Modi reminded people to maintain social distancing norms while undertaking the exercise.
“India is united in its fight against the corona pandemic", Modi said in a video address on Friday, his third address since 19 March on covid-19 that has now killed 66 Indians and infected 2,423.
This is the second such exercise called for by Modi. On 22 March, the prime minister had asked citizens to clap, blow conch or ring bell for 5 minutes to commend the efforts of those fighting the pandemic.
“On the 5th of April, on Sunday, I want 9 minutes from all you, at 9 pm. Listen carefully, on the 5th of April, at 9 pm, turn off all the lights in your homes, stand at your doors or in you balconies, and light candles or diyas, torches or mobile flashlights for 9 minutes," Modi said, adding that “At that time, if you have turned off all the lights of your homes, and each one of us in all directions has lit a diya; we will experience the superpower of light, clearly illuminating the common purpose we are all fighting for. In that light, in that lustre, in that radiance, let us resolve in our minds that we are not alone, that no one is alone."
India has been in a lockdown since 25 March, which will last until the 14 April as of now. Only essential services are allowed to function during the period because of which businesses have shut down and the country has almost ground to a halt.
“Social distancing Lakshman Rekha should never be crossed and should not be broken in any case," Modi said in his video message that lasted for around nine minutes.
“Whether it is people’s curfew, ringing bells, clapping hands or clanging plates;they have all made the nation realize its collective strength in these testing times. It has led to the deepening of the belief that the nation can unite as one in the battle against Corona. This collective spirit of yours, of the nation, can be seen manifesting itself during these times of lockdown," Modi said.
The opposition was quick to criticise the move.
Responding to Modi's video address, senior Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram said the need of the hour was to announce a generous livelihood support package for the poor.
"Dear @narendramodi, We will listen to you and light diyas on April 5. But, in return, please listen to us and to the wise counsel of epidemiologists and economists," Chidambaram posted on Twitter soon after Modi's Friday address.
“What we expected from you today was FAP II, a generous livelihood support package for the poor, including for those categories of poor who were totally ignored by @nsitharaman on 25-3-2020," he added referring to Financial Assistance Package (FAP).
Congress and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been embroiled in a war of words over the 21-days lockdown, announced on 24 March, to contain the spread of covid-19. While Congress leaders say the union government needs to do more to handle the economic fallout of the lockdown, BJP has accused it of doing politics over the issue.
While the lockdown has affected all, for migrant workers it has been especially hard as it has taken away their chance at jobs and livelihood. Millions have been trudging to their villages and hometowns as living in urban centres become impossible with no wages and security. The situation is particularly bad in India’s six largest metros—-Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru—-where nearly half of the population comprises migrants.
Chidambaram on Friday at the end of his tweet thread said,“Symbolism is important, but serious thought to ideas and measures is equally important."
The proposed blackout comes in the backdrop of a three-week nationwide lockdown resulting in low electricity demand. Any sudden change in demand pattern impacts grid frequency, which is a critical aspect of power system operations. Global standards require that grid frequency be kept close to 50 hertz (Hz).
While India’s peak electricity demand has come down with commercial and industrial power demand hit as factories shut down, domestic consumption that accounts for around a quarter of India’s power demand has gone up. Of India’s total electricity demand load pattern, industrial and agricultural consumption accounts for 41.16% and 17.69%, respectively. Commercial electricity consumption accounts for 8.24% of demand.
On Friday, day nine of the lockdown, Modi also lauded the efforts and discipline of citizens.
Quoting the ancient text Ramayana Modi said, “There is no greater force in the world than our passion and our spirit. That there is nothing in the world that we cannot achieve on the basis of this strength."
Recognising that disease is not uniformly spreading, the Centre on Thursday sought suggestions from states to formulate an approach to lift the curbs gradually.
Prime Minister Modi, in a video conference with state chief ministers on Thursday, asked them to set up task forces to suggest ways to gradually ease the lockdown for the country, which houses about a fifth of the world' population.
(Anuja, Elizabeth Roche and Shaswati Das contributed to the story.)