Coronavirus outbreak: Behave like a Prime Minister

Updated: Apr 04, 2020, 07:13 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Modi's'light diya' appeal invites widespread condemnation, as Sena says it expected help on the economic and medical front, and other opposition saying enough to his theatrics

A family watches PM Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on COVID-19 during the lockdown in Surat, Friday. Pic/PTI
A family watches PM Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on COVID-19 during the lockdown in Surat, Friday. Pic/PTI

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens to strike spoons against plates to show their gratitude to health workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, he announced a 21-day lockdown sending people scurrying for supplies. A couple of days later, he apologised to the nation for the inconvenience.

On Friday, Modi asked the country to turn off lights for nine minutes at 9 pm on Sunday, April 5, and hold diyas, candles, or flash cell phone torches.

Like with his earlier appeals, BJP workers lapped up the idea, with some even giving it mythological and numerological context. Others saw in it an honest intent to keep up the spirits of holed-up people. But there were also dissenting voices, which wanted the PM to say something concrete on the real issue, at least in his latest address to the nation.

Expected help: Sena

Priyanka Chaturvedi, Shiv Sena spokesperson
Priyanka Chaturvedi, Shiv Sena spokesperson

One-time BJP ally and Maharashtra's ruling party Shiv Sena wasn't impressed with the PM's appeal. Spokesperson and MP, Priyanka Chaturvedi, said that clapping hands to express gratitude to frontline workers and staff saw the participation of all, including the CM.

"However, the hope was that the Centre will provide all essentials that hospitals and frontline staff need. Our doctors continue to work amid great difficulty. Hope with his latest announcement, as we light a candle to rid us from the darkness of COVID, we would see a definite action plan on ground to convert it into reality," Chaturvedi said.

'Political hypnotism'

Political commentator Surendra Jondhale interpreted all of Modi's speeches as a defence mechanism against a guilt he might have because of his administration's failure in taking prompt measures during the initial outbreak of the infection in January and February.

Balasaheb Thorat, State Cong prez
Balasaheb Thorat, State Cong prez

"The PM is constantly using an emotional pitch to mask his failures," said Jondhale. "It is the best way to divert public attention from real issues and symbolism works perfectly in putting the people under a hypnotic political spell. When opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar and non-political stakeholderswho influence the masses clapped and beat thaalis, Modi's theory got legitimacy. He established that he could also make his detractors participate in the gesture conceptualised by him."

'Behave like a PM'

Non-BJP parties came down heavily on Modi for not offering a distressed population any relief on the economic or medical fronts.

"I thought the PM would talk about the lives in distress, but he has asked us to light diyas," said NCP's Nawab Malik. "The PM has disappointed people again. He is not aware of the realities on the ground." His colleague Jitendra Awhad added that he will not follow the diktat.

Nawab Malik, NCP leaderNawab Malik, NCP leader

State Congress president and revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat expected the PM to behave like a PM at a time the country is fighting a pandemic that is getting serious with every passing day.

"Will he ever take any concrete decision as PM?" he asked. "Affected states need medicine, equipment and grants. Instead of standing behind the people, he is opting for stunts."

Mumbai Congress vice-president Zakir Ahmed said the Modi government did not respond to the World health Organisation's alert in very first stages of the breakdown.

Zakir Ahmed, Mumbai Congress vice-president
Zakir Ahmed, Mumbai Congress vice-president

"The country was forced into an ill-prepared lockdown. A planned move would have bailed us out. And when the country wants a targeted action, the PM is acting like Nirmal Baba," he said.

Sandip Sawant, a Mumbai citizen, said the PM's address smacked of theatrics. "I wanted to know the financial aid to be given to the states and the distressed workforce, which doesn't have any means to survive the recession. I wanted him to tell us about how the government is handing community transmission. I will continue to regret that I voted for him," said Sawant.

State BJP president Chandrakant Patil said the gesture will help people in dispelling frustration and negativity. "Do as the PM has appealed. But don't go out and maintain social distancing," said Patil.

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