Communication is key in this war against the virus
Gone is Modi the bellicose orator we are so familiar with. Instead, he has become the humble father figure, pleading with folded hands for his people to practise strict social distancing
Since we are isolating ourselves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, communication has never been more important as a method to hold us together. A friend of mine locked down in London said in an email, “We have
never been as active with friends than these last few weeks, so warming and stimulating.” I have had exactly that experience.
Communication with family and friends alleviates loneliness for those alone in isolation, and for those with some company, it relieves the strain of living in close proximity day after day. This strain must be partially responsible for the rise in domestic violence that the British police have been reporting since the lockdown started. Communication strengthens our mutual resolve to fight the virus.
We need the government to communicate its measures for combating the virus and to give us hope that we will eventually win. The prime minister is the government’s chief spokesman. Narendra Modi is a remarkably talented communicator and he has tailored that talent to suit the pandemic.
Gone is Modi the bellicose orator we are so familiar with. Instead, he has become the humble father figure, pleading with folded hands for his people to practise strict social distancing, and acknowledging that some people will be angry with him because he has had to take harsh steps to save India from the virus.
It seems the prime minister wants to soften the image of his government too. Surely, that is why the new controversial order issued by the home ministry on domicile in Jammu and Kashmir was withdrawn almost as soon as it was issued. The new Bharatiya Janata Party president, JP Nadda, could not have acted on his own when he warned the party’s leaders and workers against making provocative or divisive remarks following the Tablighi Jamaat incident. There is no word now on the National Register of Citizens. Then there have been the prime minister’s interactions with Opposition leaders, chief ministers, and past presidents.
The PM has his critics. In an article in a leading economic daily, the psephologist and politician Yogendra Yadav has alleged, “At the height of a national emergency the system ( the BJP and the government) is focused on PR rather than governance”. There has also been criticism of his calling on us to ring bells, and light lamps. Describing those appeals as infantile, which some have done, implies that the British PM and other world leaders who joined in public demonstrations of support for health workers were being infantile too.
There’s no denying that the sudden decision to impose this lockdown has caused suffering, particularly to the poor. The prime minister has admitted this. There has been a heavy economic price to pay too. But, whatever Modi’s critics may say, his communication has persuaded millions of Indians to obey the lockdown, and it is the only way known so far of slowing the spread of the virus.
What about the media which has a duty to communicate information about the progress of the crisis and the government’s handling of it? While their role of keeping a watch on the government is as important as ever, we are in uncharted waters. They need, therefore, to be aware that good leadership in a crisis means recognising that a particular response is not working and changing it. That means curbing their Pavlovian critical response to u-turns.
All communicators have a role to play in combating the menace of rumours and fake news creating panic during this pandemic. But the prime minister, the government and the media have to retain our trust if they are to play their parts. We have to ensure we don’t pass on rumours in our communications with friends and relations.