PM’s I-Day speech: not many takers

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an electoral pitch in his Independence Day address from the Red Fort on Wednesday, as was widely expected. Prime Ministers have made political speeches, recounted their governments’ achievements, extended promises, and made outreaches to the people in the past in their I-Day speeches. Modi also had his eyes fixed on the coming general elections when he spoke on the last I-Day of his term. In his unusually long address, he sought to contrast the claimed achievements of his government with the years of policy paralysis of the previous government and projected himself and his party as the only alternative for the people. In doing so, he avoided inconvenient and uncomfortable issues. Shockingly, though, Modi, even as he invoked Mahatma Gandhi many times during the speech, called on citizens to propagate the death penalty for rapists.

The prime minister remembered and mentioned all sections of society, like the poor, the farmers, the workers, the women and the middle class, and had something for every group. But most statements and claims he made had another side, too, which showed a failing or a misrepresentation or a false ring. He said farmers’ lives had improved after 2014 and their income would double by 2022. This cannot explain the high suicide rates among farmers and reports of increasing agrarian stress. Other groups like the Dalits, whom he mentioned, are known to be disaffected. Some claims, like generation of more employment, do not stand scrutiny. The prime minister painted a picture as if India started to progress only after he came to power, forgetting that on many achievements — the GST, rural electrification, MSP for farmers, etc — he was only building on the work that previous governments, notably the UPA government, had done. He painted a rosy picture of the economy under his leadership, a view that’s not widely shared. The economy had grown faster during the UPA years, contrary to Modi’s claim.

An ambitious health insurance scheme called Ayushman Bharat was announced but in the light of the current state of other ambitious plans like Make in India, Swachh Bharat and the cleaning of the Ganga, there are serious doubts about its implementation. While there will be many questions about the claims and promises, the prime minister performed well on stage, with rhetoric and histrionics. What he left unsaid is equally striking: the rise in hate crimes, the lynchings and the general lawlessness, disaffection and disappointment of large segments of people. The prime minister might know that the situation and the environment in the country are different from what they were in 2014. The Red Fort performance, with all the posturing and the claims and promises, shows he is aware of the challenges. 

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PM’s I-Day speech: not many takers

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