Since March 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has delivered three televised addresses to the country, circulated one video message and held two of his radio lectures. Then, on the eve of completing one year of his second term as Prime Minister, he (and his advisers) penned a letter to the country’s people. It has been, unsurprisingly, reported luxuriously across all media.
The letter itself exhibits staleness, a monotonous repetition of achievements under Modi’s leadership since 2014, when he first became Prime Minister, his predictable ticking of all the boxes, from surgical strikes and Article 370 to various schemes and programmes for the poor and needy, and also for the exhortative tone he adopts towards the people. Like this: “We have to remember that no calamity, no crisis can determine the present or future of 130 crore Indians. We will decide our present and, the future too”.
Needless to say, Modi doesn’t miss any opportunity to mention that he himself is at the helm, and on the job. Thus: “I am making all efforts day and night. I may have some deficiency, but the country does not have any. That is why I place more confidence in you, in your strength and in your capacity. You, your support and your blessings are the energy behind my resolve”.
Such statements from the leader of one of the biggest countries in the world (and also one of the fastest growing ones, till last year) would indicate a winning humility, hallmark of a great statesman. But since he keeps saying such things ever so often, people are getting a tad tired and skeptical of that too. Anyway, who knows? Maybe he is working day and night, and maybe he does derive energy from the support he sees?
Pandemic? What Pandemic?
But, the striking thing about this letter, seen in the context of Modi’s recent addresses to the country, is that it has nothing to offer to the suffering people except tears and hand-wringing.
The Prime Minister mentions the COVID-19 pandemic precisely thrice -- once to say that it has made him write the letter rather than being in the midst of people; second, to rue that the country was moving to “fulfill its aspirations” (whatever that means) but the “corona pandemic surrounded India too”; and the third time, its exhortative – “The global pandemic has brought about a crisis situation, but at the same time, for us Indians, this is also the time for determination”.
Do you detect a sign of commiseration or support? Do you find any recounting of efforts, or even a promise of help in fighting the pandemic? Do you see any educative or informative elements in these? None at all. It is just a ticking of boxes in the most cursory fashion.
Bascially, Modi has moved on from the pandemic. This is clear because first he shifted the burden on to the people (see his earlier three televised speeches), then he bounced back the responsibility onto the state governments, and official spokespersons started talking about having to get used to living with the virus. Now, in this letter, the pandemic is already a historical event, a thing passing by.
As leader of the second most populous country, Modi should have been worried, deeply worried. The number of cases is galloping and was 1.73 lakh on Saturday morning, with 4,000 deaths. Many major cities are fast hurtling towards the brink, like Mumbai, and maybe Delhi, too. Lakhs of migrants have suffered unspeakable torture to get back home in lockdown conditions. Over 700 people have died due to the lockdown – from bus accidents to getting mowed down by a train, to sheer starvation in some parts.
Economic Crisis? No Way!
Gross domestic product or GDP growth in the quarter preceding the virus outbreak was down to just 3.1%, and the projected GDP growth for 2019-20 is the lowest since the 2008 financial crisis. Joblessness is raging at 24% and 12 crore people are estimated to have lost their jobs.
The Prime Minister and his advisers have forced the country into a path that will end in a tragedy: of trying to use private sector and market forces to get the country out of the deep recession it is going to enter. They are pushing cheap loans to corporates, giving tax breaks, handing over public resources, deregulating agricultural produce trade – all in the naïve hope of boosting the economy. That is failing spectacularly all through, yet they persist with it.
But Modi is unfazed by this unfolding catastrophe, which is largely of his own making. He is so involved in peddling clichés about India being looked up to by the world, and the determination and resolve vanquishing every calamity, and his own leadership – that he doesn’t realise how far he has drifted away from the people. He is now isolated in his own labyrinth of ideology and power. Small wonder that his every major decision, from demonetisation to GST to sudden lockdown, has shown the fumbling and groping that happens when you are uncaring of the reality.
It must also be noted that in his letter, or in his speeches, Modi never mentions unemployment, never mentions that he cut corporate taxes to favour the rich, or that he invited predatory foreign companies to loot India’s natural resources, or that he has asked for destruction of laws that protect labour from exploitation, or that he is selling off the country’s precious industrial resources – the public sector – to private hands. These are issues that won’t please the people. So, he gives these a complete miss. The other things, he presents with a sleight of hand – like taking away autonomy and converting Jammu & Kashmir into a prison is “national unity”, discrimination against Muslims for citizenship is “compassion” for other religionists, and so on.
But, little does Modi realise that he will be judged henceforth for the shambolic strategy of countering the pandemic, and for the colossal mess that he turned the economy into. However, Modi, the Great Statesman, is now too far away from the people.