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Politics

Narendra Modi Addresses the Nation, Lauds His Government's COVID Vaccine Policy

His focus was largely on India administering over 100 crore vaccine doses.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday morning addressed the nation, lauding his own government’s success in procuring and distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

“Yesterday, on October 21, India reached the tough one-billion vaccine dose landmark. …This is India’s success, the success of every Indian. I congratulate all Indians from the bottom of my heart – 100 crore vaccine doses is not just a number. It is the charting of a new history, a portrait of a new India that knows how to recognise and reach tough goals. It is a new India that works to reach the tough goals it wants to achieve.”

“Many of you have been comparing India’s vaccine programme to those of other countries. The speed with which India has reached one billion vaccine doses is remarkable. What is also important to remember is that for developed countries, vaccine research and administration, and India used to be dependent on other countries’ vaccines for diseases. So when this pandemic arrived, there were questions raised on India – will India be able to fight this virus? Will vaccine development be successful here? Will we be able to vaccinate so many people? Today, India has answered all these questions. Indians have administered 100 crore doses, and that too for free.”

“The rest of the world will now know that India is safer from COVID-19. The whole world is feeling this strength of India’s.”

Modi did not mention that the one COVID-19 vaccine developed entirely in India – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – is yet to receive emergency use approval from the World Health Organisation, which means Indians who received this vaccine are still being subjected to stringent travel restrictions in several parts of the world.

He also did not talk about the ups and downs India’s vaccine policy has been through. The Union government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy had come under criticism for allowing private hospitals to buy a chunk of the vaccines and charge high rates for administering them. When the vaccine rollout was first extended to the population aged 18+, the Union government had left much of onus of purchasing vaccines on state governments. After coming under criticism, that policy was changed months later.

“There were also doubts expressed about how fighting a virus like this in a country like India will be very difficult. It was said that this much discipline would not be possible. But the country took every alone, we started a free vaccination problem. From the rich to poor, rural to urban areas, out motto was that if the virus doesn’t discriminate, there cannot be any VIP culture in the vaccination programme.”

Modi also lauded the lack of vaccine hesitancy in India. “If everyone comes together in any effort, the outcome is always extraordinary.”

The prime minister also brought up some parts of India’s COVID-19 policy that has been widely questioned, and even ridiculed, like when he told Indians to come out and bang plates and utensils during the ‘Janata curfew’ in March 2020. “People questioned, will this get rid of the virus? What it did was, it showed our unity.”

It had been widely reported at the time that this “taali-thali” event had actually resulted in social distancing norms being broken at several places.

Modi also said that India’s policies during the COVID-19 fight in India was entirely dependent on scientific research and thinking. However, it appears that the prime minister may have forgotten several comments his own party leaders who propagated unscientific “cures”, questioned mask mandates and even claimed that the virus could be cured using cow urine. You can read some of these remarks here.

The mood of the nation has changed completely now, Modi claimed, and even the economy is recovering fast and moving forward. “Now economic activities, entertainment, culture, tourism, everything can continue along with vaccination. The upcoming festival season too will help with this,” he claimed. Modi added that COVID-19 protocol must continue during this period, and people should “treat masks like shoes, and not leave home without them”.

The prime minister also took the opportunity to push his ‘Make in India’ programme, saying all Indians must support products made in India and be “vocal for local”. “We have to bring this into our behaviour,” he said.

While Modi has ‘addressed the nation’ several times over the last few years – including to announce policy changes that have direct bearings on the lives of everyday Indians like demonetisation and the COVID-19 national lockdown – he is yet to hold a single press conference in which he answers questions from the media.

Before his speech on Friday morning, Modi had already talked about how the country’s cumulative COVID-19 vaccine doses crossed the 100-crore figure.

The prime minister had hailed it as history being scripted and, in an opinion piece on Friday that was published by multiple national newspapers, he described India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive as a journey from “anxiety to assurance” that has made the country emerge stronger, and credited its success to people’s trust in the vaccines despite “various efforts to create mistrust and panic”.