In February this year, a top aide of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was on a conference call with fellow representatives of his ruling Democratic Party. In the recording, she made an extraordinary confession. The governor’s office had covered up thousands of coronavirus deaths of elderly patients in nursing homes across the state. She was also extremely candid about the reason they withheld this data from federal authorities. They were worried that Donald Trump might tweet about it, perhaps even order an official investigation. And, she said, such an investigation might spread to other Democratic Party-ruled states such as New Jersey, California and Michigan. With the presidential election coming up, they did what they had to do.
It turned out that some 15,000 people had died from the virus in nursing homes in New York state. But only about 8,700, or approximately half, of these deaths were ever reported. On orders from the governor, a number of patients had been pushed into these nursing homes while still not fully recovered from Covid. The impact of this decision on other elderly patients already in those nursing homes is not difficult to imagine.
This is not just a terrible human tragedy. It is also an indictment of the entire liberal establishment that rules New York. And a moment of truth for anyone in the world who believes in their sense of justice. From an Indian perspective, you have to ask: how could this happen under the nose of the New York Times?
They have been pointing fingers at us for a while. Did Indian police use water cannons against protesters somewhere? It must be the rise of fascism. The global media has heckled, mocked and ridiculed every step that India has taken during the pandemic. They have dedicated entire teams to analyse our response and tear us apart over every failure and every misstep. And yet, there is a year-long conspiracy of silence around thousands of elderly people being sent to their deaths in New York.
If you are feeling sad and angry, there is more. Eight women have now come forward and accused the New York governor of sexual harassment. All of them are either current or former members of his staff. Some are scared to reveal their names. One woman alleges that she was summoned to the governor’s official residence, where he reached under her blouse and fondled her.
We have a term for this in India, taken from Bihar of the 1990s. It is called Jungle Raj.
And Jungle Raj it most certainly is. In the year 2020, New York City experienced an unprecedented rise in crime. Murders were up 45% and shootings by an astounding 97%. According to city crime data, burglaries surged by 42% and car thefts by as much as 68%. In case you are wondering if this has something to do with a sudden rise in poverty and unemployment caused by the pandemic, it does not. In fact, with more people staying home due to lockdowns, petty crime decreased substantially. The streets of New York now belong to murderers, car thieves and armed criminal gangs.
This is what goes on at home while the New York Times is on its mission to reform the criminal justice system in the poorest states of India.
What does President Joe Biden have to say about this? Will he ask the governor, who belongs to his own Democratic Party, to step down? An Indian politician in his situation most certainly would, after eight allegations of sexual harassment and everything else mentioned above. But apparently, that is not how it works in America. President Biden has responded with the time-tested stock response of every politician ever. Yes, he says, Cuomo should resign ‘if’ he is found guilty. There will be an investigation, he says, although he has not ordered one. In other words, go home. Nothing to see here.
Meanwhile, local officials in various districts of New York say they are receiving calls from the state’s top official in charge of vaccine distribution, to ascertain their loyalty to the governor. Express discontent and who knows? Your district might not get a vaccine supply. Every time you think we have described the full extent of Jungle Raj in New York, there is something more. It is now alleged that in the early days, when Covid testing was scarce, the governor got the state health department to test him and members of his family multiple times, in the comfort of their homes.
It is important to remember that this is not about one man and his alleged excesses. This has more to do with how the global liberal media establishment, always so severe on India, covered up for someone. Could it be that one person, acting all on his own, managed to cover up thousands of dead bodies in a place such as New York? Could one of the famously liberal newspapers based out of New York not have broken the story earlier? How did they not get wind of this? Eight women have now come forward against Cuomo, describing a pattern of sexual harassment that goes back years. Did the media establishment really not have a clue before?
Let me put this another way. Andrew Cuomo has now served three terms as the governor of New York. And coincidentally, so did his father. Three terms for the father and three terms for the son. When the pandemic hit, the New York Times described Biden and Cuomo as the two crucial “pillars of the Democratic party in a national crisis”. When you are that close to the American liberal establishment, you can get away with almost anything. If you are Indian and they don’t like your politics, things are very different.
One may wonder how all of this is relevant to us. How does the other stuff matter as long as you think the global media is asking important questions about India? Well, for one, they judge our domestic issues all the time. We have as much of a right to put a spotlight back on them. But this is not merely out of spite. Because of mental hang-ups going back to our colonial past, we tend to give way too much weight to Western media opinion about India. We are not careful enough to think about the agendas involved.
Right now, we have seen an unprecedented campaign against India on all global media platforms. We cannot just focus on our shortcomings. We also have to be aware of their incentives. Above all, we must discard any illusion that the global media is looking out for the welfare of the people of India. Remember, if they can throw thousands of elderly New Yorkers under the bus, they won’t think twice about us.
(Abhishek Banerjee is a mathematician, columnist and author. Views expressed are personal.)