There was a hype created by the mainstream press and government agencies on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation at 8pm on March 19th 2020. The people expected that Modi will share insights regarding the present Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in India and the plans of his government to contain the virus from reaching the community transmission stage. Much to their dismay, Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus displayed a PR stunt of the publicity-hungry prime minister as it revolved around gimmicks that have obnoxious political agenda embedded in them and disastrous economic fallouts.
What did Modi suggest to fight and contain the Coronavirus outbreak?
Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus asked Indians to practice two things, resolution and restrain. It revolved around rhetoric and charted no clear plan of action. Except for a few stunts, Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus neither revealed a roadmap nor the achievements of the government so far.
Talking about the resolution and restrain, Modi played his cards cleverly to titillate the middle class and elites, while leaving the poor and marginalised people in a deep crisis. He asked for self-quarantine, proposed a dry run for a forthcoming forced lockdown, which his government may be mooting.
The “Janata Curfew”
Modi asked the people to observe a “Janata Curfew” (people’s curfew), which will be “by the people, for the people” from 7am to 9pm on Sunday, March 22nd 2009. He called the people to voluntarily restrict themselves at homes on this day, which he equated with blackout drills during the 1960s. He gave hint that such a “spontaneous” curfew may actually prepare the people for a longer, and more stringent government-imposed lockdown in the days to come.
He said this while asking for two weeks from the country, alike his 50-day-long demonetisation request to curb the menace of black money in November 2016, to fight the Coronavirus outbreak effectively. But how? Modi gave no answer to the question.
How would the poor working masses, the daily wage earners, the toiling people feed themselves on the occasion of a one-day curfew? There were no answers to such a crucial question. Modi blatantly ignored the fact that the poor people have no holidays, unlike the rich, on Sundays, and they will lose their livelihood, their meals — the basic one they manage — if they don’t earn on that day. Modi didn’t promise any fund to help the daily wage-earners, though he asked the rich and the middle class to show compassion towards these people.
There is a chance that the “Janata Curfew” will be used as a subterfuge to evict the women protesting against the citizenship matrix of Modi. The Modi regime may use its muscle-flexing to forcefully push out the protesters of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and other places, to ensure when the National Population Register is updated from April 1st, then there is less resistance to it at the grassroots.
The cheap replica of Italian balcony music
Apart from the “Janata Curfew” Modi also asked the people to come out to their balconies at 5pm on March 22nd and clap or make noise by banging utensils or other items in support of those who have been at the forefront in the fight against the Coronavirus outbreak. This idea is probably a cheap replica of Italy’s balcony music as news reports show Italians are using their balconies to sing, as their country reels under an unprecedented lockdown to contain the Coronavirus outbreak.
Though it’s a heroic job done so far by thousands of medical and paramedical staff, and support services, such a public nuisance throughout the country will add to noise pollution and cause severe inconvenience to the old, the sick and the animals, without helping those people for whom it’s intended. Proposing this countrywide bangarang, Modi escaped the responsibility of divulging what effective steps his government is taking to support those combatting the Coronavirus outbreak and recognise their contributions?
Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus didn’t say how his government is going to aid those at the forefront of the battle against Coronavirus outbreak with material help, logistics support and infrastructure to effectively combat the hazard.
Economic committee aka corporate aid mission
Citing the impact of the Coronavirus impact on global as well as Indian economy, Modi said that an economic advisory committee is formed to look into the issue and come up with solutions. What will the committee exactly do and how his government is going to deal with the economic crash caused by the Coronavirus outbreak, an add-on to the ongoing recession that the Indian economy has been mired in since 2017, weren’t disclosed.
It seems that through such an economic committee, Modi will try to bail out the private sector, the big corporates, who are facing a severe economic crisis due to the global crisis of capitalism and are using the Coronavirus effect to camouflage their losses and pass the buck to the public exchequer. The entire plot of the economic review of the Coronavirus outbreak is done by the Modi regime to rescue the crisis-ridden corporates using the hard-earned money of the common people.
Modi didn’t divulge much about how the government is going to economically support the affected people and requested the employers to help the employees with their salaries and wages for the lost man-days out of sheer compassion and not compulsion. By keeping the option for employers to lay-off employees citing economic distress or withhold their wages and salaries under the pretext of no work, Modi has provided enough bandwidth to the big corporate houses to save money under the pretence of ensuring employee safety.
What did Modi announce for the workers and employees, who are at the verge of losing employment or are vulnerable to not getting paid during the period of the forced lockdown of cities? Well, nothing new but cliches that show his insouciance proclivity towards earning fanfare by discombobulating his ardent followers.
The farcical work from home concept
During Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus, the much-hyped concept of work from home, popularised by the corporates to save cost and keep their businesses unharmed, was emphasised. Modi reiterated the need for such measures while showing no regards for the suffering of the working class, the farmers, the poor masses who have no such option to avail work from home and have to come out to earn a livelihood.
How would the factory workers, the drivers, the clerks, the farmers, the garbage collectors or the salesmen toiling on the streets or shops work from home? The privileged classes, who are basically the carriers of the Coronavirus, can, of course, enjoy their work from home sessions, but at the cost of the toiling of the poor and marginalised out in the streets.
What’s the gist of Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus?
In a nutshell, Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus was another PR stunt and had no valuable information or guide to action for the people. Misusing his power, privileges and fan-following, Modi is cajoling the middle class and elites to indulge in actions that won’t do any good to the poor, who will have to strive to earn a square meal for their families.
Modi cleverly escaped the most important part — roles and responsibilities of his government in fighting the Coronavirus outbreak. Yet, his toady media houses and lapdogs didn’t miss the chance to applaud him. The propagandists of his Hindutva fascist regime have already roped-in celebrities and influencers to amplify the “Janata Curfew” campaign and are asking people to clap or bang utensils to prevent a massive Coronavirus outbreak. It’s a nasty joke on the people’s agony at the worst hour of the country.
It’s imperative to question the Modi regime on its plan of action to combat the Coronavirus outbreak and how it’s going to ensure that it doesn’t reach the community transmission stage. When it’s important to invest in public healthcare infrastructure, mobilise community health workers and develop the system to fight the virus, taking refuge in the gimmicks, using rhetoric and pushing the people to do stunts show that the government is escaping its responsibilities.
Modi’s address to the nation on Coronavirus outbreak is his attempt to fool the people by covering up the lacuna in the government’s efforts to curb the epidemic blistering of Coronavirus. On one hand, it’s the sole responsibility of the government to build up a robust and preventive public healthcare system to combat the outbreak of such virus-related epidemics, and, on the other hand, to provide the provisions for lost livelihood options to the poor and marginalised, who are and who will suffer the most due to the economic repercussions of Coronavirus outbreak. Without fulfilling such responsibilities, all tall talks and gimmicks exhibit the hollowness of the government and question its sincerity in addressing the burning issue.