India’s coronavirus lockdown hits poor, tests Modi’s support

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News Agency
MUMBAI/NEW DELHI
Ravi Prasad Gupta, a worker at a pipe plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat, for years proudly supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his promise to usher in “good days” for millions of impoverished laborers.
But Modi on March 24 announced a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus, which meant Gupta lost his job and so decided to head home, first by train and then on foot.
“I voted for Modi in all the elections but now I’m very sure that he works only for the big people and not for a man like me,” Gupta told Reuters in the northern town of Lucknow where he was getting on a truck for the next leg of his journey home.
The shutdown has dealt a body blow to India’s neediest, many of whom have long backed Modi, the 69-year old son of a tea seller whose Hindu nationalist administration was first elected in 2014.
Thousands of desperate day laborers like Gupta have walked hundreds of miles home — and more than 20 have reportedly died on the way. In slums, anxious families are low on food, while homeless shelters are overflowing.
Modi says the lockdown is necessary to avert a humanitarian calamity in India, where health care has long been weak and millions live in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
The country has reported more than 2,000 coronavirus cases and 56 deaths but many health experts are bracing for a surge of infections despite the government’s efforts.
‘Know yourself’
During a radio address on Sunday, Modi encouraged Indians cooped up at home to reach out to childhood friends on social media, dust off old musical instruments and introspect.
“Don’t go out but go inside,” said Modi. “Try to know yourself.”
He has also shared some cartoon videos called “Yoga with Modi” for keeping fit, and encouraged people to watch them on a special Modi app.
He has also created a relief fund — PM-CARES — sidelining a decades-old traditional prime ministerial aid fund.
“Why the self-aggrandizing name, PM-CARES? Must a colossal national tragedy also be (mis)used to enhance the cult of personality?” historian Ramachandra Guha, a Modi critic, said on Twitter.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
Shaina NC, an official with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said criticism of the lockdown was unwarranted and authorities were providing food and shelter to those in need.
“There is bound to be a little hardship when a decision such as this is taken,” she said.
“Prime Minister Modi is popular and continues to be so, but I don’t think he is looking for a certificate of popularity at this juncture.”
Some state governments blame Modi’s top-down management style for what they see as the chaotic implementation of the shutdown, which has complicated operations for e-commerce, medical device makers and farmers.
“Did the prime minister talk to any of the state governments before unilaterally announcing it? No,” said Bhupesh Baghel, the chief minister of opposition-ruled Chhattisgarh state. If given proper notice, he said, Chhattisgarh could have stocked up on essentials and coordinated with neighboring states.