INDEPENDENCE DAY: A Hollow Speech
COMPARED to the grandiose vision and slogans set out in his first speech at the Red Fort on Independence Day last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a defensive speech on August 15 this year. Actually, Modi has much to be defensive about. His speech was mostly about what has been accomplished by the government regarding the announcements made in the last Red Fort address. But he had to labour hard and in vain to prove the point that much has been done.
The Swachh Bharat slogan, which was the most attractive, has not found any worthwhile implementation. The cities and towns show no progress, whether it be in garbage disposal, sewerage or sanitation. Pollution has become a menace. As far as building of toilets in schools with separate toilets for girls is concerned, Modi claimed that the target has almost been met and 4.25 lakh toilets have been built in 2.62 lakh schools. These are figures which do not conform to the realities on the ground. Further, whatever toilets have been built, there are many with no running water and maintenance.
As for the Jan-Dhan Yojana, this is an extension of the previous government’s financial inclusion programme which was renamed. Modi claimed that 17 crore accounts were opened. But he did not say that nearly half of these accounts have a zero balance and are lying dormant.
Modi had nothing much to say about his “Make in India” slogan because there was not much to report about it. The economic situation in the country is nothing much to trumpet about. There has been a seventh straight month of decline in exports and, in this period, exports have shrunk by 14.11 percent. Year on year, growth of the core sector was 3 percent in June this year, compared to 8.7 percent in June last year. There is no upswing in investment. Agrarian distress has been acute in the twelve months since the last Independence Day.
Modi did not speak much about his Swachh Sarkar. After proclaiming, on the completion of one year of the government, that there have been no corruption scandals under his watch, one scandal after another has tumbled out of the BJP’s cupboard. The Lalitgate affair involves the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. The Vyapam scandal in Madhya Pradesh has set new boundaries for institutionalised corruption. The Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh governments have their stock of corruption charges. As it happens, Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign seems required more within the ruling party and the governments it runs at the centre and in the states. Yet, the prime minister had nothing to say on these matters. All he said was that there is all pervasive corruption which, like termites, is corroding the system. As the physician, he prescribed injections in every square metre to get rid of the termites of corruption, but ignored prescribing the same treatment to his cabinet colleagues and his state chief ministers. The prime minister was conspicuously silent on why the Lokpal has yet not been set-up, one and a half years after the law was passed by parliament.
Modi declared that communalism and casteism have no place in our society. But the record shows otherwise. The advent of the Modi government has unleashed the communal forces in full vigour. According to the home ministry figures, between January and May 2015, incidents of communal violence increased by 24 percent as compared to the same period in 2014. BJP leaders and even ministers are threatening anyone who opposes the Hindutva diktats that they should go to Pakistan. The Modi government is busy infiltrating RSS persons into key educational and cultural institutions in order to spread the communal ideology.
A striking omission in his speech was the reference to foreign policy. Narendra Modi had made the maximum number of foreign visits since the last Independence Day. Even the historic settlement of the boundary and exchange of conclaves with Bangladesh was missing. It appears that Modi considers foreign policy his personal preserve and, therefore, does not have to account for it with anybody.
The biggest disappointment was Modi’s failure to announce the implementation of the One Rank One Pension for ex-servicemen, a promise made by him at the start of the election campaign for the Lok Sabha election and reiterated when the BJP government was formed. Modi confined himself to state that the OROP has been accepted in principle with no concrete plan announced. This failure was foreshadowed by the clumsy and insensitive efforts of the Delhi police on the eve of the Independence Day to remove the ex-servicemen who were setting on a relay hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi – an action which evoked justified outrage all over the country.
New slogans and promises were fewer this time. The prime minister sounded like a corporate honcho when he announced the “Start Up India” slogan. He made one extravagant promise, which is to electrify all the 18,500 villages which are still without power, within the next thousand days, i.e., three years.
All said and done, Modi’s second speech at the Red Fort was notable more for what he did not say and thereby underlined the failures of his government.
(August 19, 2015)