On that day, the people nursed the view that next time he would come out with certain degree of alternative mechanism to counter the malaise. But like the earlier occasion, this time too he did not spell out the measures — except putting onus on the people to fight the crisis — he was planning to initiate action to face the challenge.

Undeniably, his half-hour address to the nation was frightening. It did not have any ray of hope. He left the task of fighting the pandemic on the shoulders of the people. His only achievement was putting the country under lockdown for 21 days which in fact came as a rude shock. A common man knows that the onus of fighting the dreaded disease is on him, but certainly he looks forward to the political leadership of the country with some hope and for help.

Like his March 19 speech, the PM’s March 24, 8 pm speech too, with the exception of some passing reference, had no specific words for the poor and daily wage earners. The task has been left to madam finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, who has already been busy evolving the mechanism to protect the interest of the middle class supporters of her leader.

The thirty minute speech of Modi, true enough, was directed towards this section — the urban middle class, most of his voters. He painted really a very grim picture. He was right, any complacency in carrying out his direction would push the country backwards for at least 21 years.

Modi was not clear about his government’s approach towards the daily wage earners who survive on footpaths or under the flyovers of the metros. He said the essential commodities would be able, but did not spell about their security, primarily from police which is the vanguard of the war against the virus. The minimum the government could have done was to provide some financial relief to the poor but unfortunately it is still under his consideration and his finance minister who today already announced some bailout package for the rich.

One thing is absolutely clear that the poor and daily wage earners are going to be worst victims of coronavirus and Janata curfew. While they will have to starve, they also cannot live on the footpaths, as the state governments have imposed curfew and anyone found to be living on footpaths would be arrested for violating the prohibitory orders

As expected his announcement of lockdown has been welcomed by the rich and the urban middle class. These people have locked themselves inside their cozy apartments and homes. For them this is a boon in disguise and the time to enjoy. These people have many means to keep them busy and in cheers inside their homes. These people plan to watch movies and cook delicious dishes during next three weeks. For them this is a leisure time to enjoy the life.

But for the poor daily wage earners this is nightmare. For them the major challenge has been of survival. Denied of wages they are put in a precarious situation. The challenges of survival stares at their faces. These are primarily homeless people. With imposition of shutdown and lockdown these people would be extremely hard pressed to get some kind of work which would fetch them a meagre money for their survival.

These people would be faced with the worst apparition of even having one time meal. Since they will not be earning wages they will not be able to purchase food. They have no way out but to starve. Collectively the situation would more or less appear to be of a famine where people will resort all kind activities to have food and survive. It cannot be denied that this would create a situation of law and order, something akin to civil unrest

Since the middle class people have purchasing power they will not have to confront a situation like this. If the Modi government is to be relied the food would be reached to their houses. But the question arises for how many days this system would be operative? They would however face the pinch of other kind of scarcity. Most of the urban middle class households employ domestic hands. In the existing situation these hands will not be in the position to continue to bear the salary and expenses incurred on this work force. Already some households have asked them to be leave. Obviously this section of work force will be without work and eventually will not be getting the money they need.

India, according to the NSSO Employment and Unemployment Survey, 2011-12, had approximately 39.14 crore workers, which accounts for 82.7 per cent of the estimated 47.41 crore employed persons. Over the last few weeks, many daily wage labourers belonging to the unorganised or informal sector could not find work because of the lockdown. Uncertainty over the extent of lockdown forced many to leave big cities and return to their hometowns.

But ironically the government is least bothered of the impending threat. It has not even been bothered to cover the wages of workers' threatened with the loss of their livelihoods due to the coronavirus. It was an open secret that Modi’s announcement of Janata curfew was not only for a day; it would precede the long lockdown. But regrettably no mechanism was put in place to avoid families being plunged into poverty followed by spectre of a mass unrest.

To meet the financial challenges the wage earners would be facing it was imperative that the Modi government in consultation to the state governments, before formally announcing Janata curfew, should have arranged to pay up to 90% of the monthly wages of people who face the risk of losing their jobs due to coronavirus.

After the Janata curfew almost all the states have already announced complete lockdown till March 31. The question arises why the rulers came to realise the threat of the disease only after the Janata curfew was announced? Why the states did not wake up to the threat long before? As the ground level condition is not conducive for the spread of the disease the virus should not have any significant inroad in India if proper pre-emptive measures had been initiated.

It is encouraging to notice that coming out of their slumber at least six corporate leaders have expressed their concern for the workers of the unorganised sector who have been hit hard and urgently need a helping hand. Over the last few weeks, many daily wage labourers and part of the unorganised or informal sector could not find work because of the lockdown. They have suggested that Modi government should make payments to unorganised sector workers since they bear the brunt of the severe lockdown measures. They also strongly advocated giving DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) of funds to the lowest rung of the society.

To combat the crisis three state governments have announced to make payment of Rs 1000 to each daily wage workers for income lost due to the pandemic. But the condition is these labourers would have to be registered. There is no arrangement for the free daily wage earners.

The developments taking place after the Janata curfew merely reinforce the trepidation that it was the first step towards launching complete shutdown.. Nevertheless people responding to his call must not be construed, either by him or by his party BJP, as the endorsement to his leadership quality or skill. It was simply manifestation of the desperation of the people to fight the pandemic. Peoples’ response should make him realise the failure of his government in taking the challenge head on. This bequeaths enormous responsibility on him and he must not nurse the view that he is superior to all. (IPA Service)