PM Narendra Modi at a rally in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on 22 December, 2019 | Photo: PTI
File photo | PM Narendra Modi at a rally in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan | Photo: PTI
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Last week, on 19 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Indians to participate in a day-long, voluntary ‘Janata curfew’ on Sunday, 22 March. During that broadcast, he said, “I want your coming few weeks from you…in the near future.” Those who wondered what he meant got their answer Tuesday night. After his successful experiment with the citizens’ curfew, Modi announced a three-week lockdown for India starting today.

What is remarkable about this extraordinary measure is its magnitude. Never before in the history of humankind has a curfew been imposed on such a large number of people, over 1.3 billion, anywhere in the world. If we succeed, more or less, the hope is that we will have flattened the shooting spike of the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions will be saved from the infection, and many tens of thousands from what looks like certain death.

As the Prime Minister reminded us, social distancing is the only way we know to contain the spread of the virus, to break the chain of contagion: “Social distancing is necessary for each citizen, for each family, and for each member of the family”. He added that the “carelessness of a few, ill-conceived notions of a few, can put you, your children, your parents, your family, your friends, the entire country in grave jeopardy”.


Also read: I am no fan of Modi, but I support coronavirus lockdown. Opposition should too


In numbers

Citing the World Health Organization (WHO) and other sources, Modi gave Indians a quick sketch of just how infectious and communicable Covid-19 is:

“It took 67 days for the number of people infected with coronavirus to reach the first one lakh all over the world.

After this, it took only 11 days for another one lakh people to get infected.

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Think! It took 67 days for it to infect one lakh people at first, but only 11 days to reach a total of two lakh people.

Even more alarming that it took only four days for this disease to reach three lakh people from two lakh.”

The cases worldwide have reached closed to half a million and the deaths over 18,000.

Although the figures in India are nearly not so alarming, with over 550 cases and 11 deaths, these numbers could be deceptive. Not only because of underreporting and lack of testing, but also because they may lull us into a false sense of security. If the virus is allowed to sweep through the land unchecked, both infections and fatalities could multiply exponentially.

It is precisely this eventuality that PM Modi wished to avoid. Learning from the experience of the United States, it is obvious that pandemic management in the most powerful and advanced nation in the world has been woefully inadequate if not outright incompetent. From just a few hundreds as in India today, the virus has now infected over 50,000 people. Making the US possibly the new epicentre of the pandemic after China and Italy. How the virus jumped so easily across the Atlantic, which few other invaders in US history could do, serves to warn us that absolutely no one, regardless of country, class, race, or religion is safe.


Also read: Modi’s Covid-19 lockdown speech shows he doesn’t learn from past mistakes, or doesn’t care to


Crucial steps

That is why Modi, with folded hands, requested all of us to observe the curfew. Invoking the Ramayana, he asked Indians to draw a ‘Lakshman rekha’ around their homes: “You must remember that a single step outside your home can bring a dangerous pandemic like Corona inside.” The subtle messaging was that the virus, like Ravana, could cause grievous harm to those who stepped out and were caught out by it.

Modi even coined, citing social media inputs, a new definition of “Ko-Ro-Na: Koi Road pe Na Nikle (no one should step out on the roads).” He assured listeners that essential supplies, that included food and medicine, as well as important financial services including banks and ATMs, would not be hit. Soon after the speech, government guidelines were circulated on both how the curfew was to be maintained and those exempt from it.

Modi announced a Rs 15,000-crore fund to speed up testing as well as enhance the health infrastructure to tackle the pandemic. More relief measures are expected to be announced. He thanked and appreciated health and sanitary workers, police and security personnel, and all those who help to keep the country going. He also applauded business and industry leaders who had promised to help.


Also read: Coronavirus: Latest updates on cases in India, all you need to know about COVID-19


Unprecedented action

One of the highlights of Modi’s speech was his warning to people against panic, rumours, superstition, and self-medication: “But, friends, be careful that during such times, knowingly or unknowingly, several rumours are circulated. I appeal to you to beware of any kind of rumours or superstitions. … I request you not to take any medication without consulting doctors.”

In several parts of India, today is the start of the new year. Called by various names such as Yugadi, and Gudi Padva, this first day of the month of Chaitra also starts the auspicious of the nine-day festival, Navaratri, to pay homage to the Goddess. It ends with Ram Navami, celebrating the birthday of Sri Rama, a popular hero-deity.

For the first time in living memory, the whole country will have to mark this season with austerities rather than festivities. In curfew mode rather than solemn worship or boisterous food, fun, and frolic. But, as the Prime Minister said, “Jaan hai toh jahaan hai”—as long as you’re alive, so is the world.

That is why, as Modi reminded us, “This is the time for patience and discipline.” All Indians need to heed to the Prime Minister’s call. We must, in his words, “keep our resolve, we must keep our promise.” If we do, India may come out on top, showing to the world both exemplary leadership and orderly and resolute collective action on an unprecedented scale in the time of an unparalleled global crisis.

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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4 Comments Share Your Views

4 COMMENTS

  1. The article exudes exaggerated optimism. Modi declared 3 week lockdown for the entire country, as he had no option. Neither does he has power and authority to control affairs of the nation. Ironically, the authority is vested with states. Modi has deliberately not defined what a lockdown means in specific terms. This is for each state to interpret. The national is slowly learning that an absolute lockdown as perceived initially after listening to Modi’s speech is neither feasible nor desirable. It seems that each state will have its own version of the lockdown. No one will prefer to have a standstill economy which will cause pain and hunger to millions of underprivileged poor. Each state should strive to keep the wheels of the economy running and the same time show reasonable restraint and control in public movement .

  2. At this point in time, each and every message and measures are important. No use of asking questions, like, why it took almost a week or so to take necessary steps, ? why parliament was continue till the last minute ? and again this not a right time to pour petals on PM specially on his communication skills, his using imagery , symbols …yesterday it was Ramayan, today It is Mahabharat. All the time, aim is to capture mindset of the stupid followers, Instead he should have come straight. To the point. with clear road map ahead. And most importantly this is not a right time to use phrases like ‘surgical strike’ an all. You are very senior prof. a responsible citizen too, I think. So, please control your mind. Keep this military fascination for another day, Every where you cant’t behave like you are in a Sangh Shakha … Please be serious Mr Paranjape. Mr Modi doing his duty as a PM not delivering any sort of divine’ Aakashwani’

    • As a head of the state what Modi has stated has a deep effect on people. We as Indians have been brought up by studying Ramayana and Mahabharata. It was quite apt Mr. Modi used examples from these epics to drive home the message. Most of the people accepted and approved and followed it. There cannot be two voices when Modi speaks and whole country is with him. I think after many decades India got a Huge Icon in Modi. Naysayers shall be ashamed to say what he said was his duty now it is your turn Mr. Deshmukh to follow or perish.

  3. Few would question the wisdom and necessity of taking this drastic step. A seriousness of intent that Trump and Bolsonaro are not demonstrating, despite the very large number of cases in the US, even New York. In fact, this ought to have been done before the virus reached the stage of community spread. 2. The question that remains unanswered is what the government proposes to do to help the poorest of Indians, easily one half of the population. With years of agrarian distress, unemployment, falling household consumption, they need emergent relief.

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