PM's address to nation wins popular support from public and plaudits from critics
As Narendra Modi finished his address to nation on COVID-19 at 8.35 pm on Thursday evening, a 21-year-old law student watching it on television said, “He did well. Since he enjoys so much popular trust that people will follow what he has just said. The situation wouldn’t had been same had it not been him, say for instance a Manmohan Singh or for that matter anyone else.”
The young man was right. In next half hour, social media erupted in his support, with people pledging their support for Janata Curfew. The appreciation and supportive voices came not from his usual followers and huge support base but also from critics of the government.
Beyond a doubt, the speech was reflective of his statesmanship and his style of governance. But the question remains: What was so different this time, in his half hour long address to the nation which won him admiration from a cross-section of people?
Since his 8 November, 2016, address to the nation when he surprised the world by announcing demonetisation, his address to nation heightens popular anticipation. This time around the subject was known: Covid-19.
The government had both officially and unofficially rebutted lockdown rumors but nonetheless speculations on social media continued. People were keen to see what out-of-the-box idea was going to be proposed.
Modi took his time before addressing the nation. The government took a series of measures, some of which were taken way in advance of developed Western and cash rich West Asian nations. While these nations struggled to put precautionary measures in place, India was putting up strong and cohesive measures in in sharp contrast to the lackadaisical attitude often on display in this country. Modi has had an excellent disaster management record since his days as Gujarat chief minister.
India’s response mechanism on COVID-19, both from the Centre and states and their coordination for the first time turned an elusive co-operative federalism concept into a reality. The World Health Organisation has lauded Modi and India’s response. Even some Western media publications, which almost habitually have been critical of Modi, had grudgingly admitted (albeit with usual pinch of cynicism) that India had so far been successful in containing coronavirus.
When Modi came to speak to his people, he didn’t list out what his government was doing to fight it, or how government measures had so far succeeded in preventing spread of pandemic to India. The people knew and were making their own assessments. Modi wasn't complacent and didn't want the public to be complacent.
He didn’t mince words while informing the public how cases had surged after weeks of low numbers. But he didn't want people to panic. His words, about India having enough supplies and urging not to panic buying, set an example.
He asked people, in the weeks ahead, to give. The Indian cultural tradition attaches great deal of value to giving. Modi said countrymen have never disappointed him whenever he has asked them to give (temporary hardships during demonetisation, subsidies and so on).
Janata Curfew is an innovative idea. It will give people a sense of giving, a sense of participation in tacking the situation and a sense of responsibility. Modi didn’t say if this will contribute to next level of community awareness in fighting the virus, or is kind of a mock drill which may have to be forced in days and weeks to come if situation deteriorates. He didn’t need to elaborate. That’s beauty of a leader.
Reference of “blackout” during 1971 war or World War II was to convey that situation was grim and thus had to be tackled in all seriousness.
The other purpose of Janata curfew on Sunday, 22 March, was to inculcate a sense of self discipline among the people, something Indians generally lack. A people's initiated Janata curfew and 5 pm bell ringing from their respective homes by all countrymen would give a sense that India stands as one nation and one people in fighting this deadly pandemic.
For past few months too much have been talked about divisiveness and polarisation of communities on religious lines. Modi’s prescription for Sunday would give a message of a unified nation. It is also important that thousands of government officials, volunteers and other agencies who have been working tirelessly be applauded for the work they are doing. They deserve not just thanks giving but sustained moral support for intensive work that they would have to do for weeks to come.
Modi seeking compassion from employers in these difficult times, from large companies that employ thousands to small shopkeepers, to households that employ domestic help touched millions of hearts.