In his third national address during the coronavirus crisis, PM Narendra Modi requested Indians to light candles, lamps or mobile torches at 9 pm Sunday for nine minutes. This, Modi said, would be a show of solidarity in the fight against Covid-19. It is the second such exercise requested by Modi after he urged people to bang pots, pans and clap on 22 March to support frontline workers.
ThePrint asks: Modi’s 9-min candle plan Sunday: Needless spectacle or much-needed motivation for Indians?
In the psychological fight against Covid-19, lamp lighting is a gesture of solidarity
Makarand R. Paranjape
Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study
There were two profound philosophical presuppositions to PM Narendra Modi’s exhortation to the nation this morning. One was based on his quotation from the first sarga of the Kishkindha Kanda of the Valmiki Ramayana:
उत्साहो बलवान् आर्य नास्ति उत्साहात् परम् बलम् ।
सः उत्साहस्य हि लोकेषु न किंचित् अपि दुर्लभम् ॥४-१-१२१॥
There is no greater strength, O noble one, than enthusiasm;
For one endowed with enthusiasm, nothing in this world is difficult.
The implication of these words by Lakshmana to his despondent elder brother, Rama, is unmistakable. The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is as much psychological as medical or logistical.
If we lose our nerve as a nation, then our mental despair will also spell our corporeal downfall.
The second postulate was that “Janata Janardana,” the personification of the composite populace, is a form of the Divine.
In times of crisis, if a direct साक्षात्कार or realisation of this force of the combined will of the people is manifest, it would add greatly to the spirit and confidence of the country.
To light a lamp in the dark night of the nation’s soul as a symbolic gesture of solidarity and resolve can thus be a deeply transforming and constructive act, especially during a curfew or lockdown.
(Views are personal)
The PM of a country is not a motivational guru, he should be held accountable for his policies
Professor, Delhi University
This latest absurdity tells us that politics of images needs a continuous supply of images. But the prime minister of a country is not a motivational guru, he should be held accountable for his policies.
People across India and across communities found the government absent from the task of taking care of the vulnerable masses and rose to the occasion by organising food and other essentials for them. They didn’t need inspiration from a government that has been busy dividing people and creating insecurities. A policy decision, which created such hardships for the poor workers, must not be allowed to be shadowed by such spectacles. The Modi government must be held accountable for each death that this abrupt and unplanned lockdown has caused, for its lack of preparedness and its messy response.
The government should use every minute finding protective gear for the doctors, ensuring testing as demanded by experts, giving adequate money to out-of-work labourers instead of indulging in demagoguery.
The nation should observe silence for those who were hit by vehicles while scrambling to be with their own or those who died due to sheer exhaustion and hunger. We need to keep questioning, and not turn into docile disciples of a guru. Only questioning would earn us the dignity of a citizen and save us from all kinds of pandemics.
Candle plan will help Modi overcome damage to his image by migrant workers’ exodus. It’s a political show
Contributing editor, ThePrint
After giving India a four-hour notice for the world’s harshest lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now giving people a 72-hour notice to light lamps or flash mobile phone lights to express national solidarity at a time of crisis.
This is the second national gimmick, the first one was to bang pots and pans before the lockdown. This comes after the horrendous experience of lakhs of migrant labourers who were forced to walk back home, in the absence of food or wages in the cities.
The images of the migrant workers resulted in a PR disaster for Narendra Modi, who has been busy using coronavirus crisis for his PR — such as unnecessarily setting up a fund called PM CARES when there was already a fund for people to contribute to.
At 9pm on 5 April, when people light a lamp, Narendra Modi will be demonstrating that he’s still the popular leader people have faith and trust in. After all, they are following his commands. This will help him overcome the damage to his image caused by the migrant labour fiasco. In short, this is a political show of strength.
What it won’t do, is that it won’t tell us why the export of protective gear for doctors were allowed till as recently as 19 March, or why the government did nothing all of January and February to prepare for what was coming, by scaling up the resources for testing, isolation centres, ventilators and other medical infrastructure.
Indians are anxious, the Sunday plan will boost morale. But PM Modi’s efforts have come late
Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
This is a much-needed morale boost of not just the front-liners, health workers and police but also the rest of India. Bringing people together by generating a sense of national purpose will ease anxiety and frustration amid the unprecedented lockdown. Sometimes, spectacles serve a purpose, but spectacle without deeply thought-out content looks farcical.
PM Modi should have used this video message to appeal to citizens and volunteers to be more sympathetic to stranded migrant workers. He should have also mentioned that a lot of people forgot the whole idea of ‘social distancing’ in the last noise demonstration on 22 March and took to the streets in crowds to bang pots and pans.
More than this, I believe the PM’s efforts with regard to the management of the crisis have fallen short. His video conference with chief ministers Thursday to take stock of the COVID-19 crisis should have happened on the first day of the nationwide lockdown. There should be more engagement with the state leaders in the coming days to chart out an exit strategy. The situation is dynamic, and thus a collective leadership must be put in place to not only improvise with the national strategy to deal with this pandemic, but also a vision for post-COVID India.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint