The Economist, a popular British weekly digital magazine, has published a dispatch in the latest issue on how PM Modi has quietly vanished as a second Covid wave devastates India, noting he loves the limelight, but only when things are going well.
“One month on, newscasters still tell of ‘top-level’ prime ministerial meetings, but without accompanying footage. As Covid casualties climbed and then rocketed up in mid-April, the omnipresent Mr Modi started facing like the Cheshire cat,” says the magazine. Here are excerpts from its dispatch:
“Over the past seven years Indians have watched Narendra Modi’s neat hair and trim beard grow ever whiter and longer. There was no way to miss the change, because there was no escaping the prime minister’s image. He was everywhere: on television snipping ribbons, waving to adoring crowds and grappling foreign leaders; on posters doling out subsidised cooking gas or cheerleading for pilgrimages to Hindu holy sites; and even, in recent months, gazing benignly out of vaccination certificates next to the words “Together, India will defeat Covid-19.”
His ever less frequent speeches sound droning and perfunctory. The billboards persist, but that is because under lockdown there is no one to paste over old advertisements. And those vaccine certificates grow rarer because fewer people are getting the jab: Mr Modi’s government has failed to procure enough doses.
As a catastrophic second wave crashes over them, Indians might have expected their prime minister to rally the nation. He is, after all, not only a popular and powerful leader but a skilled orator and famed showman, always ready with a flashy costume and a catchy soundbite. His personal talent for capturing the camera is aided by a mighty party machine, and boosted further by a fawning media claque. When things were going well in the fight against the virus, Mr Modi was happy to take the limelight. Now, with thousands dying daily, and many more failing to find life-giving oxygen or simply a dignified funeral for their loved ones, Indians are finding he has nothing to say. Instead of signalling solace or hope, in his rare appearances the now long-bearded figure continues to deliver finger-wagging homilies and boasts of his government’s achievements. “When we needed a warrior we see instead a Himalayan sage,” muses Karan Thapar, one of India’s most seasoned television interviewers.
Yet this is not the first time the PM has vanished amid a crisis. In other moments of turmoil Mr Modi has similarly chosen to step back.