Fear the Same Mistake of Demonetisation is Being Repeated: Haasan

Kamal Haasan wrote an open letter to PM Modi about the government’s handling during this coronavirus pandemic.

Published
COVID-19
5 min read
Actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) Chief Kamal Haasan questioned if the union government wanted to be a ‘balcony government only for the balcony people’.
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In a scathing open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) Chief Kamal Haasan questioned if the union government wanted to be a ‘balcony government only for the balcony people’. His reference was based on the implementation of the 21-day lockdown by the Prime Minister on short notice, which left many people in the lowest rung of the social and economic strata clueless and stranded.

The letter, dated 6 April 2020, criticised the manner in which the Prime Minister announced the 21-day lockdown and compared it with a similar decision around three years ago— demonetisation.

“My biggest fear is that the same mistake of demonetisation is being repeated albeit at a much bigger scale. While demonetisation led to loss of savings and livelihood of the poorest, this ill-planned lockdown is leading us to a fatal combination of loss of both life and livelihood.”
Kamal Haasan, President, Makkal Needhi Maiam

The actor-politician slammed the Prime Minister for trying to ‘put up a spectacle’ by asking people to bang plates, clap hands and most recently, light lamps in their balconies to express solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, while doing nothing for the poor man, who has been left to fend for himself amid a pandemic.

While your world lit up oil diyas in their balconies, the poor are struggling to gather enough oil to bake their next roti, he wrote.

“Today, there is probably no other world leader who has such a mass following. You speak, they follow. Today the country has risen to the occasion and invested its trust in your office. You must have noticed that even your naysayers clapped and cheered when you gave the call to do so in order to appreciate the countless health-workers working selflessly and tirelessly for the masses. We will comply to your wishes and orders but our compliance must not be confused as our subjugation. My own role as a leader of my people entails me to speak my mind and question your ways. Please pardon my lack of etiquette, if any,” he writes.

“My biggest fear is that the same mistake of demonetisation is being repeated albeit at a much bigger scale. While demonetisation led to loss of savings and livelihood of the poorest, this ill-planned lockdown is leading us to a fatal combination of loss of both life and livelihood.”
Kamal Haasan, President, Makkal Needhi Maiam

A Balcony Government

Calling the announcements to express solidarity as ‘psychotherapy techniques’ which can address the anxiety of those who are privileged, Kamal asked what would happen to those who don’t have even the basic things that human beings need to survive. “I am sure you don’t want to be a balcony government only for the balcony people by completely ignoring the poor who are biggest constituent of our society, our support system and the foundation on which the middle-class, the well-to-do and the rich build their lives,” (sic) he said.

Pointing out that COVID-19 was inflicted by those at the top rung of the social and economic ladder upon those beneath them, Kamal Haasan accused the Prime Minister of being interested in bailing everybody out of this crisis except those worst-hit.

“As millions of daily wage labourers, house-helps, street-cart vendors, auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers and helpless migrant workers struggle to see light at the end of the tunnel, we seem to be securing only an already well-built middle-class fortress. Don’t get me wrong sir, I am not suggesting we ignore the middle-class or any one segment...I would like to see you doing more to secure everybody’s fortress and ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry,” he wrote.

Who Is Responsible for Negligence?

Accusing PM Narendra Modi of slipping into election campaign mode every time there seemed to be a chance for arresting the spread of COVID-19, Kamal Haasan took a jibe at the BJP government, commenting that it does not like the word ‘intellectual’.

“I am sorry if I have offended you with the use of the word intellectual here, for I know that you and your government does not like that word. But I am a follower of Periyar and Gandhi and I know they were intellectuals first. It’s the intellect that guides one into choosing a path of righteousness, equality and prosperity for all,” he said.

The actor pointed out the failure of the government to stop the Tablighi Jamaat congregation that took place in Nizamuddin, Delhi, which has become a hotspot for a large share of India’s COVID-19 positive cases.

“Long into the epidemic, when the entire country’s law and order system had been primed, your system failed to stop congregations of ignorant and foolish people in different parts of the country. These have become the biggest hubs for the spread of the epidemic in India. Who is responsible for all the lives lost due to this negligence?” he asked.

‘Your Vision Has Failed’

Drawing a timeline of events around COVID-19 pandemic at a global level, Kamal Haasan pointed out that China’s statement to the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in China was on 8 December 2019. Drawing on the situation in Italy which rapidly deteriorated, he said that the first positive case in India was reported on 30 January.

“Yet, we did not learn our lessons early enough. When we eventually woke out of our slumber, you ordered an entire nation of 1.4 billion people to shut down within 4 hours. A mere 4 hour notice period for the people when you had a 4 month notice period!,” he said, referring to the announcement made by Narendra Modi on 24 March at 8 pm about a nationwide lockdown which would come into force four hours later.

“Visionary leaders are ones who work on solutions long before problems become big. I am sorry to say that sir, this time your vision failed,” he said, adding that the Union government is doing everything it can to not lend a patient ear to feedback or constructive criticism.

‘You Shall Be Blamed for This’

Daring people to call him an anti-national, Kamal Haasan wrote that this time around, the blame for lack of preparation and mismanagement shall solely rest with the Prime Minister alone.

“Events of this magnitude get etched in history for two reasons, one being the devastation (illness and death) that they cause due to their core nature. The second being the long term impact of what they teach humans to prioritise and the kind of socio-cultural changes they bring about,” he wrote.

Imploring the Prime Minister to go beyond boundaries and seek help from those who truly care, Kamal Haasan said, “We are angry but we are still on your side,” and added that the crisis must be overcome in a manner that would bring people together and not divide them further.

(This story was originally published in The News Minute and has been reposted with permission.)

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