Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation on Tuesday, 30 June, was conspicuous in its skirting of the current state of affairs with China in the wake of the violent hostilities over differing perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. On the other hand, announcements on the Centre's steps to ameliorate the present condition of the poor, were a tacit admission of its inability to generate jobs that people had lost during lockdown, and in reviving the economy.
It is also an indication that the government does not have a clear roadmap for the way ahead, and is instead, responding to situations as they unfold.
What Modi’s Extension Of Free Food Grains Scheme ‘Reveals’
One month after Unlock 1.0, the Centre has realised that the pace of economic revival has not been as per expectations. This singularly elucidates the reasons behind the extension of the free food grains scheme – named Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana – till November-end. Under this programme, by way of which free wheat and pulses are currently being provided to the beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act, was paradoxically passed by the much-maligned UPA government.
Modi's announcement of extending the programme beyond the initial three months first announced in late March 2020 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is peculiarly for a period of five months, or till the end of November. Normally, government schemes are announced or extended on the basis of quarters.
While making the announcement, Modi said this benefit would cover the “festival season”.
He listed several Hindu festivals but missed out on Bakreid or Eid al-Adha, Moharram and Guru Nanak's birth anniversary, which fall during the same period. In a multi-religious nation, this oversight opens Modi to potential accusations of being ‘uni-focal’ on matters of festivals of different faiths.
Significantly, the five-month long extension will end with the conclusion and installation of a new government in Bihar, after assembly polls are conducted. The term of the current legislative assembly ends on 27 November. Opposition parties will certainly deduce political motives behind this coincidence.
- One month after Unlock 1.0, the Centre has realised that the pace of economic revival has not been as per expectations.
- This singularly explains the extension of the free food grains scheme – named Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana – till November-end.
- The PM has chosen to maintain silence on the military standoff and diplomatic parleys with Beijing, and has continued to avoid taking people into confidence.
- In an uncharacteristic Modi address, a conscious effort – to reiterate the steps the government had taken thus far to reduce suffering of the people – was palpable.
Dampened Expectations Of PM Clearing the Air On Issues Arising In India-China Standoff Aftermath
It is, after all, no accident that in barely an hour or so of Modi’s speech, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made an announcement, ‘outstripping’ the prime ministerial award of free food grains. She declared that people will receive free ration till June 2021, a date by when the elections in the state are to be completed. This is indeed a rare instance of an adversary taking a leaf out of Modi's playbook.
CM Mamata Banerjee was additionally critical of the government on its handling of the situation with China. She was of the view that “banning some apps will not give results.” “We want to give China a fitting reply.”
The critical remark might prove embarrassing for Modi, as social media is chock-a-block with old videos of Modi and his party colleagues being critical of the Manmohan Singh government for its handling of the confrontations with Beijing over differing perceptions of the LAC.
When the PMO announced late evening on 29 June that citizens shall have another tryst with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Address to the Nation, it rightfully fuelled speculation.
That this announcement was made barely an hour or so after the government's decision to ban TikTok and 58 other Chinese Apps, gave rise to expectations that Modi would use the occasion to clear the air on several issues that had arisen in the aftermath of the bloody encounter between Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan.
What Was The Focus Of Modi’s Speech?
The prime minister has chosen to maintain silence on the military standoff and diplomatic parleys with Beijing, and has continued to avoid taking people into confidence, perhaps to avoid ‘denting’ his ‘majboot’ (strong) leader image.
Modi’s decision not to say a word about China, and to also make an unusually short speech (just 16 minutes), raises questions about the necessity of the address.
This is particularly true after the Centre issued the guidelines well before the PMO announced the Address to the Nation.
In fact, there was only one other pertinent matter that Modi flagged in his address: he said that, while during the lockdown period “we were very careful with respect to wearing of masks, social distancing and washing of hands for 20 seconds,” caution has been thrown to the winds now and “there is increasing negligence in personal and social behaviour.”
Modi (implicitly) pulled up state governments and local administrative bodies for not enforcing guidelines and rules issued by the Centre. He asked these bodies “to show similar alertness” (as under lockdown).
Why Did The PM Have to List Out All That the Govt Had Done Amid COVID?
In an uncharacteristic Modi address, a conscious effort – to reiterate the steps the government had taken thus far to reduce suffering of the people – was palpable. He spent a significant part of his short speech listing out what the government had done so far, and detailed the specific schemes under the omnibus ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana’.
Much of this is part of regular or pre-announced programme – for instance, Modi listed that since the lockdown was imposed, “Rs 18,000 crore has been deposited in bank accounts of over 9 crore farmers.” It, however, was not mentioned, that this amount was transferred to farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, and the amounts would have been deposited into beneficiaries’ accounts even without the event of the pandemic disrupting life and economy.
On the issue of the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prime minister stuck to the tactic of comparing the situation in India with other countries.
At a time when India has displayed dramatic increase in daily fresh cases, Modi continued to take the refuge of the ‘death rate’. This argument, that although we are in a tight spot, the situation would have been worse but for the timely lockdown, is a little more than a ‘Pyrrhic victory’ – and certainly avoidable.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)