Mr Modi, you made the pandemic another event

Prime Minister's address to the nation is insensitive to situation, barring fleeting mentions of economic bailout  

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 19 March 2020
Narendra Modi made the pandemic another event. Photo: Twitter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi March 19, 2020 evening addressed the country on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, preceded by a massive outreach for the broadcast. The address had all characteristics Modi mentions: ‘130 crore Indians’, ‘Indian culture’, and ‘participate in nation building’.

And at the end of his speech, it turned out to be another Modi-type performance event, though in two dimensions.

Modi has requested for a “people’s curfew” on March 22, though without any rationality for a pandemic when distancing and containment have been the norms now.

There is no stated reason for choosing a Sunday, two days away. Already 91 countries have imposed national quarantines, including India. What purpose will the “observance” of this public curfew serve?

Taking his request to another level, as if scripting a Bollywood-like dramatic climax, he has recommended people to stand out in balcony, at the doors, or anywhere for a five-minute shout-out for those fighting from the front to contain the pandemic. And this must be done at 5 pm.

Again, what does this solidarity mean? The whole country is at it, whichever way they can — by participating in self-quarantine, enduring work from home, and yes, adopting social distancing. Markets are already closed; prohibitive orders have been imposed at several towns and cities. 

The social media is abuzz with videos of people in Italy in quarantine cheering, singing and communication from distancing. Is this what Mr Modi wants us to emolute? But that was spontaneous, and had a genuine self-expression of solidarity during a crisis.

Now, his other mentions in his address. He did talk about an economic taskforce. Till now, he has only declared a $10 million fund for SAARC countries. But there have been just assurances of “doing something” to avert the economic disruptions due to COVID-19.

In fact his junior finance minister Anurag Thakur has already said that the pandemic wouldn’t have any impact on the economy.

His mention of the taskforce is an acknowledgement of what everybody has been correctly predicting: A huge impact on the economy. But what everybody expected was an exact plan of action, not just setting up a taskforce.

Coming back to that still mysterious March 22, a Sunday. Down To Earth has reported that a study shows on that day COVID-19 positive cases could touch 500 in the country. Experts already indicate a sudden spike in cases in India, like other affected countries. Modi also mentioned that we should be cautious about such a scenario in his speech.

Did he hint at something scary?

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