This August 15, for the first time in years, a real leader with a real mandate will speak to us from the ramparts of the Red Fort. When Narendra Modi stands up to make his Independence Day address from those historic ramparts, let him remember that he won a full majority because he promised change. Not continuity. Many in his circle of advisors will advise continuity. They will urge him to read from a written text. They will advise him to read out a meaningless balance sheet of supposed political and economic achievements that only those who write such speeches know of.
Please remember, Prime Minister, that the officials who write these speeches have no idea how desperate Indians are for real change. They are written by people who constitute that small group of privileged Indians who have no idea of the everyday horrors of being an average Indian. They are people who have safe jobs, fine homes with running water and electricity, and their privileged progeny go to fine schools. They have no idea what it is to be an ordinary Indian, but you do because for most of your life you were an ordinary Indian. This is why during the campaign you touched so many hearts with your words.
You, Prime Minister, know that these officials lie when they tell you that all is well in India. All is well only in their India. It is not well at all in the India in which most Indians live. Most of India’s citizens live without essential public services. Those who have jobs and live in urban India struggle to get to work on crowded trains and buses that travel through cities and towns that have become vast shanties. Those forced by poverty to rely on state schools struggle to find a school that will teach their children to at least count and read. If they have a roof that they call their own, it is usually atop a one-room tenement.
Those who live in rural India live without that most fundamental of human needs: clean drinking water. They also often live without electricity, sanitation or municipal services. They struggle to find jobs to supplement their meagre income from marginal farming. And, because of filthy living conditions, far too many children die of preventable diseases long before they get to school.
On her 67th birthday as a modern nation, India is a mess. Half her children are officially malnourished. More than 600 million Indians live without basic sanitation. Most Indians struggle all their lives just to own a home they can call their own. Most Indian children leave school without being able to read a story. Every year, 15 million young Indians come into the job market in search of continued…