Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second Independence Day address was trademark Modispeak, but tempered by caution and perhaps even a hint of self-doubt. He spoke directly to the people, allowed himself a few moments of flourish and self-congratulation, touched upon his pet themes in the area of governance, highlighted the achievements of the government, recalled the failings of past dispensations and, in a few broad brush-strokes, sketched out his roadmap. Last year, on this day, Modi was a man in a hurry to clean up the system and the streets, in order to usher in a new India. That speech, charged with vision, laced with promises, was about audacious hope. Saturday’s address was more like an annual report — a slightly defensive one, at that.
Modi chose to speak to the poor, farmers and the youth. With a crucial election impending in Bihar, he must counter accusations of running a “suit-boot” government. The focus on financial inclusion, with the Jan Dhan programme and the Atal pension scheme, depicted a government which cares for the poor. A consummate politician, he recognises that social justice is more than poverty economics and involves the self-respect of the underprivileged. He spoke of the dignity of labour and the collective failure to respect physical work. Modi projected the poor as the beneficiaries of savings on the LPG subsidy, the Rs 3 lakh crore raised from the coal auction, and black money legislation. The benefit is not to be reaped through more subsidies, but by cutting wastage and encouraging entrepreneurship. Hence the offer to incentivise capital that generates jobs and the launch of yet another branded initiative — Start-up India, Stand up India — to tap the country’s youth dividend. Agricultural growth was said to follow from the well-being of farmers, a necessary reminder of the obvious when the government is accused of legislating to facilitate conversion of farmland. The promise to light up over 18,000 villages in the next 1,000 days was yet another commitment to rural India. And the Swachh Bharat mission occasioned a sense of triumph.
Modi sees himself at the head of Team India. On behalf of this collective, he assured armed forces personnel that the government had accepted the demand for one rank, one pension in principle, but he did not grandstand on a complex issue with economic ramifications and left it to his ministers to work out the details at their own pace. But the silence on foreign affairs, the first focus of this government, was surprising. And while talking to Team India was just the thing to do, after a bitter Parliament session, the PM could have used this occasion to indicate that the team would be incomplete without the opposition.