The Uttar Pradesh state government has claimed its effective policies helped minimise Covid casualties even when India was suffering one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks.
Yet ground reports from the time paint a different picture, with witnesses in May 2021 describing the bodies of Covid victims floating down the River Ganges in the state and being buried in shallow graves on the riverbank, while reports based on excess deaths have suggested Covid casualties may have been undercounted by as much as 60 times.
Ms Gates, the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, held a meeting at the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s residence on Wednesday to discuss furthering the foundation’s cooperation with the state.
Ms Gates praised the “exemplary” and “commendable” work done in India’s most populous state under Mr Adityanath’s leadership, underlining its Covid management measures and encephalitis control.
“Amidst the challenges of Covid, the way the state leadership tackled the issue of dense population and various social challenges is highly commendable,” Ms Gates said in a statement.
She also praised the efforts of the Uttar Pradesh government in the fields of health security, financial inclusion, nutrition, education and women empowerment.
“Uttar Pradesh is a model not only for India but for the whole world,” Ms Gates added.
Mr Adityanath, one of the best-known politicians in the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has a devoted right-wing following but has faced criticism for his divisive political rhetoric and hardline approaches to cracking down on criminals and selectively using bulldozers to demolish people’s homes and businesses.
The state, with a population of 240 million, has one of the worst track records on crime in the country, and Mr Adityanath has pledged a “zero tolerance” policy towards offenders.
And while his government has consistently boasted of its handling of the pandemic, the disturbing images and videos showing half-burnt and decomposing bodies drifting on the River Ganges sent shockwaves across a nation that was still reeling from the deadly second wave of the pandemic last year.
Ms Gates shared a photo of her meeting with the politician and tweeted: “UP has made huge strides in health and social development. We’re committed to supporting the government’s vision and priorities.”
Mr Adityanath also thanked the Gates Foundation for “logistics and technical support” during the Covid pandemic. “We are grateful to the Foundation for this gesture,” he said.
He invited Ms Gates and her team to participate in the Global Investors Summit scheduled for 10-12 February 2023.
The Independent has reached out to the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation for comment.