On August 15 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked up the ramparts of the Red Fort to deliver his sixth Independence Day speech the sky above was overcast. However, the imminent threat of rains did not slow down or stop Modi — from the word go Modi was in full exuberance and had a flourish that is now associated with his oratory.
Modi packed a lot of thoughts in his 92-minute-long speech — the second-longest by any Prime Minister; the longest being the 98-minute speech Modi delivered in 2016. If Modi’s 2018 Independence Day speech was more of a ‘look back moment’, this time he has focused on the road ahead. If one were roughly cut his speech, for about 30 minutes Modi spoke about what his government had achieved; the remaining part of about an hour was forward-looking.
Five minutes into his speech Modi stressed that his 10-week-old government passed many important legislation and achieved progress across sectors. He said that by abrogating Article 370 and 35A his government had further realised the dreams of India’s first home minister, Sardar Patel. Modi said that for Muslim women his government passed a legislation against instant triple talaq. He stressed that the government passed legislation against terrorism (UAPA), a pension scheme for small traders was announced, Rs 90,000 crore was earmarked for the Kisan Samman Nidhi, for improving healthcare and facilitating more doctors the government has introduced the National Medical Commission Bill 2019, among others.
If Modi spent about three minutes to elaborate why his government was firm on a law against instant triple talaq, he spent almost 10 minutes focusing on why Article 370 and 35A was revoked from Jammu & Kashmir. This was more a repetition of what Home Minister Amit Shah had said in Parliament and what Modi himself said in an address to the nation on August 8. However, what followed was more important.
Modi said that if abrogating Article 370 and 35A ensured that there was ‘One Nation, One Constitution’ across India, and if the Goods and Services Tax (GST) realised ‘One Nation, One Tax’, his government was working towards ‘One Nation, One Mobility Card’ and ‘One Nation, One Grid’. Adding to this he said that the goal of ‘One Nation, One Poll’ was in the works.
In a statesmanlike manner, Modi acknowledged the work done by all previous governments towards fighting poverty, and said more needs to be done. Modi talked about the ongoing efforts to fight corruption and nepotism, and about how steps were taken for the ease of doing business.
He focused on the economy and said that the goal of India becoming a $5 trillion economy is possible and every Indian should work towards it. He said that India should move away from being a ‘bazaar’ (consumption economy) and focus on exports. He stressed on the need for creating and respecting wealth creators.
There are eight highlights or points to look forward to from Modi’s speech. The first was the goal of ‘One Nation, One Poll’. Expect the government to increase its efforts to realise this.
The second is the focus on water. Modi said that Rs 3.5 lakh-crore has been earmarked for the Jal Jeevan Mission and work in water purification, waste water treatment, desalination, rainwater harvesting and micro irrigation must increase. Underlining his focus on water, he said that in the next five years India must achieve four times of what it achieved over the past 70 years.
Third, and a progressive but political hot potato issue, was the need to control the ‘population explosion’. Modi said that people who have small families, who are able to address all needs of their children, must be respected as they are also serving the nation. He suggested that every parent must think whether she will be able to give a respectable living for the child before deciding to have one. If the government’s efforts on improving ease of living, especially healthcare, were to fructify, this call by the PM is likely to be heard.
Fourth is the promise of Rs 100 lakh-crore for modern infrastructure, be it for the Sagarmala project, the Bharatmala project, for modernising railways, etc. This also makes it clear that infrastructure is a priority area for Modi 2.0.
Fifth is India’s focus on Afghanistan. While speaking about India’s long efforts and successes in exposing those who are supporting and exporting terror (read Pakistan), Modi extended India’s goodwill towards its “neighbour” Afghanistan. Coming at a time when the geo-politics in Afghanistan is undergoing a tectonic shift, Modi’s words gives a peek into New Delhi’s focus on the landlocked nation.
For some time now there has been talk and steps towards integrating India’s armed forces under a single chief, a Chief of Defence. The changing nature of conflicts and advancement in technology has made the need for such a move all the more important. This is the sixth highlight.
The stress on tourism is the seventh point. Modi has asked Indians to visit at least 15 places in India by 2022. This will be a shot in the arm for local tourism that will in turn help the economy.
The eight and the last point is the focus on the environment. Though he only made a passing reference to the floods across many states in India, his call to say no to single-use plastic and chemical fertilisers is noteworthy. While on the face of it this might appear to be a small move, it is a change, which if implemented and adopted, will have far-reaching effects.
Throughout his speech Modi showed that he was a man in a hurry — he said that for the nation to grow incremental progress was not enough, we had to do “high jumps”. He has shown that he is not one for slow changes; he believes in sudden, at times jolting changes, and wants the nation to run with him — and that will be the challenge for this government, at least for the next five years.
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