As the BJP sought last week to talk more on the Ram Temple than on the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370, it set off a discussion about the political priorities of the government in the time of pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s presence at the Bhoomi Pujan in Ayodhya added to the discussion around the import of August 5 on the idea of Indian nationalism. Narendra Modi’s comparison of August 5, 2020 with August 15, 1947 was very significant.
By comparing freedom from British rule with his version of the cultural liberation of India through the construction of the Ram Temple, the PM sought to stake the BJP/RSS claim on India’s cultural identity.
But in the week of August 15, the challenges before the country are more real than its imagined cultural liberation. All eyes – and ears – will be on what the PM says from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Fresh from his re-election with an increased majority, the PM had last year highlighted the passage of legislation criminalising instant triple talaq, and abrogation of Article 370 stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.
“The work that was not done in the last 70 years has been accomplished within 70 days after this new government came to power,” Modi said at the Red Fort last year.
He had underlined the need for population control, outlined his vision for water on tap in every household during this term, and projected the dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy by the end of this tenure.
“Within five years from 2014 to 2019 we became a 3 trillion-dollar economy, i.e., we added 1 trillion dollars. If we succeeded in taking such a big jump in just 5 years, then we can become a 5 trillion dollar economy in the next five years,” Modi had said.
The situation is completely different now. The Covid-19 pandemic has upset his plans, and all but destroyed the dream of a time-bound target of becoming a 5 trillion-dollar economy in this term. Additionally, the Chinese challenge at the LAC in Ladakh has overshadowed his summit diplomacy of last year.
Although the Prime Minister did not speak of the Citizenship Amendment Act in his speech, it was pushed through Parliament later last year. Clubbed with Home Minister Amit Shah’s talk of a nationwide NRC, it triggered a major pushback. Although the Prime Minister had tried subsequently to defuse the situation, many will be listening for a mention of the CAA-NRC among the achievements of his government last year. The Ram Temple, the way for which was paved by the Supreme Court, may appear in his speech as an example of the new direction of India’s national polity.
More important will be what the PM says on the economy. Given the way he used his enhanced political mandate to push the BJP’s political agenda, his Independence Day speech might contain signals on how he plans to use his political capital after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic though, continues its upward trend of adding more cases every week than the previous week. The country registered over 4 lakh new cases last week, which is almost two-thirds the total active cases across India. The momentum of the pandemic continues to damage the prospects of revival of the economy.
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And then, there are the Chinese at the LAC. It is increasingly clear that the standoff will impact bilateral economic relations.
Let us see how the Prime Minister addresses the uncertainty all around.
Meanwhile, Happy Independence Day!
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