ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Going Beyond Symbolic Gestures

The government, focused on public relations spins, has fallen short in its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a lockdown, but in his signature style, did not hold any press conferences or take questions. Instead, he addressed the country via a televised live speech. In the first speech, he urged all Indians to participate in a “Janata Curfew,” asking citizens to show solidarity by clapping and clanging utensils in their balconies, and then announcing a 21-day lockdown soon after. Half way into this lockdown, he took to yet another televised address, and asked everyone to turn off the lights and step out into their balconies on 5 April, at 9 pm for 9 minutes with a diya or a candle, to show their solidarity once again. The Prime Minister’s emotional appeals to display solidarity work only on a public relations scale; they do little to mitigate the grim reality of the pandemic.

When we speak about solidarity building among citizens, we should also ask: How does a government show its solidarity? The economic taskforce, which has been set up to ensure that the financial blow from the pandemic is softened, is a step to address the aftermath of the current crisis. However, the central government’s plans for the everyday effects of the pandemic are unclear. In this regard, state governments’ responses have been much better. For example, the Kerala government opened more than 4,000 relief camps for migrant workers, and set up community kitchens across the state. Reports indicate that the Maharashtra government has been working towards streamlining supply chains of fruit, vegetables, and dairy products during the outbreak. The Delhi government has also declared that `5,000 will be provided to transport service providers and has announced free meals schemes. But, state responses do not speak for the government in charge. The centre must take the lead and provide the states with essentials that are required to tackle this crisis, for example, personal protective equipments (PPEs) for doctors and health workers, ventilators, measures for migrant relief, food supply, and steps to curb vigilantism and communal hatred. It is the centre’s responsibility to step up, show solidarity, and level the field for all states, so that they would be in a position to take adequate steps to tackle the pandemic. The central government’s communication has been unilateral. It has asked citizens to light candles as a symbolic act to “challenge the darkness spread by the corona crisis,” while it maintains strategic silences on pertinent issues.

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Updated On : 15th Jul, 2020

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