For decades, we have heard prime ministers lie to us about India’s ‘greatness’ on Independence Day. This August 15, for the first time, we heard a prime minister remind us that although we are capable of being a great country, we are not there yet. We have a long, long way to go. Narendra Modi reminded us of things we usually ignore or lie to ourselves about. We like to excuse our most obvious shortcomings on the hollow justification that as a ‘poor country’, we can hope for no better. In our hearts we know the truth, but have got used to pretending on occasions like Independence Day that our Bharat is truly ‘mahaan’.
So it came as music to my jaded ears to hear the Prime Minister remind us of all the things we like to disregard. He reminded us of how shamefully we treat our women, of the sickening squalor of our cities and towns, of our inability to compete with other countries because of bad governance, and of our shameful failure to eliminate poverty. When he finished speaking, I found myself more moved than I have been by any other speech given from the ramparts of Red Fort. And I have heard many.
When I sat down to analyse why I was so moved, I realised it was because it was the first time ever that I have heard a prime minister tell Indians what they can and must do for India. The first time that a national leader has not told us that he will bestow upon us everything we need, and that all we have to do is sit back and receive.
As an implacable opponent of Nehruvian socialism, it pleased me to hear the sound of its death knell. And to hear that the ultimate bastion of central planning, the Planning Commission, was also seeing the end of its days.
Since there are many of you out there who believe that criticising anything Nehruvian is tantamount to treason, let me explain why I despise the economic ideas on which independent India was founded. I believe Nehruvian socialism created a mindset that continues to make the average Indian believe that the government must do everything for him. Nowhere is this mindset more evident than in rural India where people would rather rot in filth than lift a finger to improve their unsanitary surroundings. And, I believe it created in our officials the sense of being masters instead of servants. Kudos to Mr Modi for reminding them that the word service had become meaningless.
Last week in this column, I described Modi as the first Indian Prime Minister who was not a Nehruvian socialist. In his speech he confirmed that this was true. He made it clear that the India he hopes to help create will not be an India in which poverty is glorified. He wants an India in which poverty is destroyed. He appealed to SAARC countries to wage with us this war on poverty.
This is the exact opposite of the Nehruvian socialist ideal that is founded on the premise that there will always be poverty to ‘alleviate’. If poverty disappears, then how can our benign rulers throw scraps at us from their high table in the form of cheap food grain, free schools, healthcare and subsidies galore? Of course the schools do not teach and public health services heal nobody, but they are free and for this we must thank our socialist rulers. In the name of the poor, we have kept poverty in very good health and ensured that most Indians live in the most unsanitary, unhygienic cities and villages in the world. After all, how can we waste time thinking about sanitation and civic duties when so many Indians live without enough to eat?
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By calling himself the country’s Pradhan Sewak, Modi sought to remind every elected representative of his primary duty: service. And, as someone who knows well that most of our elected representatives forget the people except at election time, I loved the way in which Modi has dragooned them into creating model villages in their constituencies in the next two years. They will now be forced to put their ill-deserved constituency development funds to good use.
Rarely has a prime minister’s address on Independence Day indicated so clearly a change of direction. It is a change towards an India in which ordinary people participate more fully in the business of development and nation building. If just this begins to happen on a larger and larger scale, then public servants who have benefited most from the kind of socialism we have practised since Independence will soon realise that they are servants, and not masters. For now, let’s celebrate the scent of change that wafted down from the ramparts of Red Fort.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh