New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 86-minute Independence Day speech Saturday was motivational, spirit-lifting and reassuring — exactly what a country facing multiple crises needed to hear. It had something for everybody — farmers, migrants, middle-classes, Pakistan-China bashers, Kashmir-enthusiasts and Lord Ram devotees.
But Modi’s seventh speech from the ramparts of the Lal Qila was different from the previous ones in one aspect: The near-absence of bravado and extravagance. There were no grand announcements of big-ticket welfare schemes or policy declarations.
In 2019, for instance, he had declared the creation of the post of chief of defence staff (CDS) and stressed his government’s intent to make India a $5 trillion-economy, double farmers’ income by 2022, and put an end to single-use plastic, among others.
In 2018, his remark about embracing the people of Jammu & Kashmir, like former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee did, and not going down the path of goli (bullets) and gaali (abuses) was the main highlight. In 2017, it was his government’s intent to abolish triple talaq.
In the present day, the Prime Minister did seek to play to the gallery on national security issues, but his speech was largely measured in terms of new promises. He spoke of how Indian soldiers gave a befitting reply to anyone who challenged India “from the LoC to LAC”. He, however, skipped any mention of the Chinese intrusions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Similarly, Modi struck an optimistic note on the fight against coronavirus. He spoke of how India was prepared to go for the “production” of three Covid vaccines once scientists gave a green signal. But he refrained from showcasing the results of the nationwide lockdown or celebrating India’s success in containing infections. India’s active Covid count is the third highest in the world now, but it was all hunky-dory according to the PM’s speech as far as Covid management was concerned.
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2020 versus 2019
The biggest emphasis was laid on ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat‘, coining a new slogan — from “Make in India” to “Make for World”.
“For how long can we export raw materials and import finished products?” he said. However, the PM has been ‘vocal for local’ since he assumed office in 2014. In fact, the phrase ‘Make in India’ was coined in his first Independence Day speech, posing a question to youngsters why India is forced to import the smallest of things. “My country’s youth can resolve it … we should advance to a situation when we are able to export such items,” he had said.
In 2019, he harped on it, exhorting Indian companies and entrepreneurs to dream of the global market. He had then coined the slogan of “local products for lucky tomorrow”.
On Saturday, the PM said his government had connected over 1.5 lakh panchayats with optical fibre in the past five years and added that going ahead, it will connect over six lakh villages in the next 1,000 days or about three years. Last year, Modi had spoken of the dream of each village having an optical fibre network when India completed 75 years of Independence.
Modi also declared his government’s decision to spend over Rs 110 lakh crore on a national infrastructure pipeline, for which 7,000 projects have already been identified. The year before, he had announced the government would invest Rs 100 lakh crore in modern infrastructure since people had developed a “taste” for “good life”.
Given this historical comparison, Modi’s 2020 speech lacked lustre and grandeur, but it did underline a growing realisation about the gravity of the crises the government is grappling with and will continue to do so in the coming months and years.
What was shiny & new
While most of the PM’s 2020 Lal Qila speech was spent in elaborating on the benefits of the existing government schemes and policies for the poor and the middle classes, there were some new announcements.
Among them was the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), a Rs 144 crore project to set up personal health IDs for citizens so they can access all their medical records online. He also announced multi-nodal infrastructure connectivity, a cyber security policy, and four-lane road networks to connect ports.
However, where he fell short on extravagance, Modi made up with his oratorical skill and ability to say what people want to hear — that all is well.
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