Lacking vision

There was the play of both light and shadow on the Red Fort rostrum from which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the nation on the 63rd Independence Day on Saturday. There is a stable government after the Lok Sabha elections, which endorsed not only the UPA’s political strength but also the Prime Minister’s personal leadership.

Green shoots have started emerging in the economy, with many important indicators pointing in the positive direction. Some ministries have started implementing agendas for the short and longer terms. If there are the bright spots, there are also worries and uncertainties caused by the monsoon failure and consequent drought conditions in many parts of the country. The spreading swine flu and the failure of administrations in many places to tackle it have also cast a shadow. The Prime Minister acknowledged both but failed to go beyond them with an inspiring idea or vision that can move the government and the people in the coming months or years.

He presented hopes and plans, like the need for another Green Revolution, the promise to reschedule farm loans and the resolve to check price rise. He also underlined the importance of fighting terrorism, other forms of extremism and communalism. But there was nothing new, and many of the announcements that the Prime Minister made had already been made before, either by himself or ministers or others in the government. It is not that these are unimportant issues that do not deserve mention; but there are others that needed to be mentioned, though they were not. The issue of relations with Pakistan, especially in the context of India’s demands on Islamabad, and the controversy over the Sharm-El-Sheikh joint statement, was glaringly missed. The absence of that reference could give rise to many interpretations, ranging from a diplomatic burial of the statement to a tactical ploy to push Pakistan to act more, since silence is also a mode of communication. But clarity pays better, in politics and in diplomacy.

The Prime Minister limited himself mostly to the mundane and sometimes to the inane and did not rise above a bureaucratic view of the state of the nation and his government’s responsibilities. Independence Days are days of political assertion of Prime Ministers and their governments. They should be used for substantive communication with the people and should go beyond the pomp and ritual that ceremonially attend them. The Prime Minister could have lifted it above the ordinary.

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