Arshad Shaikh looks at the speeches of the President of India and the Prime Minister on the occasion of our Independence Day. It has become a customary exercise to recount our glorious achievements and unveil the future vision for the nation, this time of the year. However, for the common man, there is a dichotomy between the drudgery in his daily life and the oratory deployed on the occasion. The grandiose vision spelled out for the next 25 years in which India would enter its Amrit Kaal (golden age) seems a pipedream given the current state of our polity, economy, infrastructure, and most importantly the moral fibre of our society. Things can change only if our deeds start matching our words.

It is customary for the President of India to deliver a speech, addressing the people of India on the eve of the Independence Day. The Prime Minister of India unfurls the national flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the morning of 15 August every year. It was the maiden Independence Day speech by President Draupadi Murmu since she took charge on 25 July this year. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was his ninth speech on I-day and lasted a full 82 minutes. Let us look at their speeches to see how the top leadership of our country looks at the problems and challenges confronting our nation and their vision to lead us into the future.

THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH

The President’s speech is a reflection of the policies adopted by the government. This year the speech mentioned governmental schemes and initiatives such as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day, Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, Atmanirbhar Bharat, Har Ghar Tiranga Abhiyan, Janajatiya Gaurav Divas, Azadi ka Amrit Kaal, Pradhan Mantri Gati-Shakti Yojana, Digital India, National Education Policy, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Jal Jeevan Mission and, Har Ghar Jal scheme.

The stated aim of the government for marking 14 August as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’ is to “promote social harmony, unity, and empowerment of people”. Expressing scepticism about this idea in an article, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran asked, “If the day would be a prelude to healing from a tragedy or would it reopen the wounds of yesteryear, to reignite ugly passions.”

Economists have written extensively on why Atmanirbhar Bharat will not work for India. They point out that our policymakers are deluded by the size of our domestic market whereas they should be eyeing the much larger world market. The share of our merchandise exports is just 1.57% of the total global exports.

Imagine the rise in GDP if our economy becomes export-led, as is the case with Japan, South Korea, and China. In 2018, the Prime Minister announced, “By 2022, my government will ensure that everyone has a house.” However, looking at data provided by the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) website, we appear to be a long way behind target.

The ‘Har Ghar Jal’ scheme is indeed a laudable initiative launched by the government in 2019. Its mission is to provide tap water to every rural household by 2024. According to the Jal Jeevan Mission website, as of date, only 35% of the targeted 19.14 crores households have received tap water by now.

The President averred, “Gender inequalities are reducing and women are moving ahead, breaking many glass ceilings. Their increasing participation in social and political processes will prove decisive.” Commendable as this may sound, the reality is that women in India are still not safe in public spaces whether it be the workplace or the market area.

According to a report in the Indian Express, earlier this year: “At least five rape cases were registered every day in the national capital last year as cases of crimes against women saw an upward tick, according to the Delhi Police statistics.” If this is the state of affairs in the country’s capital, we can imagine the situation in the hinterland and villages where the presence of law enforcement is sparse and weak.

The PM Gati Shakti Yojana is an ambitious programme to spruce up India’s infrastructure at a fast pace. Despite our best efforts, experts believe that infrastructure deficiencies cost us about 4 to 5% of GDP. Moreover, when it comes to the roads within cities and the chaotic traffic, we are forced to realise that we have a long way to go before becoming a developed country. Given the state of unemployment in our country, many may love the slogan “Har ghar naukri”. Thus, despite all the ‘feel good’ effect in the President’s speech, Amrit Kaal appears to be a pipedream.

THE PRIME MINISTER’S SPEECH

It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ninth Independence Day speech and there was little to complain about if one was looking for oratorical skills and dialogue delivery. Many critics have pointed out that the speech lacked an honest appraisal of the performance of his government and no solid assurance on how his government will tackle the gigantic challenges confronting the nation.

Recounting the past glory of India and the boundless resilience of our citizens, the Prime Minister reminded the people about how India has time and again proved the sceptics wrong and is marching ahead in its journey towards a bright future. He called our country the “mother of democracy”.

The PM talked about an aspirational society in a hurry that is experiencing a renaissance of its collective consciousness. He beseeched the people of India to make five vows (panch pran). One, make a big resolve; second, we must throw away the yoke of slavery from our hearts and minds. Third, be proud of our heritage and legacy. Fourth, to remain united. And, fifth remain committed and responsible citizens of this nation.

The Prime Minister came down heavily on “parivarwad” (dynastic politics) and thundered that we refuse to be judged by foreign yardsticks and do not need certificates from others about our performance. If we seriously and objectively assess the PM’s assertions and check if they match ground realities, one stands to meet with disappointment. If we are truly the mother of democracy then why do we not have a single Member of Parliament from the minority Muslim community within the ranks of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party? Is this the new meaning of ‘sab ka saath’?

While the tirade against dynastic politics is justified, why has the ruling party imported dynasts from other parties and also given plum positions to many leaders in the government and the party who hail from political families?

As far as becoming indifferent to foreign certificates and setting our own standards, why are we then aspiring to become a $5 trillion economy? Why can’t we set our own targets for prosperity? Are we not signatories to the UNSDGs and Climate Change protocols? Or does it mean that we should ignore our dismal rankings in GDP per capita, life expectancy, global hunger index, freedom index, gender gap index, democracy index, air quality index, etc?

Ultimately, it boils down to the people of this country. They elect their rulers and hand them the reins of power. As Edmund Burke said, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

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