August 24, 2014

Prime Minister’s Independence Day Speech: Talking & Walking in Opposite Directions

INDIA’S new prime minister Narendra Modi’s maiden speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of our Independence Day evoked appreciation from the traditional drumbeaters of the RSS/BJP and a widespread adulation from the growing tribe of `fresh converts’ – including some erstwhile pretentious secular liberals – who seem to be bending over backwards to earn brownie points in the race for some official patronage or appointments to share the spoils of office. Naturally, this customary address to the nation by the prime minister on this occasion soon after the general elections was looked up to with eagerness and expectations. Natural because on the Independence Day, usually the prime minister draws up a balance sheet of how far we have travelled in achieving the objectives and aspirations associated with our freedom from the colonial yoke and, more importantly, how we, the people, shall cover the rest of the distance on this road. After all, freedom came with the expectations of food security, education, health and jobs for all, expectations of prosperity and the realisation of the full potential that we, the people, are capable of achieving; in short, the prospect of creating a better India on the basis of the foundations of a secular democratic republican constitution. Lakhs of countless martyrs, including the immortal Bhagat Singh had laid down their lives for our freedom with an urge that this struggle will continue until we have been able to transform our political independence into the true economic independence of all our people. The central question, thus, is how far had we travelled on this road and how will we proceed with our journey forward to achieve these aspirations. For this precise reason, the prime minister’s Independence Day speech is looked up to annually. Few have often internalised as to why the ramparts of the Red Fort were chosen to symbolise the occasion of our prime minister’s address to the nation on the Independence Day. Why was it that it was here that the Indian tricolor was hoisted as the British Union Jack was brought down to announce to our people and the world the dawn of India’s independence? After all, the Red Fort was the symbol of the Mughal Empire, built by whom the RSS calls as “Babar ke aulad”. The RSS/BJP has all along and even today continues to use the so-called liberation from Babar ke aulad as the true freedom of our country. The Red Front was chosen by the leaders of our freedom struggle who went on to form the government of independent India because it was from these ramparts that the first Declaration of India’s Independence was read out in 1857. In that first war of Independence, the valiant Rani of Jhansi Laxmibhai, a devout Hindu and other leaders like Tantia Tope had proclaimed the Mughal emperor Bahadurshah Zafar as the sovereign of India independent from the British. Ironically, Bahadurshah Zafar was also a Babar ke aulad! Undaunted by the force of such symbolism, prime minister Modi called for a ten year moratorium on communal and casteist violence in the country. In the secular democratic modern Indian republic, such violence should never find a place in the first instance. Instead of saying this as India’s prime minister, his call for a moratorium for ten years left little to doubt that his desire for remaining the PM for a decade should not be marred by communal disturbances. After this, however, communal violence may well be encouraged and patronised in order to permit the RSS/BJP to return to capture the reins of the central government in India, once again. That even this was meant for public consumption devoid of any sincerity was emphatically declared by the RSS chief, a few days before the Independence Day (August 10 at Cuttack), when he asked that if the inhabitants of England are English, Germany are Germans and the USA are Americans, then why aren’t inhabitants of Hindustan not known as Hindus. He went on to say, “The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendents of this great culture”. Thereby, debarring people belonging to all other religious persuasions and atheists from being Indian citizens. This question was rejected following a detailed discussion in the constituent assembly when it laid down the foundations and structure of a secular democratic republic. Precisely, in order to disabuse such exclusivist categorisations which negate the very idea of India, Article I of our constitution defines our country thus, “India, that is, Bharat is a union of states”. Bharat was chosen instead of Hindustan and many other terms to convey the inclusivist `idea of India’. From this flows the consequent equality of all citizens “irrespective of caste, creed and sex”. The RSS, which all along stood against this very idea of India as a pluralistic society of rich diversity is today seeking to negate the vibrancy of the mosaic that distinguishes our country. In the pursuit of its ideological project of converting the secular democratic Indian republic into the RSS version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’, such ideological campaigns are accompanied by sharply escalating communal tensions leading to riots across the country, especially in areas where elections are due. The prime minister’s Independence Day speech, thus, in a way buttresses such efforts by the RSS of pursuing the most brazen `vote bank politics’ – the communal consolidation of the majority Hindu vote bank. Such irony apart, the major let down in the PM’s address is that it was devoid of any vision on the central question that should have been the theme of an Independence Day address. He spoke of the virtues of cleanliness and sanitation, of need to build separate girls’ toilets, called on the parents to monitor and admonish sons who leave home to rape girls(!), as though this would contain or control such abominable gender crimes. All these drew `admiration’ from the `new converts’ who hailed this as being down to earth! There can be no dispute on better sanitation conditions or women’s toilets. But this does not constitute the required vision that we spoke of earlier and is expected to be articulated by the PM on the Independence Day. However, the PM did announce a couple of new schemes. The `Jan Dhan Yojana’ is supposed to provide bank accounts for fifteen crore Indians with an overdraft facility of Rs 5,000 and with a Rs 1 lakh insurance cover. Now even if this scheme were to be realised, which banks will provide such accounts and which insurance company will underwrite such a policy? Naturally only the nationalised banks and insurance companies! The insincerity of such announcements is clear from the fact that in the first substantive session of the parliament, this government brought forward legislative proposals for increasing the ceiling for FDI in the insurance sector undermining the health of the public sector and is planning to bring similar such legislations to undermine the public sector banks. Further, the PM announced in this speech the government’s decision to disband the Planning Commission which so far has been the authority to monitor all such public welfare schemes. Elsewhere in the issue, Prabhat Patnaik writes about this issue. The PM also announced the `Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’. Every MP is supposed to choose one village in his/her constituency and spend two out of five crore annual MP Local Area Development Scheme Fund for creating an ideal village. The PM announced that he would shortly declare the details of this scheme, leaving little for the MP’s choice! The PM further declared that India must emerge as the manufacturing hub in the world. The whole world, he thundered, must be made to use products “Made in India”! This came when India was losing the cricket test series in England. Someone quipped that the only people taking the PM seriously is the Indian cricket team who seem to be saying that runs can only be made in India. However laudable, such a desire in the current global and domestic economic scenario is simply impracticable, particularly in the short run. In this Independence Day address to the nation, the PM has revealed that he continues to suffer from the hangover of his election speeches and has not yet become accustomed to being the prime minister of India. He needs to be politely told that the time for talking is over. As the prime minister heading the government of India, the time has already begun for him to walk the talk. While he continues with the rhetoric of talking, walking in the opposite direction has begun – the most diabolic and dangerous walk of the worst form of vote bank politics, of communal polarisation has begun. Thus, on the occasion of the 68th Independence Day of India, all patriots who cherish and seek to strengthen the secular, democratic, pluralistic, richly diverse, mosaic of India – the consolidation of the Idea of India – must rally together in the defence of our republic and to build a better India for all our people. (August 20, 2014)