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DATELINE INDIA: Happy Birthday Prime Minister

On the eve of his birthday, Thursday September 16, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the new Union Ministry of Defence offices in New Delhi in the presence of Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Hardeep Singh Puri and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat among others.
Kumkum Chadha
DATELINE INDIA: Happy Birthday Prime Minister

On Friday, September 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned 71.
 
On the same day, India broke all previous records administering over 2 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses in a day, registering what Modi supporters called a “phenomenal feat”.
 
A coincidence? Not at all. It was the BJP’s plan to roll this out and achieve this milestone to mark their “Supreme Leader’s birthday”, a gift that he would perhaps cherish like no other.
 
Also this was not automatic.

The ruling BJP went that extra mile to prep up its health volunteers and ensure that the maximum number of people come out and get vaccinated and thus help India create History.
 
And create History it certainly did. By administering over two crore plus Covid 19 India set a new record on PM Narendra Modi's birthday. This is the first time that more than two crore jabs have been administered in a single day.
 
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had called for a major push to the coronavirus vaccination drive for Prime Minister Modi's birthday, saying it would be the perfect gift for him.
 
Having achieved this feat, Mandaviya said this is the fastest pace at which one crore doses have been administered.
 
"A gift to the Prime Minister on behalf of the health workers and the countrymen. Today, on the birthday of @NarendraModi, India has crossed the historical figure of 2 crore vaccines in a day, setting a new record. Well done India!" he said in a tweet in Hindi on Friday.
 
India has administered more than one crore COVID-19 vaccines in a day on multiple occasions earlier. The daily COVID-19 vaccination in the country on September 6, August 31 and August 27 was over 1 crore.
India took 85 days to touch the 10-crore vaccination mark, 45 more days to cross the 20-crore mark and 29 more days to reach 30 crore, according to the health ministry.
 
But Friday September 17 was special for the Government, the BJP and Modi supporters. For India it was a proud moment.
 
“What can be more special than protecting people for which the Prime Minister is working day and night. It is a matter of pride that we have two Covid vaccines in our name and we have been able to protect citizens from this deadly pandemic. It would be a befitting tribute to PM Modi who strived hard to ensure people remain protected from Covid,” a BJP leader was quoted as saying.
 
Another high point of the Prime Minister’s birthday was an e-auction by the Ministry of Culture of the gifts received by the PM.
 
The third edition of its kind, as many as 1300 mementos have been listed including Olympic bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain's pair of blue gloves which received a staggering Rs. 1.92 cr bid against a base price of 80 lakhs.

Close to this was gold medallist Neeraj Chopra's fluorescent green and purple patched javelin that was introduced in the auction with a base price of Rs. 1 cr but fetched Rs. 1.5 crore. These were gifted to the Prime Minister by winners of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
 
Paralympic gold medallist Sumit Antil's Javelin has also received a base price of Rs. 1 cr. A badminton racket autographed by Krishna Nagar, Paralympics Gold Medallist is also a part of the bid. Additionally, there is a Table Tennis racket autographed by Silver Medallist, Bhavina Patel.
 
Other interesting artefacts include a replica of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir, Chardham, Rudraksha Convention Centre, models, sculptures, paintings, angavastras, etc. The lowest-priced item is a small-sized decorative elephant for Rs. 200.
 
Proceeds of this auction on the birthday of PM Modi will go to the 'NamamiGange' Mission, aimed at conserving the Ganges river.

Enthused ministers and their respective ministries were bending over backwards to meet targets.
 
On the eve of his birthday, Thursday September 16, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the new Union Ministry of Defence offices in New Delhi in the presence of Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Hardeep Singh Puri and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat among others.

The two new multi-storey swanky office complexes will house 7,000 employees from the defence ministry and the armed forces.

The officers and other staffers of the defence ministry and the armed forces are moving into the new office complexes from their existing workplaces in pre-Independence era hutments in and around the Raisina Hills.
The two buildings, constructed by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs with resources allocated by the defence ministry, have an office space of 9.60 lakh sq feet.
The offices have been shifted as part of the changes needed for the controversial Central Vista project.
Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at critics of the ambitious project and said that those opposed to the Central Vista project never bothered to find out how the armed forces personnel were working in those hutments.
Government apart, the Party had rolled out ambitious plans weeks in advance as a count-down to the Prime Minister’s birthday.
The Party organised three week long Happy Birthday yatras much before the Big Day, as it were.
 
If August was earmarked for the Jan Ashirwad Yatra, September is reserved for a Happy Birthday PM event.
 
Last month, the Party launched a yatra throughout the country spanning a 24,000 kilometers journey across 22 states spearheaded by ministers in the Modi government.
 
The yatra was only one part of the BJP’s preparatory story. The second: singing paeans to praise Modi.
The Party plans included distributing ration bags, as many as 14 crore as of now, with Modi’s picture printed on them and over 5 crore of Thank you Modiji postcards for his welfare schemes.
The Party’s game plan to focus on Modi is not devoid of political messaging. In fact it is politics that is the key, given that the Party and the Government is under attack after the Government’ gross mishandling of the second surge of the pandemic.
 
The second surge, it may be recalled, saw people scurrying for life saving drugs, hospital beds and oxygen with the Modi government missing in action.
 
The people’s messiah and the Party’s biggest vote catcher Narendra Modi was then in the eye of  storm.
Gripped with this reality, the Party is on an overdrive, attempting to reconnect with an electorate which, as of now, is feeling shortchanged by the same man who they elected as their leader not once but twice over.
 
Public memory may be short but when it comes to counting the dead, it remains as alive as Life particularly for those who have lost a loved one. For them Time never heals or wounds ever dry up.
 
The BJP seems hell bent to change the public perception about the government led by Modi.
Add to this the fact that the elections to five states are due next year including Uttar Pradesh. Any setback here could be interpreted as a writing on the wall for 2024.  
The Party’s plan to distribute ration bags and postcards with Modi’s mug-shot are, thus, a damage control exercise.  
Whether Modi’s pictures or postcards will help boost his image or serve as a grim reminder of the Covid mismanagement remains to be seen.
Given that the BJP is aiming to soften the blow that had resulted during the second surge, a Modi bag or a postcard could cut both ways.  
Therefore, it needs to tread with caution because the situation in 2021 is not what it was in 2014 or 2019.
Since 2014 the going has been good, given that it managed to survive the onslaught of the controversial move of demonetizing the currency or the hasty roll-out of Goods and Service tax.
 
Post demonetization, the Opposition had written off the BJP saying that it would face a rout in the forthcoming elections.
 
But what happened was quite the contrary. In the municipal and panchayat polls in half a dozen states, the BJP registered enviable wins that proved that the electorate had placed intent over consequence.
 
Simply put this means the stated intention of Modi’s crackdown on black money and thus hitting the rich to benefit the poor was given precedence over the inconvenience of standing in queues to draw one’s money out from the bank. That the money did not actually reach the poor and Union Minister Amit Shah, then Party President, dismissed the promise as “jumla” or self-goal, is another matter.
 
It may be recalled that in 2014 while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi, then BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate had promised to bring back black money stashed abroad and declared that a sum of Rs 15 lakh would be deposited in every citizen’s account.
 
A jumla it remained post demonetization with the Opposition ridiculing the BJP government over its “false promise”. The attack sharpened keeping an eye on the polls and quite expectedly the Opposition kept hammering the point.
 
The BJP’s sweep in the state elections that followed less than a year after demonetization only reiterated the saffron wave was anything but waning. The Party had emerged a big winner in the crucial states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand thus silencing demonetization critics.
 
The issue had a moral rather than a political dimension in the polls playing “like background music” to borrow a phrase used by a pro-demonetization academic.
 
2019 saw the electorate giving a thumbs up to the Modi rule. Despite its pitfalls, the faith of the common man was unshaken. Once again intent scored.
 
Decode it and it means that Modi means well, intends to reach out to the last man but solutions do not happen overnight and hence give him time and maybe more chances than one.

Armed with a massive mandate that had surprised even his own party colleagues, Modi went ahead in full steam or to quote his critics  “with a vengeance”.  
Soon after, his government scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, made a law to ban instant triple talaq among Muslims, amended the Citizenship Act and brought about the controversial farm bills which has seen farmers take to the streets.
The coronavirus was a mixed bag for the Modi government: the first time around, the government seemed top of the game and even while announcing and subsequently extending the lockdown several times, India under Modi seemed to be in control especially when compared to other countries in the world where the situation was nothing short of a disaster.
At that point in time, Modi was seen leading from the front and positioning himself as a Prime Minister who would fight standing shoulder to shoulder with his countrymen. The people felt that in Modi they had a Prime Minister who puts the welfare of his people above his own.
Therefore, however callous it may sound, the first time around the coronavirus pandemic helped Modi and his image. It added value and showed him up as a doer. More importantly, it helped brush under the carpet past failures of his government because it was easy to blame every downturn on the pandemic.
Once the vaccination drive started and people could walk in and get vaccinated without any glitches, India’s first in lending a helping hand to lesser privileged countries and sending vaccines to countries who needed and didn’t have it, made the world sit up and take note. It also pushed Modi as a leader, others would wish for but didn’t have. Consequently, India stood tall and Modi and his government smug.
If the first wave did good for Modi the second surge undid every bit with one single stroke.
That the second surge was unprecedented is a given but it was not unexpected as the government would wish its people to believe.
There is enough evidence to substantiate that experts had flagged the onset of the second surge but the government did not budge.
 
Having won the first round and done so quite remarkably, the government was complacent: its laxity best demonstrated when the then Health Minister Harsh Vardhan declared in January that it was the “endgame” of the pandemic.   
That notwithstanding, Modi’s undoing is clearly the second surge.
It was not so much about deaths from the pandemic but the fact that many lives were lost because facilities were in short supply; it was not about people dying because they lost the battle to the virus but because timely help was not available.
Sadly, it was also about the dead not getting a respectable send-off. Bodies thrown in the rivers because cremation grounds were full up are not mere stories but a reality faced by those who lost their loved ones more because of negligence than the pandemic.
Pitch this against the grim reality that much of this could be avoided were the government vigilant and active.
And it is here that the leader and the Prime Minister fell short: someone the people had declared their messiah was busy cat-calling a Chief Minister and putting electoral victory over people’s lives. Read Mamata Banerjee and the West Bengal state polls.
Therefore, despite Modi minions blaming  respective state governments for the monumental failure, the people of India, who had put their faith in a man called Modi, felt shortchanged, cheated and let down. Brand Modi may have not failed, at least yet, but it certainly is under question.
Gripped with this reality, the BJP strategists are in a repair mode as it were. This time around a short public memory would not work because in homes where deaths have taken place, bread earners gone and loved ones died because they were deprived of medicine, a bed or oxygen would continue to haunt.
Therefore, whatever the BJP may do, pack in yatras or wish Modi a Happy Birthday spread over three weeks, it may not be able to galvanize public sentiment in its favour that easily as it had done in the past. Then it was a dream run; today there are roadblocks.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected]

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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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.

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