE: How did that experience change you?

Tharoor: So far, I had spent most of the pandemic answering calls for help from desperate voters. But the concern is completely different when the virus hits you and your loved ones. Although I am still recovering, I am all the more determined to do whatever I can to help the people around me.

ZEIT ONLINE: The extent of the Covid catastrophe in India can hardly be seen, wrote the Indian writer Ramachandra Guha, whom you hold dear, a few days ago. Do you agree?

Tharoor: The numbers are overwhelming. With more than 400,000 cases registered daily, the current wave is significantly stronger than the first one last year. The number of deaths since the start of the pan epidemic is almost a quarter of a million. In addition, every expert considers the numbers to be a far understatement. Today, a large part of the country lives in hard or partial lockdown, normality can no longer be discussed. We are experiencing a shortage of everything we need: ambulances, hospital beds, intensive care units, oxygen supplies, medicines, vaccines. There is even a lack of space in our morgues. The country is now facing the deadliest and most complex phase of the pandemic. There are dire predictions that a million Indians could have died by early August.

ZEIT ONLINE: How far could the catastrophe, which is now spreading ever further, have been avoided?

Tharoor: The lack of preparation for the second wave remains alarming. Just like the shocking failure of our central government to assume leadership and responsibility. We had time to prepare for the upcoming between the two waves: building our medical infrastructure, increasing the number of beds and improving the supply of critical resources such as oxygen, ventilators and drugs for Covid treatment and rationing them. We also had time to look after the procurement and nationwide distribution of vaccines, and to ensure that as many of our citizens as possible are protected from the virus. But this opportunity and the time available to us have simply been wasted. The government has failed colossally on all fronts.