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Is Modi loosing the Covid battle

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In the past ten days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed the nation an unprecedented four times, all about how his administration is responding to the coronavirus pandemic. In each of these addresses, the public at large has been told what they should do for the country, and not what the country will do for them.

When on March 19, Modi went live on TV at 8 pm, he asked people to observe ‘Janata Curfew’ the following Sunday (March 22) and demonstrate the national zeal to defeat the pandemic through a 5 pm thali-bajao exercise.On 24 March when Modi came live, again at 8 pm, he announced a much-feared three-week nationwide lockdown, and from that very midnight. This gave a mere four hour warning, resulting in a late-night panic buying spree. Thousands caught off-guard by the lockdown, who unsurprisingly were daily wage labourers and poor working classes, were forced to pick up their kids and meagre belongings and start walking to their homes in faraway villages. Scores were subjected to exhaustion and hunger. However, in his Mann ki Baat that came a few days later, Modi merely extended an apology for the suffering heaped on the poor and the migrant workers due to the lockdown. Nothing more.

Modi came out once more to speak to the nation on April 3 and thankfully in the morning.  Given the widespread criticism of what has come to be known as a #lockdownwithoutplan, the expectation this time was that he would delve into the details of preparedness essential in dealing with this difficult period. This is what leaders of other pandemic affected countries have been doing, spelling out the details and with great sensitivity too. Modi’s speech once again was without any details; as before he asked people to perform yet another public demonstration of their support for ongoing efforts to tackle the pandemic – shine a diya, or candle, or a torchlight from their darkened homes and balconies. There appears to have been very little thought paid to the fact that this nation-wide darkening of homes could result in a grid collapse, and a possible blackout, and that this could potentially jeopardise lives of thousands relying on continuous electricity supply, especially those in critical care.

Pandemic, not politics

But such complexities have hardly been of concern to Modi. His way is to be sparing with the truth but high on hyperbole. His solutions for resolving complex problems are simple and sometimes even simplistic. But his ability to communicate in ways that is accessible to a majority of the population, relying on entreaties of sacrifice for the greater common good proclaimed as fundamentally transformative, is what Modi has done in all his speeches. He did this with demonetisation and in introducing GST, both reforms undertaken without any planning or preparation. Expectedly they have had devastating consequences on the Indian economy and on millions of lives and livelihoods.

To his advantage has been the weak and fragmented Opposition, a largely compromised media and uncritical corporates — factors that have enabled him to carry on with a form of governance that is didactic and unapologetically explicit in promotion of majoritarian politics based on divisiveness. Such political methods have worked wonders in normative politics, indicated by the thumping majority he gained in the last general elections. Employing which he abrogated Article 370 and then enacted the highly divisive and sectarian Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 disregarding nation-wide protests.

The question is, can such methods work in tackling the pandemic? For dealing with a virus demands a rational approach, which is at once nuanced and scalable.  With the exception of Kerala, which prepared well in advance and graded its lockdown, thus arresting the spread of the disease, the rest of the country has been caught rather unprepared. Reliance was heavy on guidance from the Centre, which has largely been reactive, down to writing manuals on how to make masks well after the lockdown was in place.  A number of circulars issued by the Ministry of Health and Home Affairs, clarifying various normative aspects of lockdowns on public health grounds, is most revealing of the utter state of disaster unpreparedness.

Courtesy – DeccanHerald

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