Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech: For 2019, from Lal Qila
In his maiden speech in 2014, the PM had presented himself as an outsider to Delhi’s corridors of power. The claim that he brought a fresh perspective seemed justified: He put the issue of sanitation centerstage from the ramparts of the Red Fort, and spoke of women’s safety not merely from a law and order perspective: Don’t teach girls and women to stay safe, but rather erase the culture of misogyny and violence that men are brought up with, was his message. His fifth and final speech in this term, unsurprisingly, was bound, largely, by the exigencies of the upcoming elections rather than setting an agenda, like in 2014.
For much of the 78 minutes, the PM delivered a report card of the NDA government, recounting the achievements of flagship programmes like Swachch Bharat, PMFBY, Mudra loans etc, and reiterated pledges like doubling farmers’ income and assuring the country that it was well on its way to being corruption-free. The focus on foreign was minimal and largely around the perception of India as an economic powerhouse: No mention of Pakistan except in a cursory sentence about the surgical strikes or even China or the US. In essence, the PM sought to draw a sharp line in Independent India’s history — before and after 2014. The right intention, ambition and action of this government, he said, has been unparalleled in the last 72 years. The mention of the Ayushman Bharat Yojana and permanent commissions for women in the armed forces, while seemingly a reiteration of policies that have already been announced or are in place, certainly made for appealing rhetoric.
But what was, in essence, an election speech had soaring moments. First, was the promise to put an Indian man or woman in an Indian-made spacecraft into space. The final frontier can galvanise societies, and have them aspire to a positive, forward-looking nationalism. Second, through the speech, Modi maintained a focus on the rights of women, of their equal place in society. Third, he sought to present himself and his government as standing for the marginalised and the poor. But there were omissions too. While most communities, including Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs were mentioned, minorities were not (except in the context of Triple Talaq). While the PM spoke of rape and the deterrent effect of hangings and the general importance of the rule of law, there was no mention of the lynchings and floggings that have been a major blot on the law and order apparatus across many states.
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