It is always a game of great speculation when a leader of a nation-state takes centre stage, more so, when the move comes amidst widespread crisis and an environment of fear. Hopes and uncertainty both run parallel in an attempt to decipher the leader’s next big move. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard has come out as a master tactician, addressing the people in times of imminent, forthcoming crisis, in an attempt to either dispel it or add on to it. In fact, his nation-wide address on 8th November 2016 has added to this (in)famous persona.
Yesterday’s affair was no less speculative, nor the circumstances which forced him to take centre stage, precisely after 180 plus recorded cases of Coronavirus in the country. His nation-wide address, which went live at exactly 20:00 hours, was supposed to be a preparatory gamble for India to fight a global pandemic. An outbreak which has taken over 166 countries, with 252,055 confirmed cases, and over 10,405 deaths till now, according to the latest tableau on nCovid-19 prepared by World Health Organisation. But did he deliver? Well, the reaction is mixed, to be honest.
Nonetheless, to put things into a neutral perspective, let us first list down some important excerpts from his address. Nostalgia ran high, back to the night of November 2016 in the initial few minutes when he asked for something from his fellow countrymen. However, PM Modi was seen breaking away from the veil of denial of his fellow party men with the likes of Athawale, Piyush Goyal, and Dilip Ghosh, where he was quick to confirm and accept the fact that everything, as it seems, is not well at all.
With a vaccine not in sight, he urged all his countrymen to be aware and cautious of the impending crisis. He recalled that cooperation is the key, along with patience and resolution as the whole world, including India doesn’t have a curative way to fight the deadly virulent. He assured that the Government is studying statistics of explosive contamination in the first few weeks in Europe, America, and Asia-Pacific and is trying its best to prevent its repetition in India.
Furthermore, he underlined the normal citizen’s role in prioritising self-isolation and urged them to follow their respective states’ medical regulations. This will in turn reduce contamination through contact. Social distancing and movement restrictions are the need of the hour, with PM Modi urging organisations, corporate, and businesses except emergency services (medicare, media, law enforcement) to encourage work from home (WFH). Moreover, he stressed on discouraging elderly above the age group of 60 to restrict any outside contact at all, concerning the fact that they are the most vulnerable according to the mortality statistics from nCoVID-19 in India.
PM Modi, however, invoked the importance of war-like preparations and contingencies in abundance, while he requested the citizens to abide by as so called “Janata Curfew” from 7 am to 9 pm this coming Sunday, 22nd March 2020. This pilot idea points to a greater lockdown in future as part of the nation’s procedure of containment to control the pandemic. However, taking cue from Italy, one is expected to come out in the vicinity of their houses at 5 pm on 22nd March and clap, beat empty vessels, or cheer for the personnel from the emergency services who have been fighting nCoVID-19 in their collective capacity.
Surprisingly though, PM Modi has urged to restrict every other medical check-up, and elective surgery as a secondary priority, in order to stop oneself from frequenting the hospital quite often. In the end, as an attempt to providing respite for the economic fallout during the pandemic, the PM has assured the nation of a nCovid-19 Economic Response Task Force, which will focus on swift decisions on an emergency basis to keep the country’s financial condition afloat, or whatever is left of it anyway.
Nonetheless, the most welcoming part of the address was his request to businesses, companies, and corporates to facilitate paid leaves for all segments of employees, so that their life does not come to a halt, and a resolute will to not stop provision of essential supplies in order to prevent panic buying and hoarding of essential goods. This surely will take a step for preventing product deficit, unnecessary inflation, black market racketeering, and opportunistic product domination.
Appreciable or not is an individual choice, and to be frank, depends on lenient ideologies. PM Modi should be appreciated for his acceptance nonetheless, by single handedly dispelling all the myths his fellow comrades, and fringe groups have been spewing as cure and preparatory measures to Coronavirus. Before the PM’s address, a few media outlets were limited to Cow dung (Gobar), cow urine (Gaumutra), and the chants of Go Corona! or Peace be upon Corona!
Nonetheless after PM Modi’s speech of acceptance, it seems like India doesn’t have any medical contingency at all and is strictly relying on public moral conscience, which by the way is difficult to control and drive, considering we are a cramped country of 130 crore odd people.
According to the World Economic Forum data of 2019, India ranks 109 out of 141 recorded countries for healthy life expectancy, which is just above Africa and below South Asian Average. On top of that, according to a recent Lancet survey, India ranks 145 in healthcare access, with healthcare budget being less than 4% of the GDP, and six times lower than the defence budget.
Unfortunately, India’s healthcare stands much worse than that of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and some poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In line with statistics such as these, the panicked citizens of the country required a robust dispensation of material and financial resources to fight nC0VID-19, rather than moral assurances. With India handling such affairs within closed doors, with myriad (mis)information floating from all corners of the politico-bureaucratic unit, it is difficult to ascertain any positivity for now.
On top of that, the leader of this country asked his fellow citizens to isolate them for a period of some weeks. As reassuring as it might sound, the ambiguity of this statement only underlines the helplessness of the government to contain the virus at the very earliest. A few weeks can extend up to months, with the collective psychology and morale of the people in self-isolation taking a great hit.
Furthermore, it is still unclear as to how hospitals, both public and private, are taking steps to provide adequate facilities in case of an explosive outbreak. The Government in fact, has still not regulated the pricing associated with nCoVID-19 treatment unlike other severely hit countries, which threatens to create an unequal medicare provision, with the poor being hit the hardest.
Furthermore, the PM himself need to understand the emergence of possible investments into medicinal R&D. With the PM urging for an ambiguous period of isolation, increased R&D is necessary, since elimination of this mutating virulent should be a priority, as it can survive on surface and air for a longer time, unlike other virulent.
Governments all around the world are forming coalitions with their competent oppositions to create effective mitigating plans through a symbiotic channel of idea sharing. The PM, however, decided to form a task force under the guidance of our current Finance Minister, whose stories of handling the current economy are recipes for disaster. In fact, in my opinion, the task force will only be reduced to any other categorical department under the Ministry of Finance, without any possible expertise or idea-sharing across the parliament.
On top of that, this economic fallout comes at a time when stock markets are losing approximately 600 points per day, with investors dumping stocks in a state of frenzy. India’s economy has already been in a weak footing before the pandemic, where currently, there is a possibility of almost 3 crore jobs getting directly affected throughout the tourism sector, BnB/homestay sector, tourism sector, airline sector, and railway sector.
Lack of well formulated, and mandated fiscal directives gives private companies an opportunity to exploit their working section with huge pay cuts, which, even if follows the directives of a paid leave, is nonetheless unsustainable on the face of inflation. Therefore, currently, any economic task force without a well regulated economic contingency is no less than a headless chicken.
In the end, it is no strange a fact that our PM likes grand speeches and even grander audience response. His grandiose in the form of his stage presence is seldom replicated in his work. The address made by him on Thursday stands as a living testament of another such ineffectiveness, which might have boosted morale, but has failed to prepare our country for the fight ahead.
He might have spoken a lot, but a lot still remains unspoken, undiscussed, forever trapped under the burden of fear, speculations and hope. Until the air is cleared, it is better to sanitise, isolate, and be aware, something which has been said time and again, much before our leader made his appearance.