Hindustan Times (East UP)

Reassuring the nation on Covid

PM Modi’s speech should have provided both an action plan and a healing touch

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As India began its battle against the first wave of Covid-19 last March, when about 500 cases were being reported daily, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi began a series of addresses to the nation — to warn citizens about the disease and call for a people’s curfew, to declare a lockdown, to urge citizens to applaud health care workers, and to extend the lockdown. He told people what they could expect, and what the State was doing to help them. As India confronts a fierce second wave, with close to 300,000 cases being reported daily, PM Modi finally addressed the nation for the first time — on this wave — on Tuesday. The frequency of his public engagement­s in 2020 was correct, for citizens needed to be prepared for the pandemic and comforted through the lockdown. His address in 2021 was surprising­ly belated, for if anything, given the dire situation, citizens needed to hear from their leader earlier about what the State was doing to help.

The PM had four core messages. This wave is intense; the government has done a lot to boost health infrastruc­ture and will continue meeting supply deficits; citizens must be responsibl­e and social groups must enforce Covid-19-appropriat­e behaviour; and states must only impose lockdowns as a last resort. The PM’s acknowledg­ment of the intensity of the wave is welcome — though if only the Centre had picked the trends early enough and prepared, the situation may not have turned so alarming. And while it is true that India is better equipped today than it was last year, the PM’s report card does not fully align with the lived experience­s of citizens. For many, who are today desperatel­y looking for beds, oxygen, medicines, better is not good enough. The State is almost absent at a time when citizens need it the most, and they are left to their own devices, and the help that others, including social networks, can provide — but the State’s role, unfortunat­ely, can’t be crowd-sourced.

The PM stressed on the role of states and society in managing the pandemic, especially its current wave. Empowering states is good, but this must be done with adequate resources and a consultati­ve spirit; the pandemic’s bruising second wave has seen too much politickin­g and finger-pointing between the Centre and states. Asking citizens to be responsibl­e is crucial, but this carries far more credibilit­y when the political leadership itself is responsibl­e and does not engage in reckless political rallies and enables large and potentiall­y dangerous religious congregati­ons. Finally, in this, the hour of their greatest need for some, people needed the PM to offer them assistance — and succour. The speech stopped short of that.

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