While the Prime Minister Modi was addressing the nation from the rampart of Red Fort on 15th August on the eve of the sixty-eighth Independence Day for the first time, the thought came to my mind that I am also among those fortunate Indians who were born in the post-independent India. Apart from his address, a large number of Indians simultaneously received the following message in English and Hindi on their electronic gadgets from the prime minister:
“Greetings on Independence Day! Let us pledge to do good deeds that benefit our Nation, fellow Indians & enhance the pride & prestige of our Tricolour.”
Perhaps no other prime minister and prominent leaders have ever made use of advances of information technology to this extent to connect with the people of India on such a scale with such an emotional note. Deviating from the convention of a written speech, he preferred to speak extempore during his over an hour long address without any teleprompter or pre-drafted notes.
The most touching and sentimental aspect of his speech was addressing himself as Pradhan Sewak (i.e. prime servant or first servant) of the nation. In a way this should be the spirit of any elected representative in a parliamentary democracy in letter and spirit in service of people as against the usual approach and arrogance among elected representatives of being the privileged class and often beyond the reach of common man with blatant variation in ‘talk and walk’.
Then unlike the tradition of his predecessors announcing big ticket long term schemes from the Red Fort, Prime Minister Modi preferred to connect with the masses on basic issues like poverty and development, equal treatment of son and daughter by parents while raising, security and protection of girl child and woman, need for basic amenities including sanitation and toilets in cities, villages and schools, inculcating the habit of keeping surroundings clean, creation of model villages, indigenous manufacturing of all goods of common use, and so on so forth.
This was a significant departure from the usual approach of ‘mai-baap sarkar’ that takes responsibility, or at least pretends so, of arranging goods and services to the passive citizens. Mr Modi instead stressed the need for countrymen to rise to their full potential, realize their responsibilities and duties and shape up their own destinies. In a country where politicians so skillfully, with no shame attached, exploit the cards of religion and caste for their party’s and personal gains, he came up with the radical idea i.e. a ten year moratorium on disputes and violence by these divisive issues.
Born, brought up and hailing from a humble origin, he appears to be a genuine dreamer of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. Also he appears to be under no illusion that this can be achieved only with every citizen’s (including groups, communities and rival parties) sustained and long term cooperation and participation. But the moot question is whether divisive forces with vested interests equally among rivals and supporters would hear him for this dream to materialize ever.
It may sound too mundane for many but the prime minister’s emphasis on cleanliness and sanitation sounds well and reasonable to me. For years now the Indian people world over have received flak from across the fraternity of nations particularly the developed West on these counts. According to 2011 Census data in India, the households without latrines in villages stand to 69.3% and in urban areas to 18.6%. On an overall average, about 53% Indian households do not have access to latrines in their premises. Debris and litter can be observed everywhere including coveted national capital of India.
In the above backdrop, prime minister’s stress on prioritizing this area, making all towns and villages litter free and separate toilets for girls in every school makes sense. On the issue of improving public hygiene and building toilets for woman and girl child, he had spoken in the past too. But in the current avatar, he appears to turn this goal into a national mission, having declared to build separate toilets for girl students in all schools in a year’s time, linking it to issue of gender justice and dignity of the poor. He also advised all members of parliament to adopt village(s) to transform it into model village through spending from their development fund.
On the security and safety of woman, the prime minister advised parents to discipline their sons. While law would continue to strongly deal with rape crimes but parents too must ask their sons questions like where they were going and when they would return – like they do in the case of their daughters. After all a rapist too is somebody’s son and it is the duty of parents to stop him before he strays.
On the gender equality and prevailing discrimination, he made out a strong appeal. He said he had known several families who prefer boys in the hope that they would look after them in the old age. Then he had come across families with many sons and luxuries like wealth, bungalow and cars yet their parents are forced to live in old age homes. On the other hand, he has seen cases too with only one daughter ready to sacrifice her dreams, refusing to get married and devoting entire life caring her parents. The widening adverse gender ratio is a reflection of widespread rot in the society and doctors must stop killing the girl child in the mother’s womb for their greed of earning more money.
Then the prime minister pleaded for the indigenization through the growth of the manufacturing sector for self-reliance and creation of more jobs. He exhorted that the country has enough skill, talent, discipline and determination and his government is ready to give the world favourable opportunities. Let them come, make in India to sell anywhere but manufacture here. Clearly, here he seems willing to revive the manufacturing sector through key policy initiatives with an ambitious goal to make country self-reliant in common goods and enhancing job opportunities in the years to come.
He appreciated skill, talent and potential of Indian youth urging them to take pride in ‘Made in India’ instead of foreign brands. Government is determined to make enabling provisions and talented youth must come forward to avail opportunities to reduce country’s dependence on imports which at present is very high. Manufacturing zero-defect goods would increase country’s self-reliance and opportunities for exports world over. Appealing the small and big industrialists besides youth not to compromise on two points – first zero-defect and second zero effect. Zero-defect would enhance credibility of product and reduce chances of rejection while zero-effect will rule out possibilities of polluting environment.
Further, he stressed the need for promoting tourism industry in the country. He observed that tourism could be a good source of livelihood providing employment to the poorest of poor. This provides opportunity to big business as also to many small time workers. The gram seller earns something, auto-rickshaw driver earns something, pakoda seller earns something and tea seller also earns something from this.
On the instances of communal violence and caste conflicts, the prime minister observed that the country has seen too much of it for too long. Whether the violence is based on cast tensions or on communal lines, it leads to a loss of too many innocent lives and property besides hindering the growth of the nation. Accordingly, in a sort of an out of box idea he gave a call to all countrymen for a ten years moratorium of violence of all sorts, “Let us resolve for once in our hearts, let us put a moratorium on all such activities for ten years, we shall march ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions and you will see how much strength we derive from peace, unity, goodwill and brotherhood. Let us experiment with it for once.”
It may sound too utopian given the history of communal violence and caste conflicts in India but it is still worth a trial at least by those who are more enlightened having faith in reasoning and those (supposedly responsible) political, social and religious people who are not directly involved yet tempted to use such incidents as an opportunity to further their personal ambitions.
Then instead of resorting to the rhetoric of bashing opposition and rival parties on the occasion, the prime minister preferred to give credit and concede contribution of all previous governments, including states, in the development of the country. While acknowledging previous governments and prime ministers, he emphasized that his government wants to move forward on the basis consensus and not sheer majority for better outcomes in the matters of legislation as is evident from the recently concluded parliament session.
On the bureaucratic functioning and changes required for meeting people’s aspirations, he observed that he was an outsider to Delhi, and had no idea about the administration and working of this place. But the last two months helped him to acquire an insider view. Then he was surprised by what he saw. It appeared as if dozens of parallel governments were running under one government and that everyone had his own fiefdom. “I observed disunity and conflict. One would take on another, drag each other even to Supreme Court,” he said. While appreciating bureaucracy as a set of skilled and professional people, he added that above features of bureaucracy would not take country forward and the situation needs significant reforms.
Contrary to the past convention of criticizing neighbors from the rampart of the Red Fort on the issues like terrorism, illegal immigrants and trade barriers etc, the prime minister chose to speak for regional integration and cooperation for mutually inclusive growth and poverty alleviation. Appealing his SAARC counterparts to join the battle against the problems mutually faced across the border i.e. the challenges of poverty and development, he remarked, “Our common forefathers fought for the freedom together. If without weapons or resources we could defeat a powerful sultanate, can’t we defeat poverty together?”
Of course, one big-ticket scheme namely ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana’ has been announced from the rampart of the Red Fort for the poor unbanked households in the country. The scheme intends to provide rupees one lac insurance with a bank account. Though exact number of beneficiaries was not divulged with, it is understood the scheme is likely to commence soon and would provide for about hundred-fifty million accounts for the benefit of about seventy-five million households.
Another radical announcement involved dismantling of the Planning Commission which is likely to be replaced with a new body called ‘National Development and Reforms Commission’. This step may have mixed reaction equally among the political parties and intelligentsia in due course but all non-aligned and dispassionate people should wait and watch for the reform.
In the recently concluded parliamentary session, the National Judiciary Appointments Commission Bill was passed by both houses of Parliament. It is understood that the NDA government is now considering major electoral reforms which may inter alia include barring a candidate from contesting polls if a charge sheet has been filed against him for some heinous crime.
There is no doubt that approximately thirty thousand strong crowd gathered at the Red Fort and millions were glued on to television to hear the prime ministerial address. There was wide cheer and appreciation for his speech. His charisma has worked garnering wide appreciation from millions at least for the time being. Reportedly, several political scientists and social commentators have observed that Mr Modi’s Independence Day speech did carry the imprint of a self-assured, self-made man. One of them has apparently compared his democratic sensibility with the former French President Charles de Gaulle. Social commentator Santosh Desai underlined his willingness to engage in direct conversation with people. Another prominent academician Pushpesh Pant reportedly observed, “To a generation that watched a tired Vajpayee’s long pause and a Manmohan Singh who barely raised his arm while saying Jai Hind, Modi’s speech was magical…”
Like a wizard, Prime Minister Modi has mesmerized countrymen through his maiden speech on the Independence Day and without any doubt he has proven his oratory skills before the nation. On certain counts such as need for sanitation and the India manufacturing brand, he appeared repetitive. Apparently, this was done mainly to emphasize the importance of these issues as also his plan of development for a long term sustained growth.
Indeed, there is a well meaning prime minister and a party without dynastic culture with genuine concerns to deal with the issues and problems of the country. But the moot question remains that of the implementation, because the implementation machinery remains same. For illustration, take his call to the world to ‘Make in India’. This won’t impact investors and developers world over unless India brings in credible changes and improvements in time by curtailing red-tapism and effectively addressing issues in infrastructure, land acquisition, environment and forest clearances, labour laws etc.
Most of the initiatives taken by the previous governments could not bring desired outcome due to rampant corruption at all levels, faulty implementation modules and inadequate monitoring. And I have seen people in the system falling for even a five rupee bill with eureka in their shining eyes. How will he and his government deal with the different pressure groups in legislation and the rotten machinery at the implementation level? Any well meaning citizen has no option but to do his duty and wait and watch for things to take shape and materialize.