India was on edge for a nerve-racking 32 minutes on Wednesday, waiting anxiously for an “important message” to the nation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
As time slowed to a tedious crawl, imagination hurriedly took wing.
Yet another surgical strike? India’s Osama bin Laden moment? A fresh demonetisation exercise? What could it possibly be?
Speculation swirled about what message the prime minister could give amid the hustle and bustle of a gruelling Lok Sabha election.
TV anchors heightened the suspense when they repeatedly insisted that the prime minister cannot make any policy announcement when the model code of conduct was in force for the election.
It began with a tweet by Modi at 11:23 am: “I would be addressing the nation at around 11:45 AM – 12.00 noon with an important message. Do watch the address on television, radio or social media.”
As the appointed hour came and went with no sign of the prime minister on their screens, debate intensified — in homes and offices, buses and metro trains, on Twitter and television channels.
News channels broached the subject of action that might have been taken against fugitive Mumbai ganglord Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, who is believed to have taken shelter in Pakistan.
They also spoke about the possibility of the chiefs of Pakistan-based terror outfits Jaish-e-Mohammed or Lashkar-e-Taiba being targeted.
One English news channel even referred to then US president Barack Obama announcing the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a televised address in May 2016 as it tried to guess what the prime minister could possibly announce in his address.
Speculation about a possible security-related announcement gained traction when some channels reported that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had gone into a huddle at the prime minister’s residence.
While TV presenters worked themselves into a frenzy over what message the prime minister could possibly give, people had existential concerns on mind.
Memories of that fateful November 2016 evening, when Modi announced the demonetisation of high value currency notes, were still fresh.
“I was about to enter a doctor’s chamber for a meeting when I came to know about the upcoming address of the prime minister. I immediately made a dash for the nearest ATM counter to withdraw some cash,” said Mainak Mukherjee, a sales manager with a pharmaceutical company in Kolkata.
On Twitter, jokes about people running to the ATM and counting cash started doing the rounds. Social media users also bombarded Twitter with their theories while they waited.
Among them was former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah who tweeted, “He’s declaring the results of the Lok Sabha elections. #JustSaying.”
“Dawood arrested brought back? Hafiz Saeed or Masood Azhar eliminated?#PMtoaddressnation,” added social media user, Sagar Rai.
Pictures of former prime minister Indira Gandhi addressing the country to announce the imposition of Emergency were also circulating on the microblogging site.
“Have added my CA on the speed dial list #PM to address nation,” said Niharika Rana.
“Another #Demonetisation? Did they catch Masood Azhar or Dawood? Are we taking over Pakistan? OMG I am #anxious now,” Twitter user Gaurish Salunke said.
In Mumbai, there were avid discussions on local trains and offices.
Tweets were read out aloud in offices and local trains as people tried to get their hands on any information they could.
Information in social media about the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting Wednesday morning upped expectations of the PM’s announcement being security-related.
“The visit to the ATM can be deferred,” said a commuter in a Churchgate-bound train as humour took centrestage in the absence of any credible lead.
Some discerning ones noticed a sharp correction in the equity markets 10 minutes after Modi’s tweet.
“We all were very speculative about the important message and clients were concerned about the reaction of the market after the address,” said Jaipur-based stock broker Vishnu Nalawat.
Hemraj Sharma, a government teacher, was on a Rajasthan Roadways bus on his way from Bagru in the state to Jaipur when a passenger announced loudly that Modi would be addressing the nation.
“The general reaction was that it could be either a big action against Pakistan or something like Emergency. Most passengers got busy trying to log into the net to stay informed,” he said.
Excitement also built up around a tea stall in Lucknow’s Hazratganj area.
Rinku, the tea vendor, said he overheard discussions before while sipping tea before the announcement.
Sanity returned only when Modi appeared on multiple screens — phone, TV and others — at 12.17 pm and declared that India had demonstrated its anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a live satellite which had catapulted the country into an exclusive club of space superpowers.
“In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today,” he said in an unprecedented broadcast to the nation on television, radio and social media. PTI