Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to go ahead with an arms deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Israel, while healthcare workers in the country are grappling with a serious lack of masks and protective equipment in their fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
The Indian government said in a statement earlier this week that Israel will supply the country with 16,479 Negev light machine guns.
The arms deal signed on Thursday was originally authorized by the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) in February last year.
“The provisioning of this operationally urgent and very critically needed weapon will boost the confidence of the frontline troops and provide much-needed combat power to the Armed Forces,” India’s defense ministry said.
The news of the arms purchase has brought Modi’s government under fire for its poor handling of the coronavirus crisis.
India, the world’s second most populous country and fifth biggest economy, has so far reported 660 cases of COVID-19, and 13 deaths, according to health officials.
Doctors in need of protective gear
Doctors and healthcare workers came out on social media on Thursday, demanding full personal protection equipment as they are in the frontline of the battle against COVID-19.
This came after a doctor in Delhi, along with his wife and daughter, tested positive for the coronavirus.
It was revealed later that some 800 people, who had visited the doctor, had to be quarantined.
President of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, Harjit Singh Bhatti, said Thursday that healthcare professionals face the highest risk of getting infected.
“Thus, I urge the prime minister to provide us with adequate protective gear, like masks, gowns, head covers, etc,” he told Turkish news agency Anadolu.
“A doctor can become a super spreader, patients can get affected. If we remain safe, we will help keep others safe,” he added.
Indian Modi under fire
Indian activists and politicians also denounced the government’s decision over the arms deal with Israel.
“Why is the government of India choosing to spend massive amounts on military purchases instead of prioritizing a corona relief package, medical infrastructure, free healthcare and testing for all?” asked activist Kavita Krishnan.
Speaking to the Middle East Eye, a retired professor of International Relations and Global Politics at the University of Delhi called the government’s move “extraordinary and highly condemnable.”
“India needs every rupee to deal with the very real danger of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in a country of 1.3 billion people,” said Achin Vanaik.
In an extraordinary measure on Tuesday, Modi ordered his country’s entire population to stay inside their homes for 21 days, starting Wednesday.
“It is clear that the PM had nothing to offer as a government in tackling this crisis,” said Apoorvanad, a professor at the University of Delhi.
“Instead, Modi is taking India on the course of demagoguery, and this is all it has to offer the people,” he added.
He said that prioritizing “arms at a time of a crisis was only part of a larger attempt” to turn India into a “security state,” like Israel.
“The so-called security of the state is all that matters,” he said. “So it keeps on invoking enemies, either outside or within. And it has turned people, especially Hindus into paranoid masses.”
Modi is becoming the Benjamin Netanyahu of India, a London-based journalist told Press TV recently.
Shahid Qureshi, a writer and political analyst with The London Post, said that Modi “has taken inspiration” from Netanyahu in approving a deal that discriminates against the Muslim population of India.
India has recently been the scene of sectarian riots and communal violence, after the Modi government approved a controversial law that offered a path to Indian citizenship for six religious groups from neighboring countries, but excluded Muslims.
In an incident in New Deli last month, nearly 500 people were killed and over 100 wounded as Hindu nationalist mobs roamed the streets “burning and looting mosques together with Muslim homes, shops and businesses.”
The deadly violence, took place on the eve of a state visit by US President Donald Trump who is infamous for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies.