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Understanding Modi's Covoid-19 speech

By Dr Rup Narayan Das
March 21, 2020 10:44 IST

'Far from abdicating the government's responsibility in this grave national crisis, he reassured the people that his government is always with the people during a national crisis,' notes Rup Narayan Das.

 

Prime Minister Modi very thoughtfully and imaginatively addressed the nation with regard to the Covid-19 crisis on Thursday. Given the constraints of air time, the prime minister had to be very precise and to the point.

As an excellent communicator, the prime minister deconstructed esoteric jargon like 'social distancing', which has gained currency against the backdrop of the outbreak of the pandemic. The address was more in the nature of an appeal laced with compassion, although the message was loud and clear to all concerned.

Fully knowing that it is rather premature to claim credit for containing the menace, he rather cautioned one and all to be extra vigilant and restraint from moving out of home. He didn't mention the government's praiseworthy and painstaking efforts to evacuate thousands of Indians from Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic in China, Italy, Iran, Malaysia and other parts of the world.

It was certainly not a simple task to evacuate the affected or suspected cases and to quarantine them at different airports in Delhi and outside which involved coordination and cooperation of different agencies of the government such as the ministries of external affairs, civil aviation, health, defence, the Delhi police and Delhi administration.

External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar did a very commendable job in coordination with respective Indian missions abroad.

 

SEE: PM Modi's address to the nation on coronavirus

 

There was a question why Prime Minister Modi chose to speak to the nation on television while Parliament was in session. Well, the answer could be given the mercurial dynamics of Parliament in the context of the political developments in Madhya Pradesh, it would have been doubtful if he would have been given a patient audience in Parliament.

Moreover, a televised address has always a wide reach as compared to an address in Parliament, although Parliamentary proceedings are televised live through dedicated Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha television channels.

His address was not only in the fitness of things, but also a much needed one considering the magnitude of the problem and particularly when there is unwarranted speculation regarding the availability of essential services and commodities like food stuff and medicine.

A message from no less a person than the prime minister of the country has the desired effects on service delivery agencies, stake holders and citizens at large.

His appeal to employers in the private sector, corporate sector, and even employers of domestic help and drivers etc not to cut their salaries is expected to have salutary effects at a time when malls, shops, cinema halls, the aviation and transport sectors are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus effects.

Mitigating the effects and after-effects of coronavirus on the economy and the livelihood of people particularly belonging to vulnerable segments of society is a collective responsibility of society, and not the government alone. They have to make a small sacrifice as a part of their social responsibility.

It is here that the prime minister's thoughtful exhortation has produced the desired result. In any case, considering the resilience of India's economy, it is certainly going to bounce back sooner than later.

In response to the prime minister's appeal to the corporate sector, the Tata group promptly said it will make a full payment to temporary workers and daily wage earners working at its offices and manufacturing sites.

Similarly, the Bajaj group also ruled out the possibility of laying off its employees. Such was the impact of the prime minister's appeal that some top corporate honchoes have voluntarily offered to cut their salary in favour of their employees.

His declaration of a financial task force under Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's stewardship was yet another major highlight of his address. In fact, the government is already working to provide relief to sectors hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak with proposal for a 3% interest subversion for the MSME sector as well as at least 50% wage support for workers in the airline, hotel, tourism and other sectors.

There are also suggestions to expand financial deficit targets relying on the Reserve Bank of India to stagger loan repayments for specific sectors which have been badly affected by the virus outbreak.

The address was in consonance with his people-centric approach to mitigating problems rather than making them indolent. Far from abdicating the government's responsibility in this grave national crisis, he rather reassured the people that his government is always with the people during a national crisis.

The way the government rose to the occasion to evacuate thousands of Indians amply demonstrates its resolve and capacity to meet any challenge when its citizens are in distress.

The address should be seen as his typical approach of a direct outreach and connect with the people.

More stimulus measures to mitigate the crisis can be expected through executive fiat after Cabinet approval or can be declared in Parliament if the session continues.


Rup Narayan Das, PhD is a senior fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

Dr Rup Narayan Das
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