On the 67th anniversary of our independence, Indians woke up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eloquent 60-minute monologue, high on lofty ideals and peppered with a great deal of nationalist fervour. Any student wanting to develop oratorical capabilities can certainly use Prime Minister Modi’s extempore speech at the Red Fort as an inspiration. However, the same student would be well advised to do some fact checking, to examine whether the soaring rhetoric matches hard reality.
For starters, the Prime Minister talked about the need to reject violence and overcome caste, community and other barriers. That is something that India has been trying to achieve since Independence. Juxtapose this statesmanlike talk with the reality that the same Prime Minister recently handpicked Amit Shah to be the national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The same Amit Shah, whose subtle calls for revenge in Uttar Pradesh paid rich electoral dividends. The very same Amit Shah whom Modi declared “man of the match” for his success in driving a wedge between communities that had lived and voted in harmony.
A good part of the speech was spent on discussing the pressing need for improving the safety of women. The Prime Minister’s prescription for this problem was to urge parents to educate their sons and keep them at ‘leash’, constantly questioning them on their whereabouts and what they were up to. In his opinion, the same solution could also prove to be effective in preventing youth from becoming Naxalites and terrorists. While I compliment the PM for highlighting gender discrimination in an unprecedented manner, especially for someone with Sangh Parivar roots, I do find his analysis and solution somewhat simplistic and the lumping together of disparate issues problematic. The Independence Day speech was a great opportunity for the Prime Minister to go beyond this call to parents and unveil concrete policy initiatives aimed at enhancing the safety of our women. Unfortunately, the silence on substantive measures was deafening. Just as deafening as the silence from Prime Minister Modi when we needed his reassurance the most -- when the nation was in shock after the horrifying tragedy in Badaun.
Inspired possibly by US President Obama’s “Yes, we can”, Prime Minister Modi coined a new mantra for development “Come, Make in India”. However, reviving Indian manufacturing takes more than just slogans. Potential investors would have seen that the Union budget was lacklustre on this front. A part-time Finance Minister was only able to offer bits and pieces. Until a coherent policy narrative, clarity on contentious tax issues and much more is in place, it will be a challenge to boost infrastructure and manufacturing sector growth.
When the ex-PM Manmohan Singh delivered his Independence Speech last year, Modi had politicised this sacrosanct national event by launching a scathing attack saying Singh had little or no spine in dealing with Pakistan’s repeated border incursions on the line of control. While Modi adopted a hard stance against Pakistan through the campaign, his swearing in ceremony, in stark contrast, saw the attendance of President Nawaz Sharif, followed by several rounds of bilateral talks between the two countries. The last few weeks have seen repeated violations of ceasefire and unprovoked firing with many of our jawans sustaining severe injuries. However, this found no mention in Prime Minister’s Modi's speech. Neither was there a single mention of tackling corruption and black money, issues Modi loved to emphasize earlier. Why this hypocrisy? Why no progress report to the nation on the billions of black funds he promised to bring back to India from Swiss banks within a few months?
In his recent speech at the BJP National Executive Meet, the Prime Minister said that 'people who did not do anything for 60 years are now attacking us'. In his Independence Day speech, fortunately, he was cognizant of the contribution of the leaders who came before him in building India. Will the real Mr Modi please stand up?
The Prime Minister did manage to touch on a few key issues. His emphasis on building toilets for girls is indeed commendable, taking forward a vision earlier championed by the previous rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. PM Modi's message on promoting sanitation, reducing bureaucratic red tapism and a strong emphasis on financial inclusion hit all the right chords. His urging every Indian to take personal responsibility to ensure cleanliness was a welcome reminder of what each of us must do. But how effectively will he walk the talk and how well will he deliver on his promises is left to be seen.
India's hard choices of balancing economic growth, the rights of our tribal citizens and the conservation of environment, cannot be wished away by rhyming couplets. Politicians may campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. Unless PM Modi finds a way to tackle the challenges and trade-offs of policy implementation, his Independence Day speech will be oratorically zero defect, but in reality, have zero effect.
Professor MV Rajeev Gowda is a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of dna.