New Delhi: PM Narendra Modi’s speech on Covid-19 Tuesday, 20 April, was different from his earlier addresses to the nation on the subject in multiple ways. Primarily, there were no comparisons of India’s performance with that of other countries, and there was a deeper focus on the role played by the private sector in the ongoing crisis.
At 19 minutes, the address was among the shorter ones. The longest of Modi’s Covid addresses, on 12 May, lasted 31 minutes and 40 seconds. That was the day PM Modi announced the special Rs 20 lakh crore Atmanirbhar Bharat economic package to boost self-reliance on India’s road to recovery from the Covid pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic last year, PM Modi has addressed the nation over half-a-dozen times.
It started with an address on 19 March 2020, around 29 minutes in duration, where he announced the day-long “Janta Curfew” on 22 March, a Sunday. The next, on 24 March, brought the announcement of the nationwide lockdown, which was to kick in within four hours. It was 28 minutes and 45 seconds long.
There were others on 14 April 2020 (23 minutes 18 seconds), 12 May, 30 June (around 16 minutes), 20 October (12 minutes), and 20 April 2021.
In an 11-minute address on 3 April 2020, PM Modi asked the nation to switch off their lights and fight the despair of Covid-19 with the illumination of diyas, candles and mobile phone flashlights.
The latest address comes as India battles a devastating second wave of Covid-19, which has seen the daily case tally surpass the 2-lakh mark for nearly a week, recording a high of 2.9 lakh Wednesday. There were 2,023 fatalities in the same 24-hour period, taking India’s total Covid deaths to 1,82,553.
Also Read: Top officials earn Modi flak — ‘should have been better prepared’ to handle 2nd Covid wave
No comparison this time
In many of his previous addresses, Modi offered global examples to emphasise how India was doing better with respect to Covid-19.
On 14 April 2020, for example, he said, “…It is also true that if we look at corona-related figures in the world’s big, powerful countries, India today is in a very well-managed position. A month, month-and-a-half ago, several countries had been at par with India in terms of corona infection. But today, corona cases in those countries are 25 to 30 times than that of India. Thousands of people have tragically died in those countries.”
On 30 June, he made a similar point even as he spoke about negligence in public and social behaviour during Unlock 1, the first phase of easing the Covid lockdown, which began 1 June.
Again, on 20 October, PM Modi stressed how India had fared much better compared to the rest of the world. “Today, the recovery rate in the country has improved a lot and the fatality rate is low. In India, about 5,500 people per 10 lakh population have contracted coronavirus, while in countries like America and Brazil, this figure is close to 25,000. In India, the death rate is 83 per 10 lakh people, while in many countries like America, Brazil, Spain and Britain, this figure is more than 600,” he said.
On 20 April this year, PM Modi skipped any detailed comparisons, and only chose to note that India is producing the “world’s cheapest vaccine”. PM Modi went on to state: “It is a team effort that enabled our India to launch the world’s largest vaccination campaign with two Made-in-India vaccines.”
He was referring to Covishield and Covaxin, the two vaccines currently being administered in India. The former was developed by Oxford University researchers in collaboration with the Anglo-Swedish pharma firm AstraZeneca, and is being manufactured in the country by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. Covaxin is an indigenous product developed by the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.
Also Read: PM Modi’s speech was short – on answers that Indians demand of him during second Covid wave
Cheers for private sector
The role played by the private sector in the battle against Covid-19 got a passing mention in many of Modi’s earlier coronavirus speeches.
In his 24 March speech, for example, he said, “I am pleased that the private sector is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow citizens… Private labs and hospitals are coming forward to work with the government.”
On Tuesday, however, he lauded the private sector for its spirit of “innovation” and “enterprise”, with a special mention for India’s pharma sector, which has earned the country the image of being pharmacy to the world.
“Today, the cheapest vaccine in the world is in India… In this endeavour, our private sector has demonstrated the spirit of innovation and enterprise,” Modi said.
As Covid-19 cases increased, the country’s pharma sector stepped up the production of medicines, he added.
“Today, many times more medicines are being produced in the country than in January-February… To increase production, the help of pharmaceutical companies is being sought in every way. We are fortunate that our country has such a strong pharma sector, which makes very good and fast medicines,” he said.
Another factor of difference was the absence of any reference to the welfare measures taken by the government to help vulnerable sections tide over the Covid-19 pandemic. Initiatives such as the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, which promised free foodgrains to 80 crore poor people (for three months initially but extended subsequently), as also the government’s efforts to ramp up the country’s health infrastructure, have formed a thrust area for some of Modi’s addresses on the subject.
As he said on 14 April 2020, “We are making rapid progress in ramping up health infrastructure. From having only one testing lab for coronavirus in January, we now have more than 220 functional testing labs. Global experience shows 1,500-1,600 beds are required for every 10,000 patients. In India, we have arranged over 1 lakh beds. Not only this, there are more than 600 hospitals that are dedicated for Covid treatment. As we speak, these facilities are being increased even more rapidly.”
The theme was also evident in Modi’s 30 June speech.
He said “there is another big thing that has surprised the whole world”, and then cited the free rations scheme.
On Tuesday, he just touched upon advances made by India in tackling Covid-19, without going into numbers, describing how the country has bolstered its capacity to test, as well as its knowledge about the disease, in a short time. “Today our doctors have gained expertise in treating Covid-19, they are saving more and more lives. Today we have a large amount of PPE kits, a large network of labs and we are continuously increasing our testing capacity,” he said.
The role of states
The speech on 20 April had a greater focus on the Modi administration’s expectations from state governments, with the PM saying they need to play a pivotal role in not only containing the disease, but also looking after the migrant workers and rolling out vaccines.
“With the efforts of the states and the central government, workers will also get vaccines faster. My request to the state administration is to keep the trust of the workers alive, urge them to stay where they are,” he said, adding that states should help workers believe they will be vaccinated in cities and their work will not stop.
In some of the previous speeches, like the ones on 14 April and 30 June, the role played by state governments in the Covid crisis was lauded, but it was kept brief.
On 14 April, Modi said, “The state governments of the country have… acted with great responsibility in this, managing the situation round the clock. But friends, the way the corona pandemic is spreading amidst all these efforts has made health experts and governments around the world even more alert. I have been in continuous touch with the states on how the fight against corona should progress in India. Everyone has suggested that the lockdown should be continued. Many states have, in fact, already decided and declared to continue the lockdown.”
“Friends, the nation’s top priority during the lockdown was to ensure that no one remains hungry. Central government, state governments, civil society, all did their best… to ensure that no one goes to bed hungry,” he said on 30 June.
One standout point in the speech was Modi’s message that lockdowns be imposed only as the last resort. This came after some states/UTs — including Maharashtra and Delhi — imposed varied degrees of lockdowns over the past month to check Covid-19 cases.
“In today’s situation, we have to save the country from lockdown. I would also request the states to use lockdown as the last option,” he said.
Just as he did on 12 May, Modi started his address Tuesday by offering condolences to all those who lost their lives in the pandemic. However, this time, he added that we must not lose “patience”.
The significance of festivals
One of Modi’s speeches, the one in October last year, came on the cusp of the festival season, and it was something he factored in as he addressed the nation.
“Stay healthy, move ahead at a fast pace and we all together should take the country forward. With these best wishes, I once again greet all the countrymen on the occasion of all the festivals including Navratri, Dussehra, Eid, Deepawali, Chhath Puja and Gurunanak Jayanti,” he said.
On Tuesday, however, he delved deeper into the significance of the two festivals under way: Navratri (13 April to 21 April) and Ramzan (13 April to 12 May).
“Today is the last day of Navratri. Tomorrow is Ram Navami and Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram’s message to all of us is that we should follow the norms. In this crisis of corona, please follow all the measures to avoid getting infected. Never forget the mantra of medicine as well as rigour,” he said.
“This mantra is necessary, it is also necessary after a vaccine. Today is also the seventh day of the holy month of Ramzan. Ramzan teaches us patience, self-control and discipline,” he added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
Also Read: How govt’s sunny Covid posturing, with some number jugglery, set stage for second wave