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 jobs that the government can no longer create. So when we speak of continuity, as many ministers have already started doing, then this is the continuity we speak of.
Continuity is the last thing the average Indian wants because continuity means his children have no hope. They will continue to live in squalour and eke out an existence on jobs that pay them only enough to keep them from destitution. They will continue to live in an India that offers so little to her citizens that they flee to foreign shores even if it means living as our nurses did in Iraq with a threat to their very existence hanging over them.
This year we have a Prime Minister who cannot be blamed for any of this. So he has no reason to lie about India’s ‘achievements’. He is not to blame for policies that in the name of the poor have kept the poor in hopeless poverty for decades. He is not to blame for India’s broken healthcare system, her useless state schools, her squalid cities and filthy villages. He is not to blame for our sacred rivers having become sewers. Or for agricultural policies that in the name of helping our poorest farmers keep them mired in poverty and allow millions of tonnes of food grain to rot in the rain.
So instead of lying about the past, let the Prime Minister tell us what his government will do to make India a better country. Let him revive the dream of renewal and change that won him the election. While he has been busy in foreign lands, his ministers have shown us that they do not understand what needs to change. Most seem to be in the toils of cunning officials who advise continuity, and ministers inexperienced in the ways of government and the wiles of high officials believe them. On August 15, the Prime Minister needs to reassure us that the dream of ‘parivartan’ was not a false dream. He could be making the most important speech he has ever made.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh