A round of verbal sniping broke out between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and the young wing of the opposition Congress on Sunday, triggered by a now-deleted tweet from the New Zealand High Commission in New Delhi. The embassy had posted an appeal, tagging the Indian Youth Congress and its president Srinivas BV, for medical oxygen amid the rampaging second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has significantly overwhelmed India’s healthcare system.
The IYC and its president posted images on social media of its activists delivering oxygen cylinders to the diplomatic mission, drawing an angry reaction from the ministry of external affairs that asked embassies “not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen”.
Update- New Zealand high commission opened gates of the embassy and accepted cylinders.Also, they thanked the #SOSIYC team for this quick relief as patient inside embassy was critically ill. https://t.co/BzGwj0wm0q pic.twitter.com/vu6TUhD1r8
— Srinivas B V (@srinivasiyc) May 2, 2021
“The Chief of Protocol and Heads of Divisions are in continuous touch with all High Commissions, Embassies and MEA is responding to their medical demands, especially those related to Covid. This includes facilitating their hospital treatment. Given the pandemic situation, all are urged not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen," the ministry said.
The New Zealand High Commission had meanwhile deleted the tweet and offered a clarification, leaving many to speculate whether the steps were taken “under pressure”.
“We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry," the high commission said in a follow-up tweet.
The New Zealand mission’s SOS to the Congress followed a similar appeal by the Embassy of the Philippines that was answered by the party the previous evening.
The developments prompted a spat between senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar.
MEA checked with the Philippines Embassy. This was an unsolicited supply as they had no Covid cases. Clearly for cheap publicity by you know who. Giving away cylinders like this when there are people in desperate need of oxygen is simply appalling. @Jairam_Ramesh https://t.co/G3jPE3c0nR— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 2, 2021
The controversy comes at a time when social media in India has been inundated with appeals for hospital beds, medical oxygen and healthcare assistance, with the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths rising rapidly.