It’s been some time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the countrywide lockdown, the biggest such lockdown in human history involving 1.3 billion people.
His public appeals for expressing solidarity, first with the Covid warriors, and then by lighting lamps to show our will to fight the pandemic, received a tremendous public response, prompting even some of his critics to appreciate his hold over the masses.
India, a developing country with abysmal public health infrastructure, too could collapse under the weight of this pandemic as have countries even with very robust public health systems and a much smaller population. But India seems to be holding up well with unprecedented cohesion among state governments and measures undertaken at the central level.
Modi's multiple measures to tackle the crisis in a populous country, where social distance is a luxury, have earned him praise from world leaders and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Making full use of technology, he is addressing one significant group or the other every day, keeping up the spirit of the countrymen through effective and inspiring communication. In doing so, Modi is throwing up new ideas and welcoming many coming from the people, thus becoming a bridge between the government and the masses.
Those who work along with him tell me he has upped the hours that he is putting in every day as he handles the beeline of requests from various states for equipment and friendly countries for medicines like hydroxychloroquine from India.
When the Tablighi Jamaat crisis surfaced and many Tablighis simply ignored the warnings and flagrantly flouted the rules, PM Modi did not lock horns with them. Instead, he made an appeal to all the religious heads to rein in people. Modi said that the coronavirus didn’t see a victim’s religion before infecting and that it was necessary to defeat the coronavirus even for the sake of saving your own religious creeds.
Historian Jadunath Sarkar, while evaluating the character of Chattrapati Shivaji, quoted two European greats, Italian statesman Count Cavour and English educationist HAL Fisher. Sir Sarkar defined statesman as the one who doesn’t crib about the lack of resources when faced with a huge public challenge, but rises to the occasion to inspire people and create resources and instruments from whatever is available to meet the challenge.
PM Modi in this battle against a virus fits that definition as he is creating resources and instruments from within what we have as a nation.
So what is it that drives Modi? As a Modi watcher for over 33 years now - right from the day he entered the Gujarat BJP from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1987 - and as a journalist who hasn’t hesitated to evaluate him critically when the occasion has demanded, I have observed that he has thrived in crises. I saw it in him during the 2002 Gujarat riots when the killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims led to chilling anti-Muslim riots and a stage came when the blood-letting was unstoppable.
But in that unnerving phase, when I used to speak to him late in the night in what was just the beginning of his chief-ministership, I always found him composed despite being worried. I found it quite astounding because he was under constant attack from the media and was being projected as some kind of a monster, who himself had started that bloody episode.
But yes, after his 2002 victory, when I went to interview him on December 17, I did see tears in his eyes when he was describing how savagely the Indian media had treated him after the riots, overlooking his governance and his government’s complete transparency.
If we go by the way Modi did the unthinkable and boldly resolved the Jammu & Kashmir tangle by freeing the state from Article 370 in association with his political disciple, Amit Shah, I think my astrologer guru, Niranjanbhai Shukla, wasn’t too off the mark when he made a comparison between the kundlis of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Modi.
The spiritual positivity that Modi exhibits in times of crises comes from the firm belief that India has a place in the world, as Vishwaguru, as predicted by spiritual giants like Aurobindo, Dayananad Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Pranavananda of Bharat Sevashram Sangha predicted over 100 years ago.
Interestingly, unlike the divisive impression that Modi has, I have found him to be to true to his slogan, "Ek Bharat, Shresht Bharat (One India, Strong India)", while being a politically consummate player in taking on political opponents in the electoral arena.
Significantly, I have had long private discussions with him about Muslims and his views have always been very inclusive, aimed at taking along the moderate ones in the community and making attempts to bring the deviant ones on the inclusive path, while always being prepared to take on the radical ones.
Right from people who have worked with him for years to those who have been dealing with him from a distance for long, few can deny that there is an inner strength that drives the Prime Minister, whatever its source.