Dear Bharat Naresh Narendrabhai, I have in the past addressed you as the Monarch of the Masses. I named you Gujarat Naresh when you helmed your state for 12 years. My justifications are my own. As prime minister, you are the Republic’s sanguine supremo who promotes Big Ideas over the narrow niceties of partisan confrontation.
The time for the Next Big Idea has come. Create the manual to outsmart the virus and lift the masses out of fear and economic despondency. It was the torque of your personality and imagery, which attracted ballots from every caste, community, gender and religion in Gujarat and India. You successfully faced blowback from the worst communal riots ever, which left over 1,000 dead. For twelve years you were a social pariah. Those who adore you today abhorred you yesterday. You overcame social and political ignominy because you believed in yourself.
Since 2014, you have been riding an unprecedented popularity wave because India believes that ‘Modi hai to Mumkin hai’. You have demonstrated your skill to convert adversity into opportunity. You announced demonetization without blinking an eyelid. Even after people died and suffered in queues, voters brought you back to Lok Kalyan Marg with a bigger majority and chose BJP governments in over a dozen states because of their belief in you. You defused the prejudiced praxis of poll promises of your foes to abolish Article 370 within 70 days of your second term. Your party colleagues, chief ministers and Union ministers hail you as the panacea for all ills—of not just the nation but also of the world even as your political enemies baselessly blame you as the despot of divisiveness.
India needs your capacity for concord. As the Great Unifier, COVID-19 is your new big test. Your diplomatic and humanitarian decision to send medicines to superpowers for saving their citizens was a sign of exemplary global leadership. Your loyalists painted it as a saintly act, while your oppugnant opponents went on a ritual criticism spree. You rightly scolded sycophants who started a campaign to honour you with a five-minute ovation. You interacted with leaders and opinion makers across ideological barriers to examine solutions. You took the initiative to bring together heads of states to evolve a mechanism to fight the pandemic. The hour has arrived to take the next step.
You are fighting an invisible enemy, which doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste, colour, or creed. Fortunately, in a country of 1.35 billion we are yet to cross the five figure mark of positive cases. The worst is yet to come. You have been slammed for taking unilateral decisions like the Janata Curfew and the three-week lockdown without anticipating the fallout and implications. Millions of daily wagers and disadvantaged citizens were stranded for days, unable to find a packet of food. Testing capacity is low since we lack enough kits. Contingency funds to deal with the worst scenario are insufficient. Still people feel that you are on the right track to rescue them.
This faith is why almost the entire nation clapped when you asked Indians to honour its Corona warriors. Later, they lit diyas at your request to symbolically dispel the darkness of fear. Modi, a proven manufacturing hub of ideas, must now launch a magical mantra to turn the tide. A section of opinion makers find the Modi Miracle Move missing. Both you and BJP President J P Nadda have been engaging with CMs, party leaders and workers and social influencers through video conferencing the communication tool of corona times for detailed briefings about the grassroots situation.
Yet a focused approach to contain the virus is unfortunately missing. Orders are restricted to taking care of both victims and warriors, and not to locate viral trouble spots and bring them to the notice of authorities. The Centre has appointed numerous expert groups, GoMs and monitoring agencies for finding ways and means to flatten the contagion curve. But even after four weeks, only over 1,75,000 persons have been tested. Barring a few exceptions, your ministers and babus have stuck to social media and cameras. None of your prominent leaders are seen on the ground except to celebrate birthday parties and attend weddings. Your organisation has a well-oiled and cogently structured setup, which should be used to educate the masses.
Vistarks, Pracharkas and Sudharaks must be deployed not just to distribute food packets but conduct house-to-house searches for all Corona suspects because they have gained expertise in handling national disasters since the Partition in 1947. Since our medics-to-population ratio is among the lowest, only a committed army of individuals can rise to the occasion. Information from far-flung areas, where an apathetic bureaucracy is both mentally and physically on leave, is paltry. The BJP is the world’s largest political party with over 160 million members. Even if half of them are activated with one person per ten citizens in their own localities for 800 million Indians, every sixth man out of ten would have been personally approached by now.
Both states and the Centre would have garnered primary data, rather than depending on government agencies and their overstressed staff. Moreover, it is an opportunity to bring India together. Tablighi Jamaat is indeed responsible for adding almost 20 per cent of the total cases. Since COVID-19 is non-communal, the BJP should aggressively persuade its supporters to desist from a communal blame game and manoeuvre your charm and persuasive powers to advise the media to highlight the pathogen-fighting methods of Islamic and Western countries. Mosques have been banned from holding namaz. Churches are being converted into hospitals. Dissipate negativity with positivity. Jihadis and their promoters wouldn’t accept you anyway.
Moreover, you have a genuine chance to create the Grand Vista of unanimous political action in your favour. Both the Congress and regional outfits operate massive grassroots organisations. By corralling them, you will be leveraging them to join a larger national effort led by you. Cauterising Corona from the national bloodstream is the new Mahabharat. Indians expect you to be Arjuna, focused on a fixed target without deviations and diversions. You have triumphed in many battles. Now, you have to win your war against an invisible and lethal foe. Prescribe Modi Medicine to win the day. Let Bharat emerge as a healthier, happier and wealthier nation out of this trauma.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla