PM Modi’s Independence Day speech: India needs ‘Prayas’ by the PM

Aakar Patel analyses PM Modi’s long-winded I-Day speech from the Red Fort, while thanking him for not announcing yet another ‘grand scheme’. Couldn’t he have done better than coining another slogan?

PM Modi
PM Modi

Aakar Patel

At 7:41 am yesterday the Prime Minister tweeted: “Addressing the nation from the Red Fort. Watch.”

I did not do as requested because I find his speeches banal. They lack originality and have nothing of nourishment to the intellect. It is true that if one is attracted to emotional bombast, he delivers the goods, but that is not for me. The other thing is that he is long-winded. In English translation, the speech is 7,329 words, which is the length of a chapter in a book. But being verbose is not the same thing as communicating information.

If like me you missed the speech, The Hindu’s headline this morning should tell you the most important thing you need to know about it: “No new grand scheme this year in PM’s address”. This was actually a relief because we should really give new schemes and particularly grand schemes a break in a part of the world where announcements are detached from delivery.

What was new, and indeed expected, was one more slogan. To Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (2014) and Sabka Vishwas (2019) was added Sabka Prayas. To me this seemed like abdication. It may have been better to focus on the first two. Let me explain why.

Vikas means development. India’s GDP growth has been falling sequentially since January 2018 according to the Prime Minister’s own data. It has imploded like a rocket countdown from 8% to 7% and then 6, 5, 4, 3 and most likely 1% in the quarter before the pandemic (some jugglery with the previous quarters numbers was required to make it respectable). Then it went to zero.

In the year and a half since the pandemic has begun, we have gone into negative growth territory. Today, this bears repeating, the size of the economy is still smaller than it was in March 2020. The number of Indians in the labour force, whether employed or looking for work is 40%. In the United States, this number is 60%, in Indonesia and Thailand it is closer to 70% and in China it is 75%. We have squandered our demographic dividend. Despite this, our unemployment rate is higher than all these nations and has stood above 7% more or less for the last three years. Why? The answer to that is not to be found in the Prime Minister’s thousands of words. This is the Vikas he has delivered to Bharat Mata.

Sabka Saath means taking everyone along. Here the issue is not that of the economy, which Modi has ruined by his mindlessness and incompetence, but of deliberate malice. Enough has been written by scholars on the unconstitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act, the behaviour of the State in Assam and in Kashmir. Outside of the one Muslim in Cabinet (who has been of course given minority affairs portfolio), which part of this nation’s marginalised groups will say that Sabka Saath is a phrase that is reflected in the BJP’s actions since 2014? I will leave it to the reader to answer that. Ask the farmer on the outskirts of Delhi what he thinks of Sabka Saath.

Sabka Vishwas is slightly more bland because it means nothing. Trust for what? Can one trust Modi to run the economy competently? No, because we are in year 8 of his reign and I have seen the numbers he has himself provided. Can one trust him to say China’s name or pick up the phone and speak to his friend Xi Jin Ping to ask why he is up to mischief in Ladakh? We can trust him, but he has not done so.

Vishwas is built when one demonstrates competence. It is not about sentiment. One has to deliver the goods for 138 crore people to repose faith. The goods stand undelivered on the economy, on fuel prices, on employment, increasingly on inflation, on national security, on national unity and on a range of indices.

That brings us to Sabka Prayas, meaning everyone’s effort. This smells like abdication. It is the role of the State in an impoverished nation to put its shoulder to the wheel and produce the fertile space in which the citizenry can flourish. The Prayas was required not by the rest of us but by him.

Other than a couple of Gujarati industrialists, how many can say that their own efforts of the last few years have put them in a better space? Again, no need to look farther than the official numbers. The Reserve Bank of India regularly publishes an index on sentiment and it has been in the negative space for years before the pandemic. The frustration of their failure has been coming out in the unhinged uttering of his ministers.

The finance minister says government has done its bit and it’s now for industry to show confidence in the Modi government and invest. Piyush Goyal (one is not sure what he is minister of) has told the Tatas they are anti-national, adding them to the list of academics, activists, liberals, Muslims, Kashmiris, Sikhs, farmers and NGOs. Only the BJP and its votaries are nationalists, and the effect of this nationalism can be seen in what they have done to our economy.

In such a place, the Prime Minister has, as is his wont, given us thousands of words which have no connect with the reality that he has delivered. He has favoured us by not inflicting yet another new scheme and for this we must be grateful, but he should also for the next year consider talking a little less. Seven thousand-word bhashans are excessive and wasteful in a nation which needs some competent, predictable governance and not another speech, tweet or podcast.

Views are personal

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