Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an impressive debut at the Red Fort ramparts with his maiden Independence Day speech. It may be reasonably argued that Modi has lived up to the keen sense of anticipation triggered by his reputation as a masterful orator and his recently achieved impressive electoral victory. A generation burdened with poverty, unemployment, gender violence and poor public health was seeking inspiration. The economy, sunk to a decadal low, needed revitalisation and a new and sustainable growth model. The Prime Minister’s speech, delivered extempore and without the insulating protection offered by the bullet-proof enclosure, may have exceeded expectations. But the difficulty of translating rhetoric into action was best exemplified by a pictorial tweet that went viral soon after. Despite Modi’s repeated entreaties on sanitation and maintaining hygienic surroundings, it was left to a rag-picking child to clean up the plastic and paper waste left behind by the Tricolour-donning school students cheering the PM at the venue.
This is the context from where Modi must begin his battles: the inadequacy of the State which allows the evils of the modern and the medieval to flourish. He delivered a stirring attack on patriarchy that privileges the male child from the foetal stage, and lambasted parents who blindly indulge male children, and linked these to implicitly sanctioning rape and gender violence. But questions remain over Modi’s prolonged silence on the recent horrific incidents of gender violence. Modi as Prime Minister must regularly and repeatedly articulate his views, irrespective of political implications. Only then can the full might of the State quell violence, in all its forms, and influence a perceivable change in social mindset. Consider in this context, the PM’s continued silence on the communal violence in his adoptive state of Uttar Pradesh. His grim reminder that violence has never been productive or the earnest call for a 10-year moratorium on communal and caste violence can be meaningful only when they appear consistent with actions.
But the signals Modi is sending out to the poor and the rural areas suffers from no such ambiguity. Bank accounts to the poor and a life insurance cover of Rs1 lakh will benefit nearly 50 per cent of the population. But his proposals of tasking MPs with developing a model village by 2016 in their constituencies, and a Swatcch Bharat campaign to build toilets were short on specifics. While the former can at best be a showpiece hardly addressing rural macro problems, sanitation has been a focus area for long without achieving perceptible results. It is in implementation that Modi can better the Congress track record. His speech’s invocation to government officials to focus on service and refrain from asking “what is in it for me” appears to stem from this realisation. Without the central and the state bureaucracies cooperating, Modi understands that even the best of plans will fail as the MGNREGA experience proves.
But where Modi will be offered no quarter for failure, will be in his industry outreach. Many are already upset over the GST impasse and the sacrificing of the WTO trade facilitation agreement for food subsidies. Here Modi’s pitch to foreign investors and domestic entrepreneurs to make India a manufacturing hub, hit the right note. By repeatedly chanting “Come, make in India” the PM has rightly identified import substitution and export promotion as the new government’s mantra. Speeches give people a yardstick to remember and review the covenant declared by rulers from time to time. Modi has made specific promises; the expectations have firm contours now.