PM’s ‘I-Me-Myself’ speech blaming everyone else left me underwhelmed

When the PM reverses procurement policy days after the Supreme Court pulled it up and months after the opposition demanded the policy he announced today, one expected a little humility

PM Modi 
PM Modi

Sanjukta Basu

Fifteen minutes into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation at 5 pm on Monday, I started watching one of the leading English news channels and I could see how the anchor was preparing the pitch for Modi by saying all the right things to build his positive image.

There were six or eight boxes on the TV screen, Modi’s face on all of them, to convey the message that the Prime Minister has spoken to the nation eight times in the past. It reminded me of a scene from a B-grade dystopian movie. The TV anchor repeatedly reminded the audience of all the great messages Modi had given in his previous speeches. He gave the government figure of completing 23 crore vaccine doses on today’s date, and repeated the government’s claims that by December 2021 a total of 100 crores vaccine doses will be attained.

Not once did the anchor remind the public of the Centre’s criminal negligence and faults. Firstly, in failing to anticipate the second wave despite the red flags raised by the National Covid-19 supermodel committee in the first week of March. Secondly, in allowing super-spreader events like the Kumbh Mela and election rallies. Modi himself lectured on TV about following COVID protocols and the same day presided over large crowd without wearing mask.

There was no disturbance during the speech, and no critical analysis or fact checking of the content either before or after. Not to mention Modi’s speeches are always one way and not open press conferences so there are never any cross-questions.

The key content of today’s speech came after a lot of story-telling which started from a century ago. He said the country has not seen a pandemic of this scale in hundreds of years and nobody knew how to handle it. A predictable bid to gain public sympathy. He gave a long list of efforts and achievements made by his government, such as building oxygen plants and hospitals at war footing, setting up of the vaccination task force etc. Fingers were pointed at the previous governments for slow rate of vaccination against Polio or smallpox. He repeated a claim recently seen doing the rounds of social media and WhatsApp regarding the date of polio vaccination invention and when it came to India.

It was claimed that in 2014 when Modi came took over the vaccination coverage in India was only 60% which has now increased to 90% apparently because only Modi cares about the poor children. Previous government did not.

None of these claims can be countered because it is not an open press conference.

The only key announcement made after the context setting was that starting June 21, Centre would provide free vaccines to all adults over the age of 18. States will no longer be required to procure 25% of the doses to vaccinate the 18-44 age group. The private entities however would be allowed to procure 25% of vaccine and charge people for it.

The announcement came with the claim that Centre had a flawless vaccination strategy under which smooth vaccination went on till April 2021 but because the States and civil society members criticized it too much, partial responsibility was passed on to the States. Seeing the States failing to procure the vaccine,

the Centre decided to take back the responsibility, presumably out of the kindness of Modi’s heart.

The art of storytelling that Modi has perfected conveniently avoided the fact that Supreme Court called the Centre’s vaccination strategy "arbitrary and irrational". And it was this adverse observation from the Apex Court which led Modi to get his act together.

Apart from the main announcement, the speech contained Sanskrit shlokas to make the point that we have to keep faith in ourselves to win the war. Modi warned “those who are spreading vaccine hesitancy” that Janata is watching them and would not forgive them. Doctors and frontline workers were applauded for their selfless service. The scientist community was applauded for being able to launch two made-in-India vaccines. But nothing was said about the growing number of unscientific Covid cures spread by Modi’s own party members, and the tall claims of cow urine and Coronil as covid cure, and Ramdev’s cheap tirades against the very doctors Modi applauded.

There were also subtle references to Rahul Gandhi’s “one size does not fit all” criticism, and the so-called Congress tool kit in the continued bid to shift people’s focus onto the opposition.

Facing severe criticism at national and international media, and a massive face loss before the Supreme Court Modi made a massive U-turn on the vaccine strategy which was hailed as Modi’s masterstroke just few days back. So, today’s speech today was about reclaiming the narrative and regaining people’s trust and sympathy. To do so, he blamed various kinds of blame on various entities – previous government, States, opposition, liberal media and so on.

Good news is Cow urine and Coronil is clear of all charges.

Views are personal

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