NEW DELHI: Eighty-three days is a long time for Narendra Modi to remain at home – given that he has always been on the move even as an RSS and a BJP worker. Those close to the prime minister say the last 83 days that he was homebound is the longest he has stayed put in one place after Emergency in the 1970s.
So when Modi finally stepped out of his 7, Lok Kalyan Marg residence on Friday for a tour of cyclone-hit West Bengal and Odisha, it was also a message for people finally stepping out of their homes after the two-month lockdown. Like them, the prime minister will also be on the move from now, top government officials said.
“We can expect more domestic tours of the prime minister in the coming days. This is akin to sending a message that he appreciates the fighting spirit of the people and that will be with them as the nation marches on to defeat Covid-19,” a senior official said.
The last time Modi went on a domestic tour was on February 29, to lay the foundation stone of the Bundelkhand Expressway in Chitrakoot. He has been mostly at home since, especially after he announced the countrywide lockdown. All his meetings and engagements through video-conferences have been conducted from his residence.
“He has not regularly visited his South Block office either,” a top government official said. An analysis of PM Modi’s domestic tours in the last six years shows has made 440 domestic visits in the last six years – about six visits every month, including official visits and those for poll campaigning. In February, he went to Gujarat and Assam, and twice to UP.
An official recounted how Modi has travelled and spent a night in every district of the country before becoming PM.
“Those who know him can understand how exasperating it would have been for him to remain homebound for so long. He had shared his anguish during a telephone conversation this week with Pooja Thapa, the ten millionth Ayushman Bharat beneficiary, of Meghalaya. He said in normal circumstances, he would have met Thapa as he meets Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries in person whenever he travels across India,” the official said.
Tussle Over Relief
Modi’s visit to West Bengal and Odisha on Saturday after Cyclone Amphan came amid a bitter political wrangling between Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and the Centre during the Covid-19 crisis. Banerjee did not wait for the PM’s plane to leave Bengal’s soil before saying that he had not specified whether the Rs 1,000 crore relief announced by him was advance assistance or that was all the Centre would give.
“This was despite the PM saying clearly in her presence that this (Rs 1,000 crore) was only an advance amount for dealing with the immediate aftermath of the cyclone and more would be given to the state after a survey is done as soon as possible,” a central government official said, expressing the PMOs’s displeasure with the CM’s attitude.
Officials at the PMO said Modi clearly tried to put the larger national picture above petty politics during his visit on Friday. Modi had told his team that “there is no way his conscience would allow him to stay in Delhi when people of the state were suffering after the cyclone and he had to be among the people, facilitating as much support as possible from the Centre,” the official said.
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