Map my India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s I-Day speech was about consolidating past gains and deciding targets that need to be met by 2022 in mission mode

Normally Independence Day speeches by Prime Ministers are considered to be statements of achievements and vision mantras, purely intended to convey the feeling that the going is good and that national well-being has been entrusted in capable hands. And since it happens year after year, it is generally a summation of immediate pretexts and action taken. Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the years has been very precise in placing a statement of accounts of his governance and yesterday was no different. With one exception. It was more deterministic about the nation as a monolith of purposiveness than a behemoth of ideas. And though everybody would but naturally latch on to his position on Jammu and Kashmir, after the big move of Article 370 being abrogated there and its demotion from statehood to Union Territory, he did mention issues that would contribute to the ease of living of citizens more. Adroitly, he simplified his politics to echo with the understanding of average citizens and sought their support to do it. If previously such declarations remained in the realm of futuristic vision, this time he meant business with specifics. In fact, he pushed his muscularity of purpose on this front too, using Kashmir and a clutch of legislations to demonstrate that if he could bring about a tectonic shift in India’s most controversial and conflict-ridden issue, he could ensure our emergence as a $5 trillion economy too. “Our government does not delay decisions. We neither nurse problems nor keep them pending,” he said while referring to Article 370. And it is this centrality of reinventing the Kashmir doctrine in his One India, One Constitution narrative or making the intangible tangible that stands out as his legacy moment, whether anybody likes it or not. The barbs at past Congress regimes as to why they didn’t make the Article 370 permanent if it was so good or the selective appropriation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was in the same tenor. As was the announcement that India would now have an integrated defence system with a new Chief of Army Staff coordinating the three forces. This strategic preparedness is clearly aimed at avoiding repeats of Kargil. It is also a warning to any military misadventures by Pakistan and an attempt to neutralise rhetoric of the kind easily spouted by its Prime Minister Imran Khan in that nation’s Independence Day speech. The competitive comparison is so well established by now that one needs more solace in addressing the human cost of a policy shift, the battered Kashmiris who feel torn between extremes of being stooges or separatists, having walked the middle path of integrating with India socially and economically, no matter what the politics and feeling betrayed for investing in moderation. It would be pertinent to note that yesterday was also the day when two Kashmiris were part of the physically-challenged T20 cricket team that won the World Cup series and celebrated their success although the Valley lockdown prevented them from talking to their families. The greatest challenge is in winning back these Kashmiris with a humanising participatory dialogue than a dictatorial imposition. Although he has laid the plan for revival and promised an election in his earlier national addresses, some words of solace to people who make Kashmir a reality would not have softened the Modi 2.0 image but reloaded it.

That he would be monolithic even about challenging the framework of the Constitution was evident from his fresh call to “one nation, one election” or simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies to save public money. Though the opposition to this once came from regional parties and leaders, who saw it as an encroachment on the nation’s federal character and a subjugation of local issues to a centralised lens of the ruling party, they have now abdicated that responsibility and have transacted their political tag and survival with acquiescence to Central policies. Perhaps that’s the reason why Modi raised this issue again though much legal debate remains on aligning terms in Houses that may not coincide with the General Elections and the unfairness of not allowing local parties the full play of their administration. Even as the Law Commission is studying possibilities of defections and mid-term collapses, Modi is hoping to actualise it by the time of the next Lok Sabha.

Of course, there were economic takeaways too, a promise of Rs 100 lakh crore for infrastructure development, upgrading basic aspirations to state-of-the-art facilities, be it high-speed trains or airports. And though he claimed Modi 1.0 had added $1 trillion to the economy as compared to the $2 trillion in 70 years of independence, the fact is jumpstarting the economy in the middle of its worst slowdown, global meltdowns and unemployment troughs is a tall order indeed. How much of exhortation to people to consume “Made in India” products, expanding the exports basket in a protectionist era, perking up wealth creators and promoting domestic tourism will help in this effort is still beyond an educated guess. Of course, his call to Indians to visit at least 15 tourist destinations across India before 2022 is clearly aimed at elevating tourism as a key growth driver and job-giver. And in climatically challenged times, Modi made the right noises by allocating Rs 3.5 lakh crore for the Jal Jeevan scheme intended to provide potable piped water to every home, encouraging water conservation at the grassroots level and discouraging single-use plastics in mission mode. The only bold socio-political statement came in linking small families to an act of nation-building, an area that no politician has dared to touch since the time of Sanjay Gandhi. India is at a real risk of seeing its demographic dividend reduced to a demographic slag till its birth rate plateaus out three decades later and Modi has addressed a real challenge to human capital and resources that could derail us in the interim.

Of course, he attempted to be a please-all Pied Paper, saying that if 2014-19 was about fulfilling people’s needs, the next five years would be about meeting their aspirations and dreams and minimal interference of the government in people’s lives. But can that mean much when the pervasive narrative of fear has already crept in, one where a Pehlu Khan finds no justice despite witnesses? Would the saviour spirit for women suffering the excesses of triple talaq not be extended to contemplate an anti-lynching law?

The Pioneer