Prime Minister’s call for collective action – editorials
Following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on Thursday. He noted the seriousness of the challenge facing the world and India. He spoke about how meeting this challenge would require determination and resolution, moderation and discipline. He reached out to vulnerable segments. And he called for the curfew of the people on Sunday, as a symbol of India’s determination and a test of future readiness.
The Prime Minister’s speech was correct in his tone and messages. He was right in pointing out that the world is facing an unprecedented situation. He was also correct in attributing responsibility to citizens. This is a disease that requires the highest degree of individual and social responsibility. The Indian state does not have the capacity to enforce a stay-at-home or work-from-home policy for all citizens, it has to be voluntary, nor does it have the health infrastructure to deal with it if cases are substantially extended. And the Prime Minister, by investing his personal and political capital, was telling citizens that they needed to change their daily lives, for themselves, for their loved ones, for a secure future and for the nation. Sunday’s curfew is possibly a test, as if India enters the community broadcast stage, there may be periods when citizens have to do this longer. The prime minister was sincere in acknowledging economic distress in all sectors, and sensitive in asking employers to pay workers, even if they did not come to work.
However, the only element that the prime minister should have addressed more substantively in the speech was the responsibility of the state, which is just as critical, if not more, than that of citizens. To be fair, the government has been proactive, especially regarding travel measures. But the Prime Minister would have done well to list all the measures that have been taken; outline strategies for further testing and why the government has been somewhat conservative in this regard; explain how the health system will be increased to face additional challenges; how the different layers of government (the Center, the states and local governments) would be better coordinated; and specific economic measures, possibly including stimulus and direct cash delivery, which are increasingly urgent. The Prime Minister must continue to communicate with citizens and transparently address some of these concerns. It will help reassure citizens, in a time of great uncertainty and anguish.