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Modi's spiritual appeal against Covid-19 irks opponents

Opposition leaders say India's PM offers no plan to fight economic losses, hunger and poverty

Modi's spiritual appeal against Covid-19 irks opponents

A family watches Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation on a television at their home in Amritsar on March 24 when he announced a 21-day lockdown as a measure to fight Covid-19 infection. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to keep Indians engaged in the fight against Covid-19 with a spiritual appeal, urging them to light a lamp for nine minutes on the evening of April 5.

Modi’s April 3 video message to the nation said the lighting of a lamp symbolizes that "we have to move towards the light from the darkness created by the coronavirus."

"No force is stronger than our spirit and enthusiasm," he said as positive Covid-19 cases in India spiraled to 2,543, claiming 72 lives.

The appeal resonates with a Vedic couplet that prays: “Lead us from unreal to real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.”

But the appeal has not enthused Modi's opponents. Shashi Tharoor, a member of the opposition Congress party, called the entire episode a "photo opportunity" for the PM. He accused Modi of having "no vision" about what to do after the nationwide lockdown ends on April 14.

Modi's message came a day after he held a marathon round of video conferences with state chief ministers in which they discussed an exit strategy from the 21-day lockdown that started at midnight on March 24.

An unexpected challenge came when authorities identified a large coronavirus infection cluster last week in New Delhi. Thousands of Muslims had gathered there for a Tablighi Jamaat conference, defying restrictions on gatherings.

Hundreds are now hospitalized with Covid-19 symptoms. Thousands who could be carrying the virus have traveled back to their villages. Authorities fear this could lead to the rapid spread of the virus.

The federal and state governments have been accused of administrative lapses in letting the conference proceed. The prime minister, however, made no mention of the conference.

New Delhi police have filed criminal charges against Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, the chief organizer of the conference. But police have failed to arrest him and he is reported missing.

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However, during a televised portion of his address to chief ministers, Modi was heard urging them to request all “spiritual leaders” to follow government directions.

“Leaders of all religions and ideologies should convince their followers of the need to stand together and follow the government guidelines” in the fight against the pandemic, Modi said.

In his third video message on Covid-19 since March 19, Modi said people had displayed unprecedented discipline and a sense of service during the ongoing 21-day lockdown.

But Tharoor said Modi’s address had no road map "to ease people's pain, their burdens, their financial anxieties. No vision of the future or sharing the issues he is weighing in deciding about the post-lockdown. Just a feel-good moment curated by India’s Photo-Op Prime Minister!" he tweeted.

Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, told UCA News that “more than lighting the candle and lamps, the need is to concentrate on how we could help the people who are facing hunger and disease. We need a plan to help the migrant workers who were the worst affected,” he said.

The PM's appeal is "like praying to God for his help and seeking his blessings but doing nothing to get rid of the problem,” he said.

However, Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesman for Delhi Archdiocese, said Modi’s address was “certainly a morale booster at these difficult times because it shows that we are all one and have to fight this pandemic collectively.”

“Certainly there are many issues to be addressed like migrant workers' sufferings," he added.

Kiran Bedi, the governor of Puducherry and the first female officer of the Indian Police Service, welcomed Modi’s call for lighting lamps. She said that “alone together” would be a key weapon to fight the virus.

"9pm for 9 Minutes on April 5th, switch off all lights and light a lamp ... Says our @PMOIndia. He has given us the weapon to Breakthechain #AloneTogether to kill the devil of #coronavirus," she tweeted.

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