Recently, a trending hashtag that loosely translated to ‘Modi Shah have disappeared’ prompted both concern and derision in equal measure over the uncharacteristic lack of communication and visibility, even as charges of mismanagement piled up over the particularly vicious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Could this silence be a mere perception? Let’s take a look at the engagement rate of our normally chatty PM. In May 2020, exactly a year back, Modi had addressed the nation six times already on various occasions regarding the pandemic. During his March 19, 2020 address, he announced the first ‘Janata curfew’. On March 24, the 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced. On April 3, Modi made a heartfelt appeal to the nation, asking everyone to light lamps for frontline corona warriors on April 5. The fireworks that followed fireworks – quite literally - showed the PM’s sway over the people. His next address came swiftly on April 14, when he announced that the lockdown was extended till May 3, 2020. The rest is history.
We are in May 2021 – two lockdowns, 2.4 crore cases and 2.6 lakh deaths later – and the pandemic has battered not just the people and the economy, but also Modi’s image. The upright, decisive and dedicated persona that he worked hard to cultivate, has morphed into one of an aloof and detached politician, who campaigned while the nation was rapidly getting engulfed by the second wave of COVID-19.
While there is no doubt that the government machinery is working overtime to fix this with a series of somewhat clumsy toolkits extolling the PM’s ‘tireless’ work in the face of the crisis, there are some things that mere statistics won’t fix. For starters, it’s the bravado that the government has been projecting. Modi was never one to engage without a careful script, but more than that, he was not one to admit to a lapse of weakness. At a time like this, when people are vulnerable, angry and somewhat volatile, a leader who is willing to step out of his or her ivory tower, admit to missteps and be seen as one with the people is sorely needed. What Modi needs to understand is that making honest admissions will not project him as weak or ineffective – rather he would just be seen as human. It’s lonely at the top, no doubt, but it will be even lonelier if he alienates the very people who voted for him, trusted his leadership and for what it’s worth, beat thalis at his bidding.
For Modi to win back the confidence of people, it’s imperative that he course-corrects, and shows more humanity and humility. Sometimes, it is not required to shock and awe with showman-like flair and make big announcements. An honest interaction without a script and a compliant anchor, or just to be seen among the people without a planned agenda would go much further than activating his online army to amplify his virtues at this stage. Else, Modi runs the serious risk of six years of goodwill getting lost in just six months.