Covid chaos, from Lucknow to Lutyens: Tracing Kanika Kapoor’s actions
A Bollywood singer lands in Mumbai on March 9 from London.
The President of India cancels all his engagements on Friday, March 20. Six Members of Parliament, the health minister of Uttar Pradesh, three members of the legislative assembly of UP, a former chief minister of Rajasthan, two top bureaucrats in the central government, and others — considered a part of the political and bureaucratic elite in New Delhi and Lucknow — go into self-quarantine on the same day. Many others, including central ministers, remain on the edge.
It is these two seemingly disconnected events that best symbolise the story of the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and what India is up against. It symbolises how one affected person can cause a domino effect, going up to the very apex of the Indian State.
Kanika Kapoor, best known for songs such as Baby Doll and Chitiya Kaliyan in the world of Hindi entertainment, landed at the Mumbai airport on March 9.
A Maharashtra state health officer confirmed her arrival date, and said, “She wasn’t detected at the airport because she was asymptomatic and didn’t show any signs. Regular testing protocols were followed for her just as any other passenger.”
Kapoor did not go into self-quarantine as is advised by the government for travellers from the UK.
She stayed in Santacruz West in suburban Mumbai for two nights before leaving for Lucknow to be with her parents. Her father, Rajeev Kapoor, said, “She told us that she had to work the entire day after landing. The next day, she probably went to a studio for a recording – which and where I am not certain – and she came to Lucknow on March 11.”
The scene then moved to her home town, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. Here, Rajeev Kapoor said, Kanika was scheduled to stay for an extended period to help the family shift to a new house. “On March 13, we went to Kanpur to my in-laws where we had a small family get-together. On March 15, she attended two parties in Lucknow.”
It was at these parties that Kapoor met the cream of Delhi and Lucknow’s society.
At former MP Akbar Ahmad “Dumpy”’s get-together were UP health minister Jai Pratap Singh, former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje, and, most critically, her son and Lok Sabha MP from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Dushyant Singh.
Another party was being hosted in town by another politician. And there remained a constant flow of people between both parties.
Kapoor continued her life as usual in Lucknow, visiting a dermatologist, going to salons, staying at Taj Hotel in Lucknow, and attending other get-togethers. But then, as she put it in a social media post, she began feeling unwell, and got tested.
On Friday, she tested positive for Covid-19.
This shifted the focus to her contact history — among them, most prominently, Dushyant Singh, who has been attending the ongoing session of Parliament.
Here, he sat next to Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien; shared a bench with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Varun Gandhi in the Lok Sabha; visited Central Hall, where MPs from across parties congregate often; shook hands with Parliament officials; attended a parliamentary panel meeting, which in turn saw the participation of top bureaucrats, including the Railway Board chairperson and top civil aviation and tourism ministry officials; and met Congress leader Deepender Hooda for lunch.
And on Wednesday morning, Singh attended a breakfast meeting — hosted by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind for MPs from the states of UP and Rajasthan.
Here, he greeted the president with a namaste. The breakfast saw the participation of a range of ministers who represent these states, including defence minister Rajnath Singh.
As news broke of Kapoor’s tests turning positive, this contact history led to anxieties on Raisina Hill, in Parliament , and across Lucknow’s political corridors (where health minister Singh had attended a cabinet meeting with chief minister Yogi Adityanath on March 17).
Dushyant Singh and his mother, Vasundhara Raje, went into immediate self-quarantine. Raje tweeted, “While in Lucknow, I attended a dinner with my son Dushyant & his in-laws. Kanika, who has unfortunately tested positive for #Covid19 was also a guest. As a matter of abundant caution, my son & I have immediately self-quarantined and we’re taking all necessary precautions.”
By the evening, the President decided to cancel all his engagements indefinitely.
A senior official at Rashtrapati Bhawan said, “President has cancelled all his engagements for the time being. He will not be travelling anywhere and not meeting visitors.”
The Rashtrapati Bhavan secretariat consulted Union health ministry officials and will wait for complete medical guidance on the steps to be taken by all the officials who attended the programme.
From Parliament, MPs Derek O’Brien, Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (who said he had been in close touch with O’Brien), Varun Gandhi, Anupriya Patel, and Satyapal Singh decided to go into self-quarantine.
Parliament officials are examining CCTV footage to examine which other MPs and officials may have come in contact with Dushyant Singh.
Parliament, however, is expected to continue next week, said an official familiar with the development.
But he added that in the next two days, over the weekend, a massive sanitisation exercise will be conducted in all areas of the Parliament building to eradicate chances of any spread of the virus in the complex.
Back in Lucknow, an FIR was registered against Kapoor. Lucknow’s commissioner of police Sujeet Pandey confirmed that the case was lodged at Sarojininagar police station on the complaint of chief medical officer, Lucknow, and two more were likely at police stations in areas which she visited — for disobeying orders duly promulgated by public servant, negligent act which would lead to spread of disease dangerous to life, and malignant act likely to spread disease dangerous to life.
The government also ordered a probe into all gatherings which Kapoor attended during her stay in Lucknow.
The Uttar Pradesh health department has listed 68 close contacts of the singer and samples of about 20 of them have been taken for testing, from among close relatives and of others on the basis of details given by them.
“Several teams have been working to find out details such as where and how they met her and selected fit cases for sampling,” said Dr Vikasendu Agrawal, state surveillance officer in the health department.
The story of one person -- travelling from London to Mumbai to Lucknow — and potentially putting in danger her family, her social acquaintances, and India’s political leadership, up to the very top, is a cautionary tale, a tale of the journey Covid-19 can take, if protocols are not followed.