For a leader who is known for his tight hugging and ferocious handshake with foreign dignitaries – the last time with the US President Donald Trump in Ahmedabad on February 24 – the above suggestion has perhaps little to do with the spread of Coronavirus in India and more to do with the foreign policy of his government. When the relationship is not very cordial, one adopts the ‘door se Salam’ policy. After all, he called off his trip to Brussels on March 5 to attend the India-EU Summit on March 13, when nobody has died in entire Belgium because of this disease. On March 9, the tour to Bangladesh, scheduled for March 17, was suddenly cancelled after that country reported only three Coronavirus cases. Modi was to attend the Centenary Celebration of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh and father of the present PM Sheikh Hasina.
The Prime Minister might have been medically advised not to travel abroad but in Coronavirus, he has got an opportunity to avoid likely embarrassment after the riots in Delhi. It was after much diplomatic efforts that on January 30, India managed to delay the European Parliament resolution against CAA.
Mind it, frequent-flyer Narendra Modi has not flown out of India since the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act on Dec 11 last year. His Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe cancelled his Guwahati Summit in the middle of December after large-scale violence in the North-East. Japan was supposed to invest Rs 13,000 crore in the development of the North-East.
Since then Modi has hosted Portugese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump. The Prime Minister, on March 7, cautioned the people not to be carried away by rumours , possibly not realising that his suggestion to not shake hands and cancellation of the Brussels trip have caused more panic than anything else.
Curiously, the Indian Women’s Cricket team played Australia on March 8 in Melbourne in the final of T-20 World Cup. The tournament continued for quite a few days though Australia reported several cases of Coronavirus. So far, three persons have lost their lives there because of the infection.
In India too, Modi and all the MPs are attending Parliament and all other programmes are going on as per schedule. Millions of schoolchildren are appearing in CBSE, ICSE and other board exams throughout the country.
Even Trump visited India on February 24-25 when the first case of Coronavirus was reported in Kerala on January 30. The person who became the victim of Coronavirus had come from Wuhan in China.
Yet, an estimated one lakh people gathered in Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad on February 24 to welcome the US President.
When media outlets across the world have over-cautioned the people about Coronavirus, there was little reason for the Prime Minister to advise people on COVID-19, more than two months after the world came to know about this disease.
It is his appeal to people to remain calm and not be carried away by rumours that may create panic among the masses.
People have every reason to suspect that the Coronavirus issue has suddenly got hyped up to distract attention from Delhi riots, the collapse of Yes Bank just two days before Modi’s warning on COVID-19 and the government’s failure on the economic front. The Prime Minister of the country is supposed to address these issues, not make delayed and mistimed speech on the Coronavirus epidemic on which experts have already spoken enough. One does not expect the PM to tell people whether to say Namaste, Good Morning, Salam or Shalom (as in Hebrew by Jews) .
One does not expect the Prime Minister to tell school-children how to prepare for examinations as this is the job of the teacher.
The Prime Minister’s role is much bigger: how to tackle the deteriorating economic situation, overcome foreign policy challenges, improve the health and education standards of the country, etc.
As he is finding himself incapable to overcome the enormous challenge, Modi is indulging in populism. The country wants to know the opinion of the Prime Minister on Yes Bank, Delhi riots, the tumbling Rupee, etc. They already know enough about Coronavirus.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own