Even in the darkest of times, there’s always light. No, one isn’t talking about Ramdas Athawale’s epic follow-up to the cult classic 'Go Corona Go', but the ear-shattering crescendo one heard at 5 PM.
If anyone had any doubts about PM Modi’s popularity, perhaps due to the daily op-ed pages that turn up in the English dailies, the 5 PM Clapathon was a reminder that no politician, perhaps even film star, comes close.
The cacophony of bangs and claps, which made tone-deaf Bengali families singing Rabindra Sangeet sound melodious in comparison, was a reminder that this nation is ready to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
From Jammu to Jaipur to Jabalpur to Juinagar, people across the length and breadth of the country banged their vessels and clapped their hands to remind us that we are in this fight together.
Overzealous ones burst firecrackers and sadly, many of said revellers threw caution to the wind and channelled their inner Kanika Kapoor, forgetting that social distancing was the primary purpose of this curfew.
While the perennially malcontent detractors – who, if Modi could turn water into wine would blame him for rising alcoholism in society – found enough reasons to mock the people clapping, to the detached outsider, one could feel some hope.
Under these not-normal circumstances, Modi seems to have tapped into the unsurmountable faith that people have in him. While a thousand columns are written to describe how Modi stole India’s soul, it’s quite clear that the nation’s heart beats for him. And this will perhaps be positive because Modi is that kind of populist who can elicit blind faith.
In normal circumstances, that might be a bad thing, but it also showed that despite the obvious hardships that follow when Modi asks for things, people are willing to go through with it.
Even though the Agni Pariksha magic realism of demonetization was a failure, it demonstrated people’s ability to back the PM. While one always wants individuals questioning the government of the day and asking it hard questions, there are times when authoritarian measures are needed.
Now Narendra Modi has taken a lot of missteps as PM and shown that while his intent is strong, the implementation doesn’t match (GST, Article 370, Demonetization). Hopefully, that won’t be the case this time. And the 5 PM Clapathon was a show of hope, the real-life version of the Zion rave dance in The Matrix Reloaded.
You will be hard-pressed to explain how the virus spreads to people, but you can make behavioural changes from the top down. And that’s where a Modi becomes important. The BJP, with help from the RSS, has built one of the most powerful communication ecosystems in politics. Channelling those energies to counter coronavirus could pay rich dividends.
The cacophony of hope came on a day when India announced its biggest measures to contain the WHO-certified pandemic. Under the garb of the ‘voluntary’ Janta curfew, the Central and several state governments announced a slew of measures to tackle the epidemic including locking down 75 districts and stopping all inter-state train and bus travel as well as Mumbai’s lifeline, the local trains.
Of course, hope isn’t enough to beat a virus. There will have to be more testing, which the ICMR is working on, and there will be a need to produce increased numbers of sanitisers and soaps. We will need more equipment for our healthcare workers and more hospital beds and India’s creaking bureaucracy will have to come to life. People will need to understand the true meaning of social distancing. There is a lot of work to be done. And if one isn't privileged like the person reading or writing this piece, there are tougher times ahead.
There are also fundamental differences between India and China, and one hopes that the difference between democracy and dictatorship will be clear in the coming days.
There are a lot of naysayers, including some of this country’s passport holders who sound like they’d prefer a mortuary full of people so they can prove Narendra Modi is a failure. Yet the lament that most ‘asparagus eaters’ have against ‘populist’ Modi might be the thing that tilts the battle in India’s favour. The noise of Indians beating drums and pots and clapping was a reminder that when Modi asks them to do something, Indians do listen to ‘populist’. Hopefully, that will help us overcome this national challenge.
Nirmalya Dutta is Web Editor of The Free Press Journal.
He tweets at @nirmalyadutta23.