PM’s New Speech Marks May 3 - But Leaves Much Unsaid

The Prime Minister has the most powerful pulpit in India especially during the world's largest lockdown.

In a long, rather self-congratulatory speech, Narendra Modi announced that the lockdown stands extended till May 3 though he said a review on April 20 could lead to some give in areas that are established by then as over the crisis.

Modi gave a shoutout to his Aarogya Setu app in his FaceTime with the country; he also changed his profile photo on his massively-followed Twitter account to a picture of himself with his face covered with a mask.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today extended the current lockdown till May 3 to control the spread of coronavirus

However, what is significant are the things Modi did not say. He did not offer a word of reassurance to the Muslims facing the brunt of scaremongering after the reckless behaviour of the Tablighi Jamaat which went ahead with their event at a Delhi mosque despite a ban on gatherings. Sundry television channels which are used as force multipliers by political parties went berserk running hashtags of "Corona Jihad". Modi did not ask them to cease communalising the pandemic.

The government is faced with a hugely difficult challenge between lives and livelihood. After the four-hour notice for the lockdown, migrants and daily wagers hit the roads as survival became impossible in big cities. Modi did not make any announcement of how the government plans to tackle this huge humanitarian crisis. In fact, Modi said that the specific details of lockdown guidelines will be issued tomorrow - it's not clear why these couldn't be part of the big reveal today.

The lockdown has precipitated the worst economic crisis in India's history. Experts say it is even worse than the 2008 crash as the economic was doing badly even before the pandemic hit.

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Migrant workers and daily wagers are the worst affected by the lockdown

It is imperative that the Modi government announce an economic package for all sectors of the economy and ensure some economic activity is resumed. Modi did not address the issue at all.

I spoke to two cabinet ministers before I wrote this column - both are of the view that restarting economic activities is the Number One task of the Modi government. Both cited the fact that the Rabi crop needs to be harvested and the Kharif crop planted. They both stressed that the government needs to urgently restore the supply chain. "It is easy to switch off the engine with an emergency brake but getting the same train running again at top speed is a big task and we have to ensure that," said one of them.

Ideally, Modi should form an all-party task force inviting former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and economists like Dr Raghuram Rajan who had indicated in an NDTV interview that he would like to help India in this crisis. But from what we know of Modi, this seems an impossible ask.

The crucial issue of test kits of which India is facing a shortage and protective equipment for frontline care professionals was also not addressed by Modi. Both the ministers I spoke to said this was also a overwhelming problem which needs a fast cure.

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There have been 339 coronavirus deaths in India, according to the latest data from the Union Health Ministry.

Modi is extremely fond of deploying the syntax that is now a hallmark of his speeches. Today's address had seven tasks ("a sapta mantra") for all of us including taking care of the elderly, not breaking the quarantine "Lakshman Rekha", and asking companies not to let go of people.

Modi has perfected the model of setting India tasks and making every Indian feel that she is part of the effort (thali-banging to support medics, lighting a diya). That is the good part - it creates a sense of community and solidarity; the trouble is that it leaves vague what the government will do and without a clear outline, panic can set in.

Modi, even in his second term and during a pandemic, is still to address an open press conference, preferring the one-way communication of addressing India. Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Health Minister who is an ENT specialist, is also hardly visible which is creating a huge communication crisis. The government has to address this as dodging the media has become a job in itself.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.