Prime minister Narendra Modi knows how to make Indians feel directly involved in the nation’s affairs—even when the individual acts that he seeks from citizens themselves don’t amount to much.
From asking people to clap for workers in the frontline of the country’s Covid-19 battle to lighting a lamp tonight (April 5) in a show of solidarity, his borrowing of recent civic engagement gestures from other parts of the world is only the latest in several such exercises he’s called for in the past six years.
Here are some other instances.
- Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, 2014: On Oct. 2, 2014, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi officially launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission). It’s budgetary allocation and sanitation plans aside, the prime minister initiated a social media “challenge,” tagging nine celebrities to take the message forward. This came with a cleanliness pledge, where citizens were to promise 100 hours every year devoted to cleanliness. They also were to encourage 100 other people to take this up. The pledge became almost secondary as pictures of politicians, businesspersons, actors, and sportspeople sweeping the streets with large brooms swept over social media.
- Give It Up, 2015: Over five years ago, Modi urged wealthy Indian citizens to give up the subsidy they receive for their cooking gas cylinders. He had earlier made a mention of it during one of his Mann Ki Baat monthly radio talk, which became an effective tool to measure public sentiment on the issue. According to Modi, 280,000 people gave up subsidy on his request. On March 27, 2015, he officially announced the Give It Up campaign, carefully worded as a citizen’s role in nation building. However, till January 2019, only 4% of LPG subscribers, or 1.03 crore people, had given up their subsidy, according to the Hindu Business Line newspaper.
- Clap for a soldier, 2016: Nationalism-on-the-sleeve has been a staple of Modi’s governance style. Saluting Indians soldiers is an important element of that. Following the September 2016 attack on Indian Army personnel in Jammu & Kashmir’s Uri, Modi urged Indians to stand and applaud soldiers wherever and whenever they are seen. Citing instances of such public display of gratitude in other countries, Modi said, “Can we make this effort slowly and develop a tradition to show respect to our defence forces?”
- Hum Fit Toh India Fit, 2018: While this was not an event that the prime minister himself launched, the #HumFitTohIndiaFit challenge was initiated by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a minister in Modi’s cabinet. Those tagged has to post videos of themselves doing some form of fitness routine on social media, while also tagging others. Modi was tagged by cricketer Virat Kohli, and took nearly three weeks after that to post a video of his yoga routine on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, the video went viral. He urged others to join in, too.
- Janata curfew, March 22, 2020: Modi had announced a voluntary 14-hour Janata Curfew to encourage people to adopt social distancing amid the coronavirus spread. He urged people to come out on their balconies at 5pm on that day to applaud medical professionals and frontline workers fighting the outbreak. Alternatively, he said people could use plates and pots to audibly register their solidarity. Many overzealous Indians, however, ended up breaking the curfew itself and took to the streets en masse, nullifying the very idea of social distancing.