He did not get drawn into the politics of the opposition and made a brief but effective mention of the strategic and national security responses of India to the twin threat of the two hostile neighbours on our borders, without naming those countries. The address would give confidence to Indians at large that the governance of the nation was in the hands of a strong and diligent leadership.
The Prime Minister, while hailing the Indian sportspersons for their performance at the Tokyo Olympics, pointed out that ‘crores of countrymen are showing respect to the youth of India’ — adding that the athletes who brought honour to the country had inspired the youth of India and the future generations as well, with their achievements.
He stated that Indians had fought the pandemic with ‘great grit and patience’ and contended that it was due to the power of our entrepreneurs and scientists that India ‘is not dependent on anyone or any other country for vaccines’. He informed the nation that ‘the world’s largest vaccination programme is being run in our country’. Pointing out that compared to rich countries India had ‘insufficient systems’ and much greater population due to which despite all efforts ‘we could not save many people’ and so many children were orphaned, he said ‘this unbearable pain is going to remain forever’. The expression of sorrow coming from a sensitive Prime Minister would give consolation to the bereaved families.
The Prime Minister presented a convincing account of the wide-ranging efforts and projects initiated by his government to take India forward in spite of the impediments created by the Covid crisis — it was clear that he was personally involved in monitoring all of those and that his untiring devotion was evident from the details of micro-management that he was able to provide in his address. The Prime Minister displayed a great clarity of vision when he stated that India should be a gas-based economy and announced the launch of the National Hydrogen Mission for attaining energy self-reliance.
He spoke of the advance the country hopefully would make towards a new India in the 25 years of ‘Amrit period’ that lay ahead until the Centenary of Indian independence. In powerful words he defined the goals of this journey as ascension to new heights of prosperity for India and its citizens, achieving a level of facilities that did not divide the village and the city, building an India where the government does not interfere unnecessarily in the lives of the citizens, seeing an India that had the world’s modern infrastructure in all spheres and developing a country that would make an effective contribution to a safe and prosperous world. He declared that this dream will be fulfilled with ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ adding ‘Sabka Prayas’ to this slogan to acknowledge the contribution of every single citizen to that mission.
Prime Minister Modi dwelt at length on the initiatives taken by his government to reach out to the common man particularly in rural India. He referred to the expansion of Ujjwala and Ayushmann Bharat and resolved to ensure that all villages had roads, all the households had bank accounts and all entitled persons were connected with government’s insurance, pension and housing schemes.
He wanted the state to give thought to our street vendors who sold their goods on tracks, footpaths and carts. He drew attention to the success of Jal Jeewan Mission in providing drinking water from pipes to four and a half crore families. The Prime Minister spoke of the efforts to build a new economy in the villages. Apart from roads and electricity, he emphasised the importance of optical fibre network data and the Internet to help the rise of digital entrepreneurs in the villages.
He wanted the government to prepare an e-commerce platform for the village products to be taken to a big market in our country and abroad — his commitment to science and technology for economic advancement makes Prime Minister Modi a political leader with a difference.
A highlight of his address was the attention his government was giving to the lot of the small farmers who constituted nearly 80 per cent of the rural folk and who ‘did not get any benefit earlier’. Agriculture reforms by way of crop insurance scheme, increase in the MSP, issue of Kisan Credit Card for getting bank loans at cheaper rates, taking solar power to farms and creating a warehouse facility at the block level, were being started ‘to increase the power of the small farmer’.
The Prime Minister made no reference to the farmer’s agitation — there is a view that it was a politically motivated campaign of the big farmers. The speech of the Prime Minister definitely showed his grasp of the problems facing the vast sections of people in both urban and rural areas and his sincere application to solution -finding through a multi-pronged policy initiative and monitoring of implementation at the highest levels of governance at the Centre.
As regards strategic matters and issues of national security, the Prime Minister kept his remarks brief. Pointing out that the nature of global relations had changed after the Second World War he referred to the possibility of a new world order taking shape post-Corona in which India’s role would be highly appreciated. He identified terrorism and expansionism as the two main dangers for the new world.
Without naming Pakistan and China as the sources of these threats, Prime Minister Modi asserted that India was fighting both the challenges and responding strongly but in a restrained manner. He declared that India was keeping its defence preparedness equally strong. He recalled that India had given the message of its new might to the enemies of the country by carrying out surgical and air strikes.
He assured the people that India can now take the toughest decisions. On the domestic front, the Prime Minister informed the nation that Jammu and Kashmir, heading for elections after the delimitation, and Ladakh were both making very good progress and revealed that state capitals of the North East were all going to be inter-connected by rail service very soon.
He added that under the Act East policy North-East, Bangladesh, Myanmar and South-East Asia were also being connected. The consistency of India’s foreign policy and security strategy under Prime Minister Modi will not go unnoticed by the people of India.
Prime Minister Modi’s speech appropriately struck a strong nationalist note. He announced the 75th Independence Day as the Amrit Mahotsav of freedom to be celebrated throughout the country and called upon everybody to bow to all freedom fighters and brave heroes ‘who continue to sacrifice themselves day and night in the defence of the nation’.
Remembering Bapu, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Maharani Laxmibai, Queen Chennamma of Kittur as also Rani Gaidinliu, the Prime Minister made the point that ‘India had fought for motherland, culture and freedom for centuries’ and saluted the ‘countless people from every corner of India’ whose names do not even figure in history but who ‘built this nation and took it forward in every period’.
He reminded the countrymen that while we celebrated our freedom today ‘we cannot forget the pain of the victims of Partition’ — this would have the effect of highlighting the flawed decision of that division but also consolidating the sense of India’s nationhood in the times to come. Finally, what looks like a first for his Red Fort speech, Prime Minister Modi ended it with a poem full of nationalist exhortations — ‘This is India’s precious time, there is the power of innumerable arms, there is patriotism everywhere, come, rise, turn the fate of India’ — marked the conclusion of the address.
There is little doubt that Prime Minister Modi once again connected with the people — going beyond the domestic political scene — and reinforced their trust in his leadership. His image as a leader of political will, integrity and capacity to govern with a strong hand, holds out, notwithstanding the enormous suffering caused to the people by the breakdown of medical infrastructure during the pandemic that had come as an unannounced disaster. The address from the Red Fort would add to the confidence of the people that in the present scenario of India, Prime Minister Modi was seemingly the right leader to restore economic stability and safeguard national security.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)