Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch on Sunday for the consumption of local products in the festive season, urged citizens to spare a thought for the soldiers guarding India’s borders, and asked them to observe care and restraint in celebrating a range of festivals in the coming days amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
“We must think of our braveheart soldiers who are firmly stationed on our borders in the line of duty, even during these festive times… all in the service and security of Mother India,” Modi said in his monthly Mann Ki Baat radio address .
“We have to light a diya (lamp) at home in honour of these brave sons and daughters of Mother India,” Modi added. “I would also like to assure our brave soldiers that despite they being away at the borders, the entire country is with them, wishing well for them,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s remarks come in the backdrop of total Covid-19 cases in India inching close to the 8 million-mark, the second highest in the world after the US, and in the middle of a six-month military standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Ladakh theatre, where tens of thousands of troops are set to spend a harsh winter in hostile terrain.
As the nation celebrates a slew of festivals, after Dussehra on Sunday to Chhath Pooja, Valmiki Jayanti to Eid, and Guru Nanak Jayanti to Diwali in the coming days and weeks, Modi counselled care. He wished the people on Dussehra and urged them to follow the health guidelines such as safe distancing and the use of masks.
“Today, all of you are carrying on with immense patience, celebrating the festival with restraint… and hence, in our ongoing fight [against Covid-19], our victory too is assured,” Modi said.
He asked people to keep the “vocal for local” resolve in their mind and prefer local products when they shop for the festivals. The world is taking note of India’s products, he said, citing the example of the rising popularity of Khadi.
The PM talked about Khadi being popularised in Mexico’s Oaxaca by a man named Mark Brown, who has made it a brand there. He said Khadi face masks had become popular during Covid-19 and that on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2, the Khadi store in New Delhi’s Connaught Place had run up sales of ₹1 crore. He also spoke of indigenous sports and pointed to the growing popularity of Mallakhambh in countries like the US, Germany and Poland.
Modi called for national unity, recalling Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, whose birth anniversary will be celebrated on October 31. Modi also remembered former prime minister Indira Gandhi, whose death anniversary is on the same day.
He said he will attend many events that day to be held in and around the Patel statue, the Statue of Unity, in Kevadiya, Gujarat, on October 31. “He (Patel) worked for the integration of the princely states with our nation. He was invoking the mantra of ‘unity in diversity’ in the mind of every Indian,” the PM said.
“Unity is power, unity is strength, unity is progress, unity is empowerment, united we will scale new heights,” Modi added, warning people against “forces which continuously try to sow the seeds of suspicion in our minds, and try to divide the country”.
Highlighting the newly passed farm laws, Modi said a company in Maharashtra had paid not just the cost of the corn it purchased from farmers but also an additional bonus “This was a pleasant surprise for farmers,” he said.
The laws allow agribusiness to freely trade farm produce, permit private traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales, and lay down new rules for contract farming. A crucial change is that traders, agribusinesses and supermarkets can buy produce from any market, rather than buy only in notified markets where they are licenced to operate. These rules have frightened some farmers, who fear that the reforms could pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, which offers growers an assured price, and leave them vulnerable to powerful agribusinesses and in an even weaker negotiating position than before.
Eminent political scientist Nilanjan Sircar said there was a genuine concern that people will stop adhering to social distancing norms during the festive season. “The PM is using his popularity and position to discourage people from creating crowds and this is important in the fight against Covid,” Sircar said. “At the same time, there is an understanding across the country about the benefit to local communities during this festival. So it is challenge to ask people to maintain distance, but also ensure these communities don’t suffer; hence vocal for local. On the call to light a lamp for soldiers, this is a time that we are struggling economically, this is when you see every political leader is giving a drumbeat of nationalism. However, it should not be seen as aimed at rallying around people for any strategic purpose”.
(With inputs from PTI)