First off, let me get this out of the way.
The 21-days lockdown is a HUGELY welcome move.
I know how incredibly difficult it may sound to 1.3 Billion people, but as the Prime Minister explained it in great nuance last night, this is a matter of life and death. This is THE most important decision Modi has ever taken in his and our collective lives and I’m glad it has come so decisively.
Unlike his utterly hare-brained demonetization decision and announcement, this decision has been done with the prevailing expert knowledge and wisdom, and it shows, in the fact that it is for 21 days. Not the one-day gimmick as he announced earlier. Not just 5 days, or 10 days. A full, brutal and grueling 21-days lockdown.
Thank you, Modi Ji, for this phenomenally difficult, but a completely necessary decision.
Here’s the speech, with English subtitles, just in case:
Now, having said that, let me address the crux of the problem: empathy.
The full speech, in English, is available on the Prime Minister’s website.
Observe the content flow:
1 – Thanking people for complying with the last speech’s 2 call-to-action items
2 – Reiterate the importance of social distancing.
3 – The money shot: 21-days lockdown announcement
4, 5, 6 – Hammer the reason behind why 21-days. Use a lot of assorted data, both anecdotal (a sign he saw) and expert-based (WHO)
7 – Who should you think about, during the lockdown?
8 – What we (Center), State and others are doing to help you manage this lockdown?
9 – Government’s monetary allocation towards health + End.
The money-shot of the speech was clearly the 21-days lockdown announcement. Unlike Janata Curfew, which was a request, this is an order. Much like the demonetization order, in fact. While that was totally unnecessary, this one was monumentally necessary. So, this is the hero of the speech. This was the ‘what’ of the speech.
The leading lady of the speech was the ‘how’.
Now, as a PM, he doesn’t need to go into the details of where people would get their milk and rice. Nobody expects him to add those details at all. But just like he pleaded with folded hands to ensure 100% compliance with his order of 21-days lockdown, it was absolutely essential to think through what would people ask first when he makes that order/request.
How do you expect us to tide over 21 days? Are you doing something about it to help us manage the 21 days of lockdown in our own homes? No, the question is not, ‘Will I get bread day after tomorrow?’. But, ‘What are you doing to help us manage, broadly?’. That’s empathy – to think about potential pressing queries and respond to them. That’s also a good communicator’s No.1 job.
Modi did address this point but observe the weightage given to this compared to everything else. It was literally one sentence, with zero emphasis. In the overall scheme of things, this sounded like an after-thought.
Now, I fully understand that Modi loves broadcast and hates being questioned, particularly on things that make him uncomfortable in front of a fawning public.
So, what could he say?
“I plead to you with folded hands – please do not panic or stock-pile essentials.
I’m deeply upset with some of you. The last time I asked you to thank caregivers and people helping essential services, you came out in groups, much against my Janata Curfew rule, and made a mockery of my plea.
This time, I ask you to please follow my instructions clearly and decisively, for your own good. For India’s good.
I ask you again: DO NOT panic or head out after my speech. There is no need to stock-pile essentials. Why do I say so?
Because I have personally spoken to every one of the 30 states’ Chief Ministers via video conferencing since Sunday and know for a fact that they are on top of the most important task of their lives – to help you manage this 21-day lockdown.
So, once again – remember: I’m asking 2 things from you.
1 – 21-days complete lockdown. Stay in your home for the full duration.
2 – Do not panic or stockpile the necessary items. We will ensure that they are delivered to your place. Albeit with delay, given the situation, but I personally assure you that we are making every arrangement to reduce the disruption to every citizen, regardless of their social status or income-earning capability”
Remember – he asked for 2 things even in his last speech.
The speech’s hero was intact, but there was no other character involved.
And the ‘How’ was left to the post-credits section, considering the flurry of tweets from Modi himself (and many news outlets) AFTER the speech.
The trouble is, a fraction of the audience stays for the post-credits scene, even as the main speech had an estimated/potential audience of 1.3 Billion people. During the post-credit scene, many were on the road, much like the Sunday evening 5 pm exercise, thronging the nearby departmental stores. And making a mockery of his fervent and essential plea once again.