The PM’S Independence Day speech was embellished with political rhetoric and the choice of fancy words yet it failed to address many of the important questions that India as a nation must find answers to, amidst these issues can a nation’s citizens choose to remain passive consumers or is it time that we exercised our own discretion?
Peter Rodrigues is a Civil Liberty Activist – based in Panaji, Goa.
Independence Day marks a very important time in the trajectory of the nation as it is the day which not only commemorates its historic journey but also reminds it of the enormous challenges and problems that lie ahead of it. It is no different for a nation like India which faced the subjugation of the colonial imperialists and despite a severe blow to its dignity as an old civilization collected the strength and will to fight against its oppressors and gain its independence. Thus for every Indian the independence day is not just a holiday in the month of August but also a day when his/her own historic roots are once again thought about.
An important aspect of the Independence Day each year is the Prime Minister’s speech from the historic Red Fort in the capital city of Delhi. This ritual is as old as the modern-nation state itself and as a result has become an annual event that captures the interest of the ordinary folk as much as that of the national media.
Independence Day speeches are generally an account of the work that the ruling government has done and its roadmap for the future. This becomes all the more important at times such as these when the Prime Minister makes his speech mid-way through his office, when he has led the country through a significant amount of time. This also means then that he is bestowed with the responsibility of simultaneously playing the role of an accountant and a visionary. He is ideally in that situation supposed to rationally explain what his government has achieved and what his vision is for the future that is to come.
No matter how important, putting forward an account of achievements accomplished is generally a mundane, dry and pedantic process whereas the vision for the future can really be embellished with poetic phrases, captivating slogans and enchanting promises.
This year’s Prime Ministerial speech reflected this tendency in a manner which couldn’t have been clearer. It is not difficult to assess why he is so famous for his oratory and the way he chooses his words and phrases. Surprisingly, even his capabilities as an eloquent speaker who has marvelled the skill of choosing fancy phrases and idioms with such masterful ease was missing from his speech yesterday.
If one decides to leave aside the style of his speech and concentrate on its matter one understands how intrinsically related the aspect of speaking about the political achievements of a government and sharing its vision for the future are. This year perhaps the Prime Minister‘s speech was extremely congested with data and statistics.
Among several other things he gave accurate accounts of the following things: how many villages did not have electricity before he came to power and how many have it today, how much black money has come to surface after the demonetization program, how many new taxpayers have been added to the Indian economy, how farmers have benefited form crop insurance for the first time and how many fake shell companies have been forced to shut down in his regime. He further asserted how new railways tracks have been built to connect the nation better and how previous governments were so lethargic and slow that a mere accomplishment took them several turns in office to complete and how he had achieved so much and in so little time.
The nation should be aware of these developments. It is important to be critical of the statistics presented as facts and discover for ourselves how far these are true beyond mere rhetoric. It is not good for the wellbeing of the nation that its people are so easily wooed by political rhetoric and are blindfolded with embellished words. We must realise that some of the statistics that the Prime Minister posed are quite unrealistic and impossible looking at our current situation. He reiterated that by 2022, the income of framers in India would double. But scientifically, in order to double farmer incomes in five years, we need an annual growth rate of more than 14%. Throughout the world it has been observed by renowned economists that while industry can grow at 14% per annum with adequate infrastructural work, for agriculture to grow in the similar rate is hardly possible.
While the aspect of his speech that dealt with accounts of his achievements were flawed with logic that was unrealistic and yet so convincingly argued the aspect of his speech which contained his vision for the future must also be understood critically. A core aspect of the vision that the Prime Minister shared was about how the Kashmir issue could be solved.
He said, “Naa gaali se , naa goli se, bus gale lagane se”( neither invective, nor bullets will solve the Kashmir problem: we need just a warm embrace). The showcase of broad, heart-winning narratives has been in trend in Prime Ministerial speeches since the beginning of time as this gives the speaker the scope to talk on a variety of themes without losing the interest of the audience and yet in his/her own way also advertise for their popularity and prospects for the next term.
The current Prime Minister’s speech was no different in this manner as he used ever chance to promote and campaign for his party. The speech laid emphasis on two mega narratives: economic growth and the problem of corruption. The recent report of the Economic Survey of the government has revealed already how there has been a decline in the growth rate of the county.
The PM asserted how under his leadership the honesty in common people was receiving its incentive and how they were so intolerant of corruption in public office. He thanked the people for their support of demonetization as it enabled the nation to deal with the disease of corruption and black money. But these claims stand little legitimacy when we look at the fact that the PM showed little concern about his own party’s corruption (the Vyapam in Madhya Pradesh being an example) and the question of who financed the purchasing of Congress MLA’s recently in Gujarat.
With little attention or scrutiny being allowed on his own part members in the light of crystal clear cases of corruption and dishonesty, it becomes impossible to believe the leader of the nation when he pleads against corruption or nepotism. What also should have been a cause of disappointment for the awakened citizen was the way in which the leader of the nation so conveniently ignored the immediate need of the hour. The need in India for communal harmony and peace. The security and fearless existence of the Muslim Community in the light of the recent atrocities against them is perhaps crucial to the constructive growth of the nation as a whole and not just to minorities as a group in isolation.
In a context of the large scale violence and communal intolerance in the recent months it is ironic that the leader of the nation-state fails to even realistically express his concern and willingness to alter things.
When the outgoing President spoke of it in his humble speech there was enough resistance and ridicule, this reflects how we are so closed to any conducive discussion on the matter.
It is a paradox that in his crisp and embellished speech the PM devoted a meagre minute to this issue. It is disheartening. The condition of the minorities and its impact on the larger secular ethos that India as a nation stands on will be immense and therefore not a matter that we as a collective can afford to take lightly. We are indeed passing through transitional and turbulent times when our condition is not just fragile and vulnerable but also susceptible to unprecedented decline. Lost in political rhetoric and mega theatrical leadership, are we missing out on issues that are critical to India’s future?
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