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25 April, 2021 10:05:09 AM

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DATELINE INDIA : I AM BACK

KUMKUM CHADHA
DATELINE INDIA : I AM BACK

It was a sudden announcement about Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing  the nation: no time for speculation; no time for guessing what it would be all about. But then Modi’s moves are usually sudden and full of surprises: except they conjure up suspense and speculation.
Take Demonetization and it was a bolt out of the blue: no lead time, not even a few hours, before Rupees 500 and 1000 currency notes were scrapped: “To break the grip of corruption and black money, we have decided that the five hundred rupee and thousand-rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight, that is 8th November 2016.

This means that these notes will not be acceptable for transactions from midnight onwards. The five hundred and thousand rupee notes hoarded by anti-national and anti-social elements will become just worthless pieces of paper” is what the Prime Minister had told a shell-shocked nation that night.
Of course one can debate for hours on the logic or necessity of the move, like one could about the other announcements by Prime Minister Modi.
Fast forward to 2020: another announcement  and another  bombshell. It went something like this: “From midnight tonight onwards, the entire country, please listen carefully, the entire country shall go under complete lockdown.

In order to protect the country, and each of its citizens, from midnight tonight, a full ban is being imposed on people from stepping out of their homes.

All the States in the country, all the Union Territories, each district, each municipality, each village, each locality is being put under lockdown.

This is like a curfew only. This will be a few levels more than Janata-Curfew, and also stricter. This is a necessary step in the decisive fight against Corona Pandemic. Hence, It is my plea to you to continue staying wherever you are right now in the country. Considering the circumstances at present, this lockdown will last 21 days” Prime Minister told his countrymen: the people of India.

That the 21 days extended to over two months is another story. Once again the logic, need, necessity can be debated and discussed at length with no definite conclusions.

But one thing emerges: that Midnight strikes terror, be it demonetisation or lockdown. Also, every address of the Prime Minister’s, particularly those that come suddenly are kind of a  shocker. In this context both demonetisation and lockdown are cases in point.

Therefore when  there was news of Prime Minister Modi addressing the nation this time around, there was both suspense and nervousness. People waited with bated breath to listen to Prime Minister Modi yet again. There was, like in the past, a suddenness to the address with people dreading the “midnight” word. It was like a fingers-crossed moment, as it were. And not without reason because the second surge is like a tsunami engulfing every part of India. Under the circumstances, the Prime Minister would not be bringing any good news. 

Modi spoke for 20 minutes. He spoke about the current COVID-19 situation in the country; underlined the need to focus on containment zones; appealed to the people to come forward and help those in need; asked the  youth to make small committees to spread awareness about Covid-appropriate behaviour; sympathised with the people who have lost their loved ones; thanked the frontline workers and said that the second covid-19 wave has come like a storm.

At the end of the address, people were still wondering what to make of what the Prime Minister had said. It was neither a feel-good nor a way-forward kind of speech.

But what are the takeaways from Prime Minister Modi’s speech? The biggest was that there would be no lockdown, at least nationally: "We have to protect the nation from lockdown. I urge states to treat lockdown as the last resort. We need to focus on micro-containment," said Prime Minister Modi.

This is a turn-around from last year when a lock down was the only way out. So what has changed?

The second surge has hit the country worse than the first one. The first time around the country was completely unprepared, vis a vis health infrastructure, to handle the crisis: the lockdown gave time to prepare and equip India to meet the crisis.

This time the numbers are frightening: people getting infected by the minute and bodies piling up: dearth of oxygen; hospital beds and anti-viral medicines, front line workers falling like nine pins: a complete collapse both politically and medically. Politically because elections are underway and the entire government including Prime Minister, Home Minister and other key players are busy campaigning in election bound states. Prime Minister Modi too has been leading garnering votes for his Party.

As for governance, he was missing in action till earlier this week. He was too busy trying to woo the electorate in what seemed to be a do or die electoral battle for the BJP. Therefore for the first few days of the second surge crisis there was no Modi, so to say. The states were left  to slug it out beginning with the vaccine scarcity to the crisis of shortages.

With his speech Modi kind of announced a come-back from politics to governance. He spoke about his government working hard to address the oxygen crisis in the country. “We are” he told the nation,  “working on this speedily. The Centre, the state governments and the private sector, all are committed to ensure that every needy person gets oxygen in time”, adding that efforts are being made at various levels to enhance oxygen production and its supply.

There was more: about beds and medicines: “We are fortunate that we have a very strong pharma sector that makes quality medicines speedily. The government is also making efforts to increase bed capacity in hospitals too”. It is no coincidence that within hours of his speech, oxygen was supplied to several states. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, often at loggerheads with the Centre, tweeted: “Central govt increases Delhi’s quota of oxygen”.

So what is the political messaging? With Modi at the helm even the impossible becomes possible; once he is back ,the crisis that had hit will be resolved. Whether this is optics or things actually changing on the ground is in the realm of speculation but Modi’s I am back kind of speech brought in some hope that things may begin looking up soon. Or to quote his ardent followers: Modi hai to mumkin hai: If Modi is there,  everything is possible.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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