In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health authorities in India presented a contradictory picture between their role in assisting the state to mitigate the global crisis and dealing coercively with the needs of its diverse populations . Conventionally, public health is viewed as an evidence-based profession that is above politics . Yet national responses to COVID-19 in India reveal the embeddedness of health and illnesses in the larger politics of the state . Although it is still early to assess the full spectrum of damage caused by lack of central-level planning, this article argues against COVID-19 being viewed as a 'great leveller' . Rather, it suggests that we inhabit somatic societies that regularly employ the vocabulary of pathology/disease to determine social health . Moreover, the Indian experience illustrates how, even during a pandemic, 'social distancing' is not an apolitical notion . It becomes a measure for the state to co-opt scientific interventions of risk mitigation and relay them to people as a metaphor for exclusion: thereby exacerbating deeper structural inequities around which access to health and well-being of the population is organised.