Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has come under attack from the Opposition over atrocities on Dalits, used his Independence Day speech to stress that a society divided between low and high and by untouchability cannot sustain and call for “harsh but sensitive treatment” to address such “centuries-old evils”.
“Unity in diversity is our greatest strength. Our cultural tradition of respect for others, and assimilation is the reason why our civilisation has persisted. The sentiment of unity has struck deep roots in our society,” Modi said during his 93-minute speech from Red Fort.
It was the longest of his three Independence Day speeches so far, one that saw him wave his arms several times, the fists clenched, as he interacted with the audience with gestures, responding to applause sometimes with a pause and sometimes with a more vigorous wave of the arms.
The remarks that seemed to draw the loudest cheers were those about holding society together: “If the society disintegrates, the empire straggles, gets divided into the highs and the lows, the touchables and the untouchables, then that society cannot sustain. There are social evils, centuries-old social evils, but if the social evils have become chronic, they need a bit harsh and yet sensitive treatment. A lackadaisical attitude will not solve the social problems and this is the responsibility of 125 crore citizens. The government and the society together will have to steer through social conflicts… All of us will have to fight against the social evils. We all will have to rise above social evils in our own behaviour.”
The Prime Minister spoke at length about the work done by his government towards achieving “suraj” (good governance), fighting corruption and bringing accountability. He took veiled digs at the previous dispensation on issues such as sloth in implementation of development projects.
“When we speak of freedom fighters, a few are mentioned far more than others,” Modi said in a speech that had one mention of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Modi repeatedly spoke about his government’s focus on ensuring last-man delivery and credited his government with creating hope and expectations among people while recalling that “pessimism had started to become our nature” before the NDA government came to power.
He made three new announcements — of considering a proposal for a 20 per cent increase in pension for freedom fighter families, a plan to build a museum in memory of tribal freedom fighters, and a decision to bear the treatment expenses of poor families up to Rs 1 lakh.