Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi is from the people and both he and the rest of his family are proud of the fact. Although her son holds the most powerful job in India and has done so for six years, Modi’s aged mother comes across in the few media snapshots of her as being entirely natural and unaffected. This is in contrast to members of the families of several of our VVIPs, who affect a superior countenance and behave with zero grace and courtesy simply because a close relative temporarily occupies a high position. Memories return of the family of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Even while her husband was in command of the machinery of government (regrettably for too short a time), Lalita Shastri changed not a whit from the open-hearted and utterly unpretentious individual that she had always been, as indeed remained Shastri. PM Shastri was of the people and for the people in every way. It is exactly such a folksy touch that was visible in the short but succinct speech of the leader who has steered his party to majorities in the Lok Sabha for two elections in a row. Prime Minister Modi looked directly at all of us and appealed to our better natures. He spoke to the patriotism and pride of the motherland that is present in citizens of the Republic that is at once just seven decades and also seven millennia old. Given the immense change that came about on 8 November 2016, when the Prime Minister announced that 86% of the country’s currency would become waste paper within four hours, there were those who looked to the 19 March address to the nation by the Prime Minister with some trepidation. Would a complete lockdown of the country be announced and enforced? Would there be a transfer of resources from the citizen to the state in addition to what was already being collected by way of taxes and imposts? However, such anxious individuals were in a minority. The majority of citizens looked with eager anticipation to the speech, and it may be said that all citizens of India were rewarded by a flow of words and ideas that encapsulated what needed to get done in order to ensure that India escape the worst ravages of Covid-19. Rather than follow the colonial bureaucratic logic of assuming that the citizenry are but sheep needing to be herded in one direction or the other by use of the stick, the Prime Minister relied not on law or officialdom to fulfil his wish list but on the goodwill and common sense of the people who have voted him into the position he holds in two consecutive elections.
Wisely, the Prime Minister exempted those with essential work from the suggestion that the population stay indoors possibly for some weeks, so as to ensure that Stage III, the dreaded phase when community spread of the novel coronavirus does not take place. Thus far, although sharing a land border of several thousand kilometres with China, the country first and most affected by the novel coronavirus, India has been relatively lightly affected. The community samples taken by the Indian Council of Medical Research indicate that community spread has thus far not occurred in India, a country that was among the first to seal itself off from China when the intensity of the pandemic became apparent nearly two months ago. Thereafter, this country sealed itself off from the rest of the world, a step that has had the effect of reducing the risks of large-scale contagion imported from abroad by visitors. This has had the effect of severely affecting the travel and hospitality sectors, and hopefully Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will ensure that such a blow does not become a knockout blow for the industry. The task force being set up will hopefully consist on the talents necessary to ensure that innovative and effective solutions get conceptualised to be carried out, and will not once again be the same tired roster of retired and serving officials who seem to dominate the processes of government despite Prime Minister Modi’s desire for comprehensive change. Prime Minister Modi expects the task force to come up with solutions that are truly helpful in ensuring a soft landing to an economy already buffeted by headwinds, and Finance Minister Sitharaman has her work cut out for her in the days (and hopefully not weeks) ahead. Whether it be the UK or the US, China or Japan, bold steps are being taken to ensure that the economic damage caused by the pandemic is contained along with the disease. It is expected that the Government of India will do likewise, as will the state governments whose responsibility it is to safeguard community health. The many measures urged on the people in the gentle tones of a teacher guiding his wards need to be carried out with full vigour. The time has come to follow the advice given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ensure that the novel coronavirus beat a retreat from our shores rather than devastate tens of millions of lives. The time has come for citizens to step forward and for the entire country to accept that we are in a state of war, and must unitedly combat the terrible virus. In such unity of purpose and action lies the path to salvation from the fury unleashed by the novel coronavirus.