In a Crisis, India's Modi Could Always Change the Narrative. Then Came COVID. 疫情考驗莫迪主掌話語權本領
As India gasped for air at the peak of its COVID devastation, its leader appeared to advise his people to just breathe normally.
The instructions, a bit of yoga advice for the stressed, came from one of the many social media accounts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has used powerful oratory and digital savvy to become India's most dominant leader in decades. But the tweet showed how India's master of public perception has increasingly struggled to get his message across, exposing the limits of his ability to control the narrative.
The omnipresent Modi had largely vanished from public view as his government proved powerless to stop the deaths and the mounting criticism about his performance. With his poll numbers dropping and his allies straining to make his case on India's talk shows, he has increasingly pushed "be positive" messaging and feel-good tips.
The campaign has struggled to connect. "Sit in a comfortable meditative posture," read a tweet from one of Modi's many accounts, which project his diverse set of personas — this one the wise yoga guru. "Keep the spine erect. Place the hands on the thighs. Gently close the eyes and raise the face slightly. Breathe normally."
Responded one commenter: "This is like rubbing salt on wounds."
In turn, Modi has tried to quash dissent. His government has been locked in a messy showdown with social media platforms over taking down critical content. Police in Delhi, the capital, arrested at least 20 people for putting up posters critical of Modi's handling of vaccinations. A Modi protégé, who leads India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, threatened those who complained about oxygen shortages.
One survey found disapproval with Modi had risen by about 10 percentage points since the second wave intensified. In another survey, one in six people said they had lost a loved one and blamed the central government first, and then "destiny," for their loss.
"So much death, so much despair — children lost their parents overnight, elderly parents lost their young children, people lost their spouses," said Shruti Chaturvedi, an entrepreneur doing relief work in the state of Goa. "How can we dare tell them 'be positive'?"
Modi's approval rating is still above 60%, according to one poll. But the growing dissatisfaction suggests the prime minister may not so easily be able to change public sentiment by pushing emotional nationalist causes or shifting his image as he has done in the past. Rather, like any other politician, he may increasingly be judged by his ability to deliver.
Shadows splay in every direction on glowing green grass.
It's close to midnight, the moon hangs high in the dark night sky, and South Koreans are still outside, golfing.
This is "white night" golf, a nocturnal sports phenomenon in South Korea that reflects the still surging popularity of the sport there, the persistent challenges many encounter in nabbing a tee time in the country's dense cities and the lengths to which some will nevertheless go to get one.
South Korea is the third-largest market for golf in the world, behind only the United States and Japan.
For golf fans worldwide, the game's grip on the country is most easily observed in its surplus of elite professional players, particularly in the women's game. As of last week, 32 of the top 100 players in the women's world rankings, including four of the top 10, were from South Korea.
But on the ground, golf is very much a participatory pastime, even if the popularity of the sport and the undersupply of courses in metropolitan areas make opportunities to actually play scarce and expensive. Seoul, a city of nearly 10 million people, has only one course, and it is open only to military personnel.
But golfers understandably desire the real thing. So what do you do when the demand for tee times outstrips the sunlight in a given day?
According to Seo Chun-beom, president of the Korea Leisure Industry Institute, South Korea now boasts a whopping 117 golf courses of 18 holes or more that offer nighttime play for willing golfers, with tee times as late as 8 p.m. Seo said there are countless other 9-hole courses that also feature floodlights and do not close until midnight or later.
Many people from Seoul, for instance, make the trek to Sky 72 Golf & Resort in Incheon, close to the area's main international airport, where 2,700 lights have been installed to illuminate 36 of the facility's 72 holes.
The concept of golfing under lights exists outside South Korea, of course.
A writer for the website GolfPass last year counted 65 courses in the United States that featured at least some amount of nighttime lighting — although all but one of them were short courses. And courses in the United States that offer late tee times still close far earlier than those in South Korea, which often remain open as late as 1 a.m.