Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech: For 2019, from Lal Qila

Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech: For 2019, from Lal Qila

PM Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech was bound by the exigencies of a government in its final year before an election. But it still had some soaring moments, and omissions.

PM Modi interacting with children after delivering his fifth Independence Day speech from ramparts of the Red Fort. (Source: Praveen Khanna)

It could be said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his Election 2019 speech on Independence Day. In all probability, however, the apparent lack of fit was deliberate. In his four years in power, the PM has been described, by critics and admirers, as being in untiring election mode. He is a campaigner who revels in the jab and thrust of electoral battle. A prime minister who has electioneered long and hard in the assembly polls his party has fought, and mostly won, since 2014. It is not surprising, then, that his fifth I-day speech, the last of this term, should teem with achievements claimed and showcased. Or that, between the lines, PM Modi should be sending out the message that he is not yet done and will be back, that he has already set himself goals for the second tenure he expects to win in 2019. The announcement about sending an Indian into space by 2022, or the reiteration of the promise to double farmers’ incomes by the same year, is not incidental.

In a speech that concentrated on sketching before-and-after Modi government scenarios, there were fewer moments of transcendence of the political faultlines. In 2014, in his very first I-day speech as PM, he had struck a refreshingly encompassing note, by presenting cleanliness as a national project in which everyone must pick up a broom, lend a hand. The newly elected PM Modi had also appealed to parents to mind their sons instead of policing their daughters, and asked countrymen for a 10-year moratorium on casteism, comunalism, violence. Those wide appeals that drew in everyone, government and opposition, and straddled social divides, were conspicuous by their absence four years later at Red Fort. There was a moment when the PM seemed to strike a more inclusive note as he drew for the aam taxpayer a link between her tax and social welfare. For the rest, however, he spoke as a PM of a BJP government wooing the voter. He made at least two big announcements — the launch of a mammoth government-funded health care programme in September and permanent commission for women in the army — but set them in the backdrop of a nation on the move since 2014 by breaking the policy paralysis and straitjackets that had held it back till then. The PM spoke of GST and MSP increase, rural electrification and the new insolvency and benami property laws as measures and policies that had been neglected and delayed by earlier governments that were too lazy, corrupt or inefficient to act in the people’s interest.

““Hum tod rahe hain zanjeerein/Hum badal rahe hain tasveerein (We are breaking the shackles, changing the ima”e)”, the PM recited. But what was missing was prime ministerial words of reassurance — for those who feel left out of the moving, changing image because they do not agree with, or are at odds with, the ruling ideology. And those, including and especially the minorities, relegated to the margins of the frame.