New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat address Sunday skipped any specific mention of the exodus of thousands of migrants from cities amid the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, although he did apologise for taking the “difficult decision”.
“I apologise for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people. I know some of you would be angry with me also. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle,” Modi said in his monthly radio address. The address was his third outreach over the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed 25 lives in India, in the past fortnight.
While seeking forgiveness for the hardships caused by the lockdown, Modi also voiced a hint of disapproval for those violating it — seen as an oblique reference to the exodus of migrants.
“I understand that no one wants to break the rules deliberately, but there are some people who are doing so. To them, I will say that if they don’t follow this lockdown, it will be difficult to protect ourselves from the danger of coronavirus,” the PM said.
The first week of the nationwide lockdown, which kicked in Wednesday, unravelled a humanitarian crisis of sorts with hundreds of thousands of migrants living in cities including Delhi leaving for their hometowns amid the absence of employment opportunities and accommodation.
With bus and train services suspended, these migrants, an important cog in India’s service sector, have been forced to travel hundreds of kilometres on foot.
On Saturday, the Uttar Pradesh government said 1,000 buses will be deployed to ferry them home. Thousands of migrants subsequently gathered at inter-state bus terminals in Delhi, risking the transmission of infection.
The central government has asked states to ensure temporary shelters for migrants, but the assurances seem to have failed to address their worries.
Fight against coronavirus a ‘life and death battle’
Modi said the fight against coronavirus was a “life and death battle”, and tough decisions were necessary. “Disease must be dealt with at the very beginning and all of India is doing that,” he added.
The PM said he was pained to know that some people were not following quarantine measures. “World over, people are repenting for not following quarantine measures,” the PM said, urging people to be mindful.
The PM said he was extremely hurt when he came to know that some people were misbehaving with those who have been advised home quarantine. “We need to be sensitive and understanding. We have to maintain social distance, not emotional and human distance,” Modi added, urging people not to victimise those in quarantine.
He asked people to take inspiration from those on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus, especially nurses, doctors, and paramedics.
The episode also featured some recovered Covid-19 patients and doctors who shared their experiences with the nation.
One recovered patient, Ramagampa Teja from Hyderabad, told Modi that he was initially very frightened when he tested positive. But, he said, the doctors and nursing staff who treated him sought to reassure him of his recovery and gave him confidence.
He told the PM through a video call that he was following preventive measures, including washing hands regularly, even after his discharge.
Dr Nitish Gupta told the PM that many hospitalised people were scared on account of the massive Covid-19 fatalities in other countries and needed counselling, which doctors were offering.
Modi said doctors’ sacrifices reminded him of an ancient Hindu sage who said one who serves patients without financial motive is a real doctor. “These are our front-line soldiers — especially our brothers and sisters on duty as nurses, doctors and paramedical staff,” Modi said.
The PM also sought to salute nurses and said they were all working with incomparable dedication, pointing out that the WHO had designated 2020 as the international year of the nurse and the midwife (in recognition of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birth anniversary).
Modi also expressed his gratitude to “daily-life heroes” such as sanitation and utility workers and said they were ensuring our daily lives continued smoothly.
The PM also praised bank employees, grocers, e-commerce delivery personnel, and IT personnel who were “making India work during the lockdown”