If Twitter reactions are anything to go by, there’s going to be a lot of excitement around Narendra Modi’s #9pm9mins appeal.
At 9 am today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put out a video appeal to light lamps and candles on April 5 at 9 pm for nine minutes. The emphasis on the number nine — the date and the number of the month also add up to nine — got everyone from Shashi Tharoor to a Bollywood film producer wondering about the symbolism.
Safe to say, you can expect a lot of news debates in the coming days with a full panel of occultists and astrologers telling us why the number nine will save India from the dreaded novel coronavirus.
For inspiration, there’s always the world of Whatsapp University. Today, quite a lot of its students furiously postulated about why Modi had yet again delivered a masterstroke. Incidentally, Google has pledged $6.5 million to help fight Covid-19 misinformation.
In case you missed it, you can watch the full speech below.
In his speech, the prime minister claimed that India became a trendsetter when Indians collectively clapped and clanged pots and pans on March 22 to thank health workers, and that many nations were now following the trend. Minor quibble, but people in Italy and Spain had been doing so as early as March 14. In fact, a tweet by the New York Times tells us that people in Milan lit candles as they stood in their windows and balconies as a show of resilience against the coronavirus outbreak.
As Anu Malik would put it, we have a truly inspired government. The other thing to think about is what would happen when 130 crore Indians switch off lights in their homes, together? Moneycontrol quotes a senior executive from the power sector: "It's like suddenly putting a brake of a car in motion, or suddenly pushing the accelerator to the floor...it is difficult to predict how the car will exactly behave. It is the same predicament, but much more complicated, that we all are facing."
Predictably, the prime minister’s video appeal was received with much excitement by many in the television news industry. Notable among them is CNBC-TV18 stocks editor who felt super reassured.
Then there was the News Nation editor-in-chief, who was last seen lying on primetime news. For those of you who don’t know Hindi, Deepak Chaurasia is asking you to light a lamp in your heart to fight the darkness of corona.
Rahul Kanwal of India Today and Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN News18 asked critics to take a hike. So what if the prime minister is yet to take a press conference on India's strategy to tackle Covid-19 like heads of state of most other democracies.
ABP News anchor Rubika Liyaquat moved around in what seems like her office to the Bollywood song, “Ek Lau”, and promised to speak of the collective strength of lighting candles at 5 pm today.
On Aaj Tak, Anjana Om Kshyap read out a poem by Prasoon Joshi that loosely translates to becoming a lamp.
Meanwhile, in other news, Indian doctors and nurses continue to point to the shortage of personal protective equipment. The Hindu reports that AIIMS Resident Doctors’ Association has alleged that Rs 50 lakh meant for PPE has been redirected to the PM Cares fund. In a letter to the central government, the association has also expressed concern about the recent assault on a doctor treating a Covid-19 patient at the Gandhi Hospital, Hyderabad.
The letter needs to be read along with other developments. An AIIMS doctor and his nine-month pregnant wife have tested positive for coronavirus. Two nursing officers working at Delhi State Cancer Institute have tested positive as well.
Globally, too, the situation is pretty grim for healthcare workers. More than 60 doctors have died in Italy and the virus has infected more than 10,000 healthcare workers in Spain. In France, five doctors have died from the virus. In the US, New Jersey emergency room doctor Frank Gabrin died early this week after contracting the virus about a week earlier. A harrowing story in the NYT detailed the ordeal of two young medical professionals who worked long hours on the frontlines in Wuhan.
Clearly, the dangers that doctors and healthcare workers face are clear and present. Modi’s feel-good events cannot be the centrepiece of India’s strategy to keep them safe. So far, there’s little explanation by the Modi government by way of a press conference or briefing on what exactly India's roadmap is to fight the virus and keep our frontline workers safe.
This is exactly what a group of lawyers have asked for: “We also urge the Ministry of Health to share the roadmap proposed by the Government of India after the lockdown to combat Covid-19, and to publicise the State’s medical preparedness. We would also be obliged if a timely press release is issued which lets us know if and what lifestyle and professional changes are expected from us as citizens so we have time to put them in place. We also join other citizens in urging the government to announce a comprehensive recovery package for the most vulnerable which includes setting up of long-term shelter homes, distribution of rations, and declaration of a universal basic income to all citizens, urban and rural. These measures would give people confidence and energy to fight Covid-19.”
The total number of cases in India has reached 2,301 with 56 deaths. Twelve of the 56 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours. The health ministry has stated that 647 positive coronavirus cases in the last two days are linked to the Tablighi Jamaat. In Tamil Nadu, 100 of the 102 new confirmed patients attended the Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin, Delhi. Meanwhile, seven Delhi police officers who were involved in vacating the Jamaat’s headquarters in Nizamuddin have been quarantined.