Prime Minister Modi’s annual Independence Day speeches have always generated a buzz. True to character, he has left his own mark on this seventy-year old event. Unlike the drab speeches that were read out from a bullet-proof enclosure, his are improvised and delivered out in the open. In terms of substance, Mr. Modi has used the occasion to outline his bold agenda and give the nation an account of his government’s work. Flagship programmes such Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Make In India and Swachh Bharat were all presented to the country from this dais.
The third edition of the Independence Day address had four parts to it. The first was of course the obeisance that is paid to those who fought for India’s freedom, and the commendation of our armed forces who keep us safe.
The second was an account of all that his government has achieved so far. He presented this through the prism of work culture, and demonstrated how his government was one of action. The third was an appeal for social harmony, which is relevant in the present context. The fourth one was even more relevant.
He attacked our terrorist neighbour Pakistan in a multipronged way. Although the speech wasn’t divided systematically in these four parts, every point he made can find a place in one of these categories.
Prime Minister Modi started his Independence Day speech by reminding the country that despite it being only our seventieth Independence Day, we are in fact many thousand years old as a nation.
This is the broader narrative of India which he has always espoused, and which as he mentioned today encompasses the Vedas, lord Krishna, Vivekananda as well as Mahatma Gandhi. But his Independence Day speech revolved around the turning point that the nation is at currently, that from freedom to good governance, from Swarajya to Surajya.
Most of Mr. Modi’s speech was about how the government’s work culture had completely changed in the last two years, and how his government had brought perceptible change to the life of the common man. This too was presented at many different levels.
He spoke about how patients could register online beforehand and get treatment in an efficient manner in government hospitals across the country, as opposed to the chaotic state in which these hospitals used to be. He spoke about how thousands of government jobs were being excluded from the ambit of interviews, making the process fairer and less corrupt. He spoke about how the IRTC website was upgraded for smoother navigation, how the process of acquisition for government documents such as passports had been hastened and how the poor were getting better access to the country’s banking system.
So far, five million subsidised gas connections have been provided to the poor, two hundred ten million energy-efficient and cost-effective LED bulbs were sold at a subsidized rate and the government was planning on introducing solar-powered pumps for farmers at a massive scale.
Several such impressive figures of the ongoings on the ground were provided, and even higher targets were set for the coming years. While speaking about his government’s work culture, the Prime Minister also emphasized on the macro picture.
He had given his government machinery a thousand days to electrify all the eighteen thousand non-electrified villages of India two years ago. In less than five hundred days, more than ten thousand of those villages had received electricity. The construction of rural roads which was less than seventy kilometres a day two years ago now stands at over a hundred kilometres a day. Perpetually bleeding PSUs such as Air India, BSNL and the Shipping Corporation of India are reporting operational profits for the first time. The government has renegotiated a gas purchase deal with Qatar, and saved a whopping 22000 crore rupees. Power plants which were on the verge of shutting down are now working extra time, because the mining of coal is at an all-time high.
At the same time, the generation of solar energy has increased by a massive hundred and sixteen percent in the last two years. Hundreds of old projects spanning several ministries have been cleared. The Indo-Bangladesh border, which was disputed since 1971 and has cost India dearly, has finally been agreed upon. The perpetually pending One Rank One Pension demand from ex-servicemen was cleared. Recently, the Goods and Service Tax Bill was passed in parliament. Despite two draughts, India has successfully kept its inflation below four percent. At the same time, in terms of growth, India remains the brightest spot in the world.
No government can boast of such incredible credentials. Today’s speech, more than anything else, indicated that development and performance are areas that the critics should stay away from. And because of such an impeccable record, the critics mostly have. Finding nothing better, they have focussed on social and moral issues.
Their criticism has been largely unfounded and their intentions rather dubious. Recently, they attempted to paint the government anti-Dalit. Mr. Modi would have none of it, and came out in support of the victims instead of letting his critics wrongly associate him to the perpetrators.
In today’s Independence Day speech too, he spoke about the backward and destitute classes. He called for a society which treated every individual equally, irrespective of caste, creed, financial standing and gender. He spoke about the various steps his government had taken for women empowerment.
Those who follow politics closely had been waiting for a statement on Pakistan, considering how our terrorist neighbour which was put on the back foot by the Modi government had been escalating tensions of late. Mr. Modi did not disappoint. At first, he said that the government has a zero tolerance policy for terrorists, irrespective of whether they were Maoists or insurgents. He called for the young men who had joined such degraded movements to dump them, return to the mainstream before it was too late, and lead a happy and peaceful life.
You can watch the full video of Modi’s Independence Day speech here (Courtesy: Narendra Modi Official Channel on YouTube)
Next, he spoke about India’s immediate neighbours, our fellow SAARC members. He appealed to them to fight poverty instead of fighting each other, which was a clear reference to Pakistan. Then he spoke about the two contrasts in Pakistan, about how it was a country which was losing its own children in terrorist bloodbaths, and how at the same time it was promoting and glorifying terror. The icing on the cake of course was when he mentioned Balochistan, Gilgit and Pak-occupied-Kashmir. Last week, he had spoken about the atrocities and the human right violations by Pakistan in these territories that they forcibly occupy, and today he said he was overwhelmed after people from those areas thanked him.
This was the single biggest takeaway from the Independence Day speech. Mr. Modi has revolutionized India’s Pakistan policy, and has put Pakistan on the back foot time and again. Now that Pakistan has responded by escalating the situation, India has decided to internationalise the Balochistan issue. For the first time since the independence of both countries, India has formally taken note and empathised with Balochistan. This is likely to aggravate our conflict with Pakistan, as well as hasten its imminent downfall.
The four major themes in this speech were India’s greatness, its shift from freedom to good governance, the need for social harmony, and the no-nonsense attitude towards every hostile element. Not only did Mr. Modi hit the right chords, it seems as if his actions are speaking louder than his words. When the camera panned on Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during the speech, it looked like he was fast asleep. Clearly, Mr. Modi is giving his opponents sleepless nights.