Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers an address on the occasion of Buddha Purnima Thursday | Photo: ANI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo: ANI
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On the issue of Covid-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has delivered a televised ‘address to the nation’ on five occasions.

On 19 March, he ‘addressed the nation’ to announce a day-long ‘Janta Curfew’ as a drill for the upcoming lockdown.

On 24 March, he appeared again on TV to announce Lockdown 1 with four hours’ notice.

On 3 April, he re-appeared to ask people to light lamps and candles for nine minutes.

On 14 April, on the day Lockdown 1 was supposed to end, Modi did another TV address to announce its extension by 19 days in what would be Lockdown 2.

However, Lockdowns 3 and 4, as well as ‘Unlock 1’, did not see a televised address by Modi. Between Lockdowns 3 and 4, Modi appeared on TV to announce an economic package that he claimed was worth Rs 20 lakh crore.

This timeline tells you how the prime minister began dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic like a general leading a war, but who has since moved on. As Covid cases and death figures rose, as the economic pain of the lockdown became unbearable and the government’s handling of the migrant labour crisis more and more indefensible, the Modi government has sought to shift the narrative away from Covid.

At some point, the headlines changed from ‘Modi extends lockdown’ to ‘NDMA extends lockdown’. As the situation worsened, states were given a great deal of freedom in deciding their own lockdown policies. So now we can discuss which states are doing well and which ones are doing badly. The judgement is no longer on Modi.

In other words, PM Modi shifted to carefully protecting his image from the Covid lockdown just as the national consensus on the lockdown began to turn negative. Surveys and experts may not agree, but the government’s own response tells you it anticipates a political cost in being seen as steering the Covid and lockdown policies and is clearly spooked by the labour crisis.

Covid-19 in India is clearly out of hand, with deliberate under-testing and data fudging making the numbers look manageable. What the ‘official data’ can’t hide is that Mumbai has been running out of hospital beds and Delhi of cremation facilities and burial grounds. And we ain’t seen nothing yet.


Also read: Modi got all the credit for lockdown. Now, he wants states to share risk of unlocking India


The return of Shah

The prime minister has even stopped his video consultations with chief ministers. Instead, Home Minister Amit Shah uneventfully discussed the situation with chief ministers on phone.

Speaking of the Home Minister, his long silence before cameras and the eventual breaking of the silence is a mystery wrapped in enigma.

He spoke before Parliament on the issue of Delhi riots in March, and then Covid-induced lockdown took over. That’s when Amit Shah went so silent that rumours took root of serious health issues. These rumours became so strong that he was forced to deny them — only in writing, on Twitter.

After two months of the public not getting to hear the Home Minister’s voice, he is back with a bang, giving long interviews to news channels on the Modi government’s completion of one year in power in the second term.

If it wasn’t health issues, what accounts for the long silence of over two months? Perhaps the answer again was in image management. The division of labour between Modi and Shah seems to be such that Modi speaks mainly on matters of governance, positioning himself as global statesman and the nation’s patriarch. Amit Shah is the face of Hindutva and party politics.

If this assessment is correct, then Shah’s return to TV screens signals a return to business as usual, the pandemic becoming a side story. His apparent good health should confirm that his long silence was political. Now, Amit Shah answers the uncomfortable questions such as those on jobless workers, and Modi goes back to the never-ending promises of high economic growth and Achhe Din (the good days).


Also read: Hindutva pill for post-Covid India: Why Modi-Shah will return to what they know best


Stretching public memory

It is for this reason — distracting public attention away from Covid and lockdown — that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has gone big on celebrating the sixth anniversary in power despite the public facing a pandemic and millions of labourers suffering crushing unemployment, poverty and the hardship of returning home.

Even the smallest of the Modi government’s achievements over the last six years, such as an amendment to a chit fund law, are being recounted. A BJP promotional video even counts not joining the ASEAN-led trade body Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an achievement. This must be the first time that not doing something is counted as an achievement.

This suggests a desperation on the BJP’s part to make its voters remember all the high points of the Modi government over the last year, so that they don’t judge it by its poor handling of the labour crisis alone.

There’s an unmistakable defensiveness, which was also palpable in Prime Minister Modi’s latest Mann ki Baat, his monthly radio show in which he positions himself as the patriarch of the nation. In the latest episode, he spoke very little of Covid and lockdown, expressing empathy with the plight of labourers but pretending it wasn’t a poorly planned lockdown and that Covid alone was responsible for their suffering.

Instead, Modi spoke at length about his government’s health insurance scheme, claiming its beneficiaries had crossed the one-crore mark. As rising Covid numbers will put a spotlight on the poor public health infrastructure, Modi’s supporters will be able to talk about Ayushman Bharat Yojana to put the blame on state governments and 60 years of non-BJP governments.

The Modi government finds it much easier to play on a turf it has already excelled in: politics, elections, nationalism, and showing economic dreams that keep becoming ever so distant. That is why we don’t hear Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan speak much and the health ministry went without a briefing for eight days. The message from the government is that Covid and lockdown are not on top of its agenda anymore.

As Modi stopped addressing the nation over every lockdown, the ministers started speaking and giving interviews. This helped ministers take flak and protect Modi’s image.


Also read: The surveys can’t be true: Modi’s popularity has taken a beating with migrant crisis


Repeat after me

The health ministry switched off its briefings at the same time as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement of a second economic package over five long press conferences.

The greatest trick in the Modi government’s publicity playbook is repetition. Just like a product ad plays again and again on TV until you have memorised it, the Modi government repeats its slogans and talking points until they have been drilled into your head. It does this not only with campaigns (such as anniversary celebrations) but also with its policies and decisions it makes.

Any policy decision by the government goes through a one-month publicity plan. First, the big announcement. Then, detailed press conferences and interviews by ministers. Third, the cabinet approval. And lastly, notification. These steps are comfortably spread out to allow each step to have its own publicity plan, each step presented as a ‘bold’, ‘historic’, ‘game-changing’ ‘masterstroke’.

We saw this with the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ package too, allegedly worth Rs 20 lakh crore. Like a campaign, it has a name, and its rollout will repeat its content every week, presenting them as a new initiative every time. The actual economic stimulus or new spend by the government may only be a small fraction of Rs 20 lakh core, but the publicity is more than worth Rs 20 lakh crore.

It is therefore not surprising that the Modi government seems to have made up its mind to hold the upcoming assembly elections on time despite the pandemic. Elections is when the Modi government’s propaganda machinery is at its best, why would it want them postponed? But before that, there’s the International Yoga Day that must ensure we do not talk about labourers for much of June. To begin with, Modi wants you to participate in a video blogging contest showing your yoga poses.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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66 Comments Share Your Views

66 COMMENTS

  1. I question the assumption here that Modi was anything but “Modi Shining” sloganeering and relaunching old failed policies under new brand names and with technology leverage viciousness: Modi is all about Money Bath day dreams in catchy slogans as a cover for replacing Governance with Government and Government with Technology for the personal pomp, pelf, pleasure, perversions and perpetuation of Kleptocrats (Judiciary, Police, Bureaucrats, Politicians), his other cronies and the British made Constitutionally chosen, vote bank, caste, tribes, religions as well as gender, geography and languages :

  2. Very nicely put …the journo is all set to get into big league..provided he is not arrested for sedition charges 🙂

  3. That PM Modi has a singular focus on creating a smokescreen about his personality is without doubt. Bhakths lap up his spin and never question the ludicrous policies that have brought the nation to its knees on several fronts. Indeed, the Modi friendly media barely writes about the humiliating military débâcle now taking place in Ladakh. Or the plight of the millions of migrants left in the lurch by his callous regime. Or the fact that the government is now teetering on the verge of an economic crisis, most of which is Modi-made.

    For the middle-class bhakth, Modi is the much awaited “benevolent dictator” who will wipe China and Pakistan off the face of the earth, will magically get back money from overseas accounts and credit Rs 15 lacs into their accounts and pave the streets of many a “smart city” with gold. And whisk you from one to the other in Japanese bullet trains. And now that thanks to demonetisation, black money has been eliminated, the extra revenue will surely enable India to pay for slick toys like bullet trains, Rafale fighters, 2 new Boeing 757 aircraft to ferry the PM, not to forget the new Parliament buildings and a palatial Residence for the humble chaiwala.

    As, political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli ( 1469-1527) once said:

    “One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived”

  4. If the lockdown had not been announced, more people would have died by now than in the USA. Shri Vij would have then accused Shri Modi of being a mass murderer; having sold his soul to commerce and business. So Shri Vij, carry on with your diatribes. After all there are still people in India who love corrupt, dynastic parties. As long as they are around, you will have a readership. That clever bania, Shri Gupta has figured it out. Why else do you get to write your rant?

  5. Ha!! Ha!! What would have Congress/fake Gandhi’s/Sonia Maino, Christian Jihadi done?? They would have sold India to Vatican & Pakistan by now!!

  6. The BJP has been celebrating Modi’s 6 years in office. It’s a big day.
    India now has the highest unemployment rate in 45 years, the lowest GDP since 2000, the highest income inequality in 80 years, Asia’s worst performing currency, a 23% rise in poverty. Its the world’s third worst country in environment protection, is 102nd out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger index, (behind Pakistan,Bangladesh and Nepal) and is the proud possessor of 22 out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. Truly “a golden chapter” as the PM said last year.

    • Mr Aarogya Sen: You have posted an excellent summary of the achievements of the 56 inch chested Gujarathi graduate of Delhi University !

  7. The BJP has been celebrating Modi’s 6 years in office. It’s a big day.
    India now has the highest unemployment rate in 45 years, the lowest GDP since 2000, the highest income inequality in 80 years, Asia’s worst performing currency, a 23% rise in poverty. Its the world’s third worst country in environment protection, is 102nd out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger index, (behind Pakistan,Bangladesh and Nepal) and is the proud possessor of 22 out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. Truly “a golden chapter” as the PM said last year.

    • Mr Corona Khajoo: Excellent comment !

      To that list of “superlatives” you mention, one might also add that democracy on the whole is backsliding in India. In the “Democracy Index 2019” compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (ref: bit.ly/3cBdGuu), India is classified as a flawed democracy and is ranked at 51 out of the 167 countries surveyed. And as regards trends for 2020, the Economist Intelligence Unit warns that India is sliding down fast and furious. Of course, the fact that Pakistan is ranked at 108 might give some consolation to India.

      When one looks at Press Freedoms, India with it paid news and legions of Arnab Goswamis working hard to paint PM Modi and the BJP in rosy terms and the gagging of critical voices, India fares much worse. France based Reporters Without Borders in its World Press Freedoms Index ranks India (ref: rsf.org/en/ranking)at a worrying 142 out of the 180 countries surveyed. Once again, India is better than Pakistan which is ranked at 142.

      The BJP’s and PM Modi’s relentless drive to turn India into a Hindu Pakistan is in full progress and the 2 countries seem to converge and become mirror images of each other.

      Sad, but true.

      • RKA: Nonsense ! Although that is only to expected from an ardent, blinkered Modi bhakth and gomutra drinking gaurakshak like you.

        By now, even a cretin would have realised that we were staring at a massive Modi made economic disaster created long before the COVID struck India. And the virus and the gross mismanagement of the response only exacerbates the situation with people facing the spectre of hunger at an unprecedented scale. And further economic calamities lie in store.

        Admittedly, the Congress was no paragon of virtue. But when it comes to gross economic mismanagement, Modi and his BJP are the gold medallists in the country. Indeed, on every objective economic criterion, the Modi government has done much worse than the Manmohan Singh government. And then you have the dilution of democracy in the country, the violence against minorities, the gagging of the press, the subjugation of the Courts, the police and other arms of the Executive to the whims of the BJP, the many white elephant vanity projects of the PM such as the Patel statue, the bullet train to nowhere, 2 expensive, custom fitted Boeing 757 planes to ferry the chowkidar, the wasteful building projects in Delhi and so on.
        In any case, your argument seems to be that since the Congress has done a bad job, now Modi should be given carte blanche for doing an even worse job! Pathetic !

        • Kili Jolsiyar : You hardly know congress history of violence against Hindu majority, installing Mulla/Islamic Raj as a model of democracy!, the gagging of the press, the subjugation of the Courts, the police & other arms of the Executive!!

          Visit Rajiv Gandhi’s decision on the Muslim women left on the streets by the executive & the Mullas you call minority!! Visit their economic or the so called half baked secularism model which left India in ruin with millions of traitors to deal with!!

          In any case, it’s a folly to consider Mullas as minorities!! See Islamic states & Pakistan to know how Islam treats minorities, human rights or democracy!! When an ideology doesn’t understand minority or democracy, they have no rights to be called minority!! See Kashmir or Kerala or Islamic Pakistan/Bangladesh to know the evil practice of Islam & Muslims against minorities!!

          You clearly lack perspective on so called minority & what the congress or other so called secular SICK political parties did & do!! They are a trillion times worse than BJP!! So BJP is the choice by default which is natural for normal people; NOT communists, Jihadis & brown British Indian SICK-ULAR!!

  8. The BJP has been celebrating Modi’s 6 years in office. It’s a big day.
    India now has the highest unemployment rate in 45 years, the lowest GDP since 2000, the highest income inequality in 80 years, Asia’s worst performing currency, a 23% rise in poverty. Its the world’s third worst country in environment protection, is 102nd out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger index, (behind Pakistan,Bangladesh and Nepal) and is the proud possessor of 22 out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. Truly “a golden chapter” as the PM said last year.

  9. Crazy times Mr. Shekhar Gupta.
    You lead the way and we shall read the lopsided future through you…..
    Crazy times.Earth must evaporate sooner.

    • Mr Partho Sarothy Sengupta: Rather than look at crystal balls to peer into the future, why don’t you take stock of the abysmal state of affairs in India on every front ? Including the thrashing that your 56 inch chested hero is ensuring that India receives at the hands of the Chinese…

  10. “Shoe I am ” you STUPIDO . WELCOME to another Rafale moment with your rhetoric. This is what congrass supporters do they celebrate ISO criticising China .

  11. Modi sarkar has a long record of “naam bade aur darshan chhote.” If you look at all his schemes, they sound grand but they are never connected to any specific outcome. We are never given any milestones to judge whether the scheme is working as well as it should. So beti bachao beti padhao has done nothing to correct the sex ratio, ayushman bharat has failed to improve life-expectancy, swach bharat toilets has not made any part of the country cleaner and have proven ineffective in even providing sanitation (covid spread in Dharavi due to common toilets and Maharashtra had a BJP govt for the last 5 yrs) demonitisation has done nothing to reduce corruption or bring black money to Indian treasury, GST reform does not seem to be inspiring businessmen resulting in poor economic performance, ujjwala scheme has made no difference to India’s rural pollution figures. One must not be surprised if Atmanirbhar bharat will fail in stopping Chinese imports and increasing Indian exports.

    • Well said Mr/Ms NM !!

      You have compiled an excellent list of NaMo’s spectacular failures. But what makes these policy mistakes tremendously calamitous is that each policy mistake is worsened by another equally ill-thought policy mistake that builds upon and exacerbates the ill-effects of the previous one. The resulting dive to the bottom of the barrel leaves the poor poorer and Modi cronies richer.

      Take for instance the harebrained, idiotic idea called demonetisation which then was the followed by an equally imbecilic GST implementation. Demonetisation was built on the flawed economic logic that all illicit wealth is held in cash and that all unaccounted cash is illicit. And that like the villain in a Bollywood movie does, this cash travels from one crook to the other in black suitcases. Whilst it is true that some illicit wealth is held as cash, most is stored in property, consumed, spent and a lot of it finds its way to foreign shores. But India’s vast informal sector where 82% of Indians toil is unbanked, operates on cash & trust. This extremely important chunk of the economy consists of millions of small firms, the average size of which is 2 employees. And this sector of the economy was brought to its knees in one stroke, rendering many millions without jobs. At the same time, people close to the BJP and Modi cronies and financiers knew about the impending demonetisation and managed to spirit away their holdings. And what is worse, many brokers emerged who were willing to launder the illicit cash of the rich to clean, white notes ! Demonetisation was a great enabler of money laundering and capital flight !

      But then who cares for the wisdom of trained and renowned economists like Raghuram Rajan when the all-knowing Gujarati genius is around ?

      Demonetisation was followed by GST. GST ensured that when the green shoots of an economic revival began to appear in the informal sector, this too was nipped in the bud. GST demanded that the husband and wife team toiling outside my parents’ flat in Madras who made a living by ironing clothes had to invest in IT equipment to get GST compliant – leave alone the fact this elderly couple did not have a bank account to speak of.

      The twin policy moves of demonetisation and GST have done incalculable to India’s economy. And India’s response to the current COVID crisis shows that the government lacks the financial wherewithal and reserves to combat this pandemic. And that is before we even start talking of the Chinese incursions in Ladakh…

    • Ye!! And.. communist/Congress miss rule results & Jihadi results are for all to see!! There is a benchmark!! More Pakistan’s in India despite the congress having given Hindu lands to Muzzies, terrorist-an Na-Pakistan!!

  12. What the hell !!!
    Still not a comment accusing the writer for expressing his baseless , mindless opinion in a frustrated manner ?
    Hello Bhakt IT Cell ….. Come on guys. Give some entertainment.

  13. Hello, he always had only things like yoga, acronyms and nationalism etc. But he is famous for acronyms. We hope in the near future there will be a encyclopedia of acronyms to improve national communication skills of all political leaders.

    • I agree fully with you Mr Narottam !

      But sadly, the average middle-class Modi bhakth will not cease to worship his 56 inch chested God … For the middle-classes, Modi can do no wrong, is always right and is the benevolent dictator they have always dreamt of. The Gujarati answer to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew who will transfer India from rags to riches – after all they will soon be getting the Rs 15 lacs in their accounts.

      In the meantime, in addition to the COVID virus the Chinese have sent across, they also seem to have sent a large number of soldiers who have captured sizeable tracts of Indian territory in Ladakh. Let us see how Arnab Goswami and the rest of the BJP controlled media spin this humiliation.

  14. And you can not digest that.
    Covid challenge is so difficult that only totalitarian states like China, with draconian measures can control it.
    And who knows, how much it has controlled, no reliable data available.
    here in India, people like you, leaving no stone upturned to make Modi fail, with migrant crisis, yes, it was a manufactured crisis, and total non cooperation with center. Mumbai visuals, Tableegi Jamat and Chennai CAA protests are examples.
    Congress and liberals snapping at the heels of government all the time, with Mamta’s tantrum, left plenty scope for Corona to spread its wings.
    Who need China and Pakistan, when locals of your ilks are present here.

  15. This article will surely trigger some state-sponsored trolls and Modi’s pet Hyenas.
    Aggressively snapping at the author while they froth at their mouths.

    • They are already swung into action Mr Swapnil Gautam. Including the Ayothollah Javed Khan Bukhari creature somewhere below !

  16. Shri Shivam Vij seems to have a problem with the PM taking various steps (on Covid/Labour crisis handling) to protect his image. But why shouldn’t he do that? Isn’t every person entitled to protect his/her image?

    Now, attention of readers is invited to the contradictory views of Shri Shivam Vij on the economy & lockdown. On 25.03.2020, he wrote “Modi’s poorly planned lockdown won’t save us from coronavirus, but will kill economy” and on 01.04.2020 he wrote “The necessary, but horrendously implemented 21-day nationwide lockdown … was necessary and it will no doubt slow the rate of infection, thus “flattening the curve”.

    Both views in a gap of seven days are totally contradictory.

    When you read this kind of stuff, you feel scared at the thought of the kind of people who are now in the media, that too as “Contributing Editor” , (whatever that is supposed to mean).

    Disclaimer – not loyal to any party.

    • Ramesh: The Print & the leftist/communist/brown British Indian Media don’t need excuses to criticize Modi & BJP!! They are on auto control from Islamic Pakistan, Communist China & the white British!!

  17. If the author can criticize the PM, it’s only fair that readers also express the personal views.
    Mr Vij, you are a fool & a moron. Your intellect is on par with Rahul Gandhi.

    • Ayothollah Javed Khan Bukhari: Now that we have read the fatwa of a man who does his best to prove that he himself is a fool and a moron, we need not discuss his intellectual capacity.

      But a question Ayothollah : When the BJP IT Cell sends you a paycheck, would it be stating that it should be credited to Javed Khan Bukhari ?

      • Kili Jolsiyar: Moron! You have attributed IT Cell check to everyone supporting BJP!! Good!! Will you have the honesty to now disclose the IT Cell that pays you checks??!!

    • Fully agree with you Mr Ramana Murthy !

      But the problem is that the audience has been hypnotised and will clap regardless of his performance. After all, even when the Third Reich lay in ruins, people were willing to send their kids to fight for Adolf Hitler…

  18. Fine Letter from the Editor, Aroon Purie, on the plight of the migrant workers. “ In my 45 years of journalism, I have not seen such mass misery. “ “ Allah, Rehem “, is what Marya Shakil had tweeted, after watching that video clip from Muzaffarpur railway station.

  19. More evidence that the Modi/BJP do not know how to run a country. They only know how to win elections and spin. They are constantly telling you that it is not raining when you are drenched! This is the worst government in the history of the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • RKA: Clearly, you are so intellectually impotent that you are incapable of producing an argument and instead resort to the only thing you are capable of – cheap abuse. So why don’t you scoot back to you shakha and play with your bamboo lathi ? At least that lathi would probably be straight and erect …

  20. Corona virus is a real secular creature as it infects all without any bias. Librandus are trying to befriend Corona virus but they have not succeeded yet.

    • No corona Virus is your father, not the real one, he is to respectful. I am talking about your najayaz father bhakt

  21. Shivam Vij,we all know that your pay check comes from Congress party and delighted that being in opposition to whatBJP this article not bad.

    • Exactly!! And.. the congress leading naxal/communists & the brown British, check comes from Break India forces of Vatican, Mecca Madina & communist China!!

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