“Modi has staked out for himself the role of not just the political leader of India, but also its social, moral and spiritual leader, in the mold of Mahatma Gandhi,” Ali said.
But his second-term aspirations to revitalize the economy now seem more distant than ever due to the pandemic. As it continues to batter the Indian economy, analysts say it’s unclear if the populist leader can emerge politically unscathed.
“You have seen how the most powerful nations have become helpless in the face of this pandemic,” Modi said in a live televised address to the nation, as he announced the lockdown, warning that India could be set back decades if the outbreak was not dealt with properly.
“There is no other way to remain safe from coronavirus … we have to break the cycle of infection,” he said.
By taking drastic action early, Modi reaffirmed his image as a decisive leader who is able to take strict, politically tough measures for the sake of the country, said Ali, the researcher at the Center Policy Research.
He is seen as a “saintly figure who means well and always acts in the larger national interest,” said Ali.
Indian public health experts, however, have differed on their support for the timing and effectiveness of the lockdown. Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at Princeton University, said it was essential because infections were increasing rapidly at the time, and that it helped decrease disease transmission.
Others, including virologist T. Jacob John, argue the lockdown was imposed too early and too widely, when cases were still low and concentrated in specific regions. Consequently, more people were impacted by the resultant economic slowdown than needed to be, and not enough resources were available to support slum areas, for example, where lockdown measures including social distancing were impossible.
The unsustainable nature of the nationwide lockdown merely delayed the spread of the outbreak.
“Now, looking back it was clearly a mistake. We should have waited for longer. Because we didn’t stop the pandemic,” said economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee.