One of India’s Most Powerful Officials, a Close Aide to PM Modi, Tests Positive for COVID-19

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has tested positive for coronavirus as the number of cases in the South Asian nation climbed above 1.7 million.

Shah said in a tweet his health was fine but was getting hospitalized on the advice of his doctors. He urged people who have come in contact with him in the past few days to isolate themselves and get tested.

India has the most confirmed cases after the U.S. and Brazil — and one of the world’s fastest growing epidemics, adding more than 50,000 cases each day.

Shah was present at the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Wednesday, the Hindustan Times reported, although strict social distancing measures were observed.

“The news about Shah is a wake up call for a government often reluctant to acknowledge the extent of the pandemic’s spread in India,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center said. “The takeaway is crystal clear, and very sobering: No one, not even in the uppermost echelons of power, is immune from this virus.”

Shah, 55, has been Modi’s point man for more than three decades. His rise from a lowly party worker who hung campaign posters to home minister — considered India’s second-most important job — has been closely intertwined with Modi’s own climb at the top.

He is the most senior minister in Modi’s cabinet to contract the infection and his illness underscores the challenges governments are facing to curb the spread of the virus while ensuring their administration continues to function. His hospitalization comes days before an event to mark the start of construction of a contentious Hindu temple in the northern town of Ayodhya, where a 16th century mosque was razed in 1992, and a year after the government ended seven decades of autonomy in Kashmir.

The temple ceremony is a milestone event for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu nationalist agenda, Kugelman said.

“This is significant, because this agenda has been particularly associated with Shah, one of its most vocal and emphatic champions,” Kugelman said. “Modi has sought to stay above the fray and let his top deputies do the messaging on the Hindu nationalism front, and this shields him from being linked with the often ugly rhetoric and communal rhetoric that accompanies it.”

As India’s epidemic moves outside the major cities and further into its vast hinterland, it’s affecting state government operations as well. The chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka, B.S. Yediyurappa, revealed on Sunday he had Covid-19 and had been hospitalized.

Banwarilal Purohit, governor of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, has also tested positive for coronavirus, CNBC-TV18 reported. On July 25, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced he too had the virus, NDTV said.

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