Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday sought the nation's forgiveness for imposing a monumental lockdown on the country, saying it was a question of life and death and expressed confidence that "we will definitely win the battle" against the coronavirus menace that has claimed 25 lives in India so far.
In his monthly Mann ki Baat radio address to the nation, Modi also praised the front-line workers in the fight against the virus as well as countless workers in the essential services who are ensuring the country doesn't come to a complete standstill in the 21-day lockdown announced on March 24.
"I seek forgiveness ... I strongly feel, you will forgive me. When I see my poor brothers and sisters, then I definitely feel that they would say what kind of prime minister is this who has put us in this trouble. I specially seek their forgiveness. You had to undergo problems. I understand but there is no other way out to fight the coronavirus for a country with a population of 130 crore," he said. "But this is a battle for life and death."
According to the health ministry update released an hour before Modi's address, India has recorded a total of 979 cases and 25 deaths so far.
The prime minister said looking at what the world is going through, this (lockdown) was the "only way left."
"After all, the safety of you and your families has to be ensured. Once again, I apologise for any inconvenience, any hardship caused to you," he said.
To drive home his point, Modi referred to an ancient Indian adage that means an illness and its scourge should be nipped in the bud because when it becomes incurable with passage of time its treatment is very difficult.
He also described as "unfortunate" incidents where some of those suspected coronavirus carriers under home quarantine are being ill-treated or ostracised by others.
"I am greatly pained to learn of these instances. This is very unfortunate. We need to understand that in the current circumstances, we need to ensure social distance, not human or emotional distance. These people are not criminals, " he said.
He pointed out that these people are merely suspected to be infected with the virus.
"These people have isolated and quarantined themselves to protect other people from getting infected," he said.
"Coronavirus is bent on killing people therefore entire humanity must unite and resolve to eliminate it," he said in the address that lasted more than 30 minutes and featured his interaction with two former coronavirus patients and two doctors.
He said while talks on a variety of issues in the programme, this month, he will restrict himself to coronavirus as it would not be appropriate to talk of other things.
The lockdown is a means to protect yourself, he said.
"You have to protect yourself and your family. For the next many days, you have to continue displaying this patience; abide by the 'Lakshman Rekha'," he stressed.
In a stern warning to those not following rules during the 21-day lockdown, the prime minister said no one wants to overstep the law and break rules wilfully.
"But there are some who are doing so, since they are not trying to understand the gravity of the matter. To them I will say that if they don't comply with the lockdown rule, it will be difficult to save ourselves from the scourge of coronavirus," he said.
"The world over, many people nursed this delusion (that they will not be affected by coronavirus) All of them are regretting now ... those breaking the rules are playing with their lives," he said.
Modi also referred to "daily life heroes" who are helping people run their daily lives smoothly. These include plumbers, electricians, grocery shop owners, e commerce delivery personnel and those maintaining telecom and internet services.
He said India has been able to fight a battle on such a massive scale, only due to the zeal and grit of front-line warriors such as doctor, nurses, para-medic personnel, Aasha and Anganwadi workers and sanitation staff.
"The country is also concerned about your health. Keeping that in mind , for around 20 lakhs colleagues from these fields, the government has announced a health insurance cover of up to Rs 50 lakh, so that in this battle, you can lead the country with greater self confidence," he said.
The prime minister also urged people to utilise the time spent at home in re-engaging themselves in old hobbies an reconnecting with old friends.
During the programme, Modi invited coronavirus victim Ramagampa Teja to share his experience on Mann ki Baat. Teja said he was initially frightened but felt reassured because of doctors and hospital staff.
PM also spoke with Agra's Ashok Kapoor who along with entire family including young grandson was infected by coronavirus.
Kapoor, a shoes manufacturer, said his two sons, family member caught the virus in Italy where they had attended a footwear trade fare and infected others upon returning.
The prime minister told Kapoor to spread awareness about anti-coronavirus measures in Agra and use social media for the purpose.
During the interaction, Dr Nitish Gupta said many hospitalised people are scared after seeing news of massive deaths in other countries, and require counselling.
Dr Borse from Pune told Modi that all patients in his hospital are recovering well.