If the nation expected Prime Minister Modi’s 2nd speech on India’s Independence Day to be as dynamic, engaging and full of inspiring content, they would have been extremely disappointed due to lack of any new announcements.
In 2014, PM Modi had the nation glued to his speech and succeeded in galvanizing mass hope and expectation. But 15 months later, it was a different scenario in which the Prime Minister took the stand. Heading a government that has just seen the entire monsoon session of Parliament being held hostage by a hostile opposition, it must have been a peculiar situation for the Prime Minister trying to sound as positive and energetic as in 2014, while taking the stand on the ramparts of Red Fort.
Without doubt, the nation continued to look forward to this day hoping for the Prime Minister to make some more ‘path breaking’ announcements on some new social welfare schemes but most returned disappointed. With reform initiatives stuck with the Parliament in a logjam, the PM had little choice but to spend most of his speech in reviewing various social welfare initiatives that the government had undertaken in the past 15 months since taking office.
He started off invoking the concept of ‘Team India’ and the fact that the nation must stand united and move ahead towards development for all. He spoke about the scourge of casteism and how it was pulling India back.
He next dwelled for a long time in reiterating his government’s focus to bring a wide cross section of the underprivileged and those living in inaccessible areas under the banking system. He made a strong point on how his government had succeeded in bringing in 17 crore new persons into the banking system with zero balance and how they managed to succeed in doing so in record time. The success of the Jan Dhan Yojana has been a highlight, although its real benefits will be felt once people start receiving social welfare money transfers directly into their accounts.
He also stressed the government’s initiative in launching an innovative Insurance scheme at a cost of less than Rs 1 per day that gives the beneficiary’s family a security cover of Rs 2 lakh in case of loss of life of the insurer.
Then he shifted to the ‘Clean India’ initiative under ‘Swachh Bharat’ Yojana. He reiterated the fact that 4 lakh toilets had been built in 2 lakh schools and the fact that school attendance had actually gone up as a result of this initiative. Furthermore, he recognised the initiative shown by school children and their contribution in making Swachh Bharat a success.
In an effort to reach out to the poorer sections of workers and offer them dignity of labour, the PM spoke of introducing identity cards that will help them to open bank accounts so that in future their money, however small, will be credited into their account. He spoke of Rs 27,000 crore of unclaimed money lying with the government on account of workers leaving behind the money as the process of re-claiming it was cumbersome and time consuming.
For all the achievements of the government thus far he credited it to the joint efforts of ‘Team India’, a term he repeated several times during his speech.
The speech also took a dig at the opposition when he spoke at length on the issue of corruption and how it was deep rooted in India akin to termites. He started off mentioning how his government had taken the auction route to successfully conduct the coal auctions that helped the government earn much higher revenues than the total loss as stated by the CAG, post coal allocations under the UPA II government.
He followed that up by mentioning that his government was continuing its efforts to chase black money stashed overseas. He highlighted the fact that his government’s efforts had already resulted in disclosure of Rs 6,500 crore of black money and how he was under pressure from certain sections to dilute the new law on black money and how difficult it would be to hide money abroad in future.
Another action taken by the government to fight corruption was in LPG subsidy. He spoke about how he extolled people to give up their subsidized LPG gas cylinders and how over 20 lakh average income families from all walks of life, had responded to his call to surrender their subsidized connections thus resulting in Rs 15,000 crore being diverted, under the Direct Cash Transfer Scheme, to those who needed it most. This resulted in direct benefit reaching the poorer sections where it was needed most and also eliminated middle men and brokers in the process.
In continuation of the trend of naming catchy titled schemes like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’, PM Modi used this occasion to announce ‘Start-Up India’ and ‘Stand-Up India’. Both these new schemes are aimed at unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit amongst the tribal and Dalit sections and banks have been directed to ensure that loans are extended to them under easy terms and without too much paperwork.
He called for accelerated development of the North Eastern regions of India and mentioned how this was a priority with the government.
Addressing the large segment of farmers, the Prime Minister announced a symbolic change in renaming the Ministry of Agriculture to Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare. Beyond this, there were no concrete proposals or announcements in favour of farmers. He, however, mentioned that the Ministry was working on pro-farmer policies.
Another commitment was to provide power to 18,500 villages within 1000 days.
One very important section that drew a passing mention was the ex-servicemen. In the backdrop of an ongoing agitation, the Prime Minister only repeated his earlier statement that he was in favour of One Rank One Pension (OROP) and that his government was in the process of final consultations to resolve this long pending demand. The lack of commitment to a timeline left the ex-servicemen deeply disappointed.
The Prime Minister’s speech fell short of expectations and failed to inspire the nation in the way he had during his 2014 speech. The speech today was more a re-statement of the government’s achievements on various schemes announced in the past 15 months, while also taking on the opposition without mentioning any party.
The speech stood out for its silence on much awaited reforms or rather lack of it, any new initiatives on economic policies and nor was there any mention of our belligerent neighbour, Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2015 Independence Day speech had his usual trademark podium and chest thumping but will soon be forgotten due to lack of any new announcements or initiatives.