Coronavirus update- ‘Is that sister Chhaya’: PM Modi dials nurse, continues to work from home

Updated on Mar 29, 2020 08:49 AM IST

Covid-19 update: A senior government official familiar with the matter said this is one of the 150-200 phone calls that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been making every day since he announced the nationwide 21-day lockdown last week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi(PTI file photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi(PTI file photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySunetra Choudhury

“Is that Sister Chhaya speaking?”

“Yes.”

“I’m calling from the Prime Minister’s residence, and the PM would like to speak to you.”

Then Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes on the line.

“Namaste, Sister Chhaya.”

For the past week, Modi has been making calls such as this one to individuals across the country. Some, like Sister Chhaya, a nurse at the Naidu Hospital in Pune, whom the PM spoke to on Saturday, are at the front-line of the fight against Covid-19. These calls are aimed at boosting their morale. “Tell me, how are you handling your family? They must be worried about you,” the PM asks Sister Chhaya (as in the UK, female nurses are called sisters in India).

“I know sir, but we have to do our work. We manage somehow.”

“People must be scared,” he adds. “Darne ka nahin, yeh hamara message hai (don’t be afraid; that’s the message).”

Watch | PM Modi interacts with journalists amid coronavirus threat 

A senior government official familiar with the matter said this is one of the 150-200 phone calls that Modi has been making every day since he announced the nationwide 21-day lockdown last week. After telling everyone to resist from stepping out unless they worked in essential services, the Prime Minister (whose work can actually be described as most essential) has also not stepped outside the 12-acre complex at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg.

The number 7 is actually a misnomer, because the complex houses five bungalows (numbers 1, 3, 5 and 9 being the others) on that road. The entire complex, which serves as the residence-cum-camp-office of the Prime Minister, was previously known as 7, Race Course Road, and houses all the different offices that the PM needs. One of them, the Panchwati Bungalow, was the one the PM and his council of ministers were photographed in recently — practising social distancing during a meeting.

“That’s the bungalow that’s used for Cabinet meetings,” said a second official. “The Prime Minister has always used the LKM office more for his work, dropping into South Block (where the Prime Minister’s Office, or PMO, is located) just once or twice a week.” However, since the lockdown, Modi has been totally working from home.

“It is an extraordinary situation,” said the chief spokesperson of the government, KS Dhatwalia. “I think it may be for the first time that the Prime Minister will be based in Delhi for 21 days [at a stretch]. I don’t think it has ever happened in six years [since he assumed office].”

Also read | Covid-19: How it will change companies

Modi has followed a gruelling schedule, travelling around the country for important engagements and also for outreach.

Announcing a complete lockdown was a tough call, which has been welcomed as much as it has been critiqued. However, the government sees it as a bitter medicine for the “war against corona”, one of the aides said.

And so this has meant that the PM’s principal secretary, PK Mishra, who has also been working from home, comes to see the Prime Minister every day as does the government’s senior most bureaucrat, cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba. These two daily visitors aside, his schedule also includes a briefing by the Group of Ministers overseeing India’s Covid-19 response, headed by health minister Harsh Vardhan. He also talks with leaders from across the country and the world.

“I don’t think the PM is working less,’’ said the first official. “He continues to wake up at 4am and do his series of calls and video meetings. Work goes on.”

However, it isn’t really usual. The work from home applies not just to all PMO staffers but also to members of the Special Protection Group that protects him. “If before, three staffers would go to a meeting at the PMO, now only one person goes,” said the second official.

On Saturday, Modi made calls to some chief ministers, and participated in a video conference with people who practise alternative systems of medicine such as Ayurveda. “If you look at the decisions that the PM has taken and following it up, this is a complete hands-on approach,” said A Surya Prakash, former Prasar Bharti chairman.

And the messaging from the country’s top office is simple: in order to stay safe, stay home.

Also read | Coronavirus update: Delhi eating joint employee walks 200 km to reach home, dies on the road

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