Modi’s Maiden Independence Day Speech: Highlights and Commentary
Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 15 August, 2014
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Mr. Narendra Modi delivered an impressive speech on the occasion of Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi today. It is a tribute to Modi’s appeal and oratorical skill that I actually took the trouble to wake up early enough on a holiday like this to hear the PM's speech. Manmohan Singh was always so dull and boring that not once in the last 10 years did I bother to listen to his Independence Day speech.
Modi has always been an amazing orator, and this time was no exception. The audio quality left something to be desired, and it made me have to strain to hear his words clearly. One thing worth mentioning is that the speech was completely extempore, no reading from a printout. There also was no bulletproof enclosure, which added to the feeling of his accessibility. The speech had the hallmark of Modi speeches – spontaneous and straight from the heart.
Here are some of the main points of his speech, with my commentary.
1. I liked the fact that he talked about the rapes in India, linked it to the skewed sex ratio in India, and said that in India, when a girl leaves the home, the parents ask her a thousand questions. Why don't they ask the same questions of their sons? If they did so, this would be a much safer country.
2. He talked about the sex ratio and said that there is a myth that if you have sons, they will take care of you in your old age. But he has seen families where there are 5 sons and the parents live in an old age home; and he has also seen families where the daughter doesn't marry because she wants to take care of her family (I can vouch for this myself). Inspiring words, and what you expect from a leader. Both this and the earlier point are correctly targeted, because these are social, not political issues, and can be resolved only if there is a transformation of society. They cannot be legislated. As a leader, Mr. Modi is doing the right thing by trying to set a vision.
3. He talked about abolishing the Planning Commission. A VERY COMMENDABLE STEP.
4. Modi issued a strong appeal to Indians everywhere to manufacture in India, said that manufacturing is very important to India. Fair enough. But is he willing to do what is needed for these people to come to India? Such as destroying the license raj? Unless you do that, business will not flourish in India. I wish he had talked about that as much as he did about the worthlessness of the planning commission.
5. Another leadership statement: cleanliness and toilets. What you expect from a visionary leader. Let us hope he follows up with something concrete.
6. He talked about zero defect and zero effect (zero adverse effect on the environment.) As a rhetorical statement this is great, but it really means nothing. Zero defect is not in the hands of the government; it is in the hands of private business, and is driven by competition. Many companies worldwide have already implemented zero defect techniques in their manufacturing. The only reason companies in India have not implemented these strategies is because they are insulated from competition – so why bother? Mr. Modi, if you want a zero defect culture, you have to drop all the barriers to competition for Indian companies by allowing free access for foreign companies to compete in India. Are you willing to do this?
7. Modi started his speech with a refreshingly inclusive statement. He said that he respects the work done by all previous governments and PMs. He also said that although he has a majority, he doesn't want to push his ideas through banking only on his majority, but with a consensus involving all parties. Part of this is also necessity, because the parties other than the BJP can block him in the Rajya Sabha. This can partly explain the slowness with which his government is moving on reforms. But only partly, because there are things he can implement without the need for support from other parties.
8. Modi made an important point about how the government is fractured into independent silos and he has his work cut up for him in breaking down these walls between the different "jagirs" in the bureaucracy.
9. One telling point he made was that there was a lot of publicity in the news about Modi's insistence that bureaucrats come on time. He asked: should this be newsworthy? Should this really make the news that people come to work on time? Shouldn't this be an expectation? Isn't this a sad state of affairs?
10. Modi made a point about people's self-centeredness. He said that everyone is thinking: what is in this for me? He said everything in life should not only be about what is in this for me. He said that we should also think about what we do for the nation. Sorry, Mr. Modi, this kind of talk is passe. This socialist talk has been thrown at people over the decades, and it is useless. JFK also asked the Americans the same thing: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. But it is hollow talk. Mr. Modi, create an economy where I can focus on what I want - and ensure that my selfishness is aligned with the nation's benefit. It is time to stop this socialist nonsense. People, everywhere in the world, will and should only care about their benefit. It is YOUR job as PM to ensure that people's self-interest equates to the nation's benefit. That is the essence of capitalism.
11. Similar to the previous point, Mr. Modi made a distinction between government jobs and private sector jobs – he said that we refer to private jobs as “jobs,” but refer to government jobs as “service.” He said that this distinction was very important – that a government job was “service to the nation” and should be thought of as such. The implication is that those working in government jobs should not be “selfish” and should not look towards their own benefit because they are “serving the nation.” Again, Mr. Modi, sorry, but this distinction is artificial. Who are you to ask someone else to sacrifice himself? Everyone has the right to look out for his own benefit.
12. Modi decried violence in the name of caste and religion. This is very good, but Modi has to recognize that much of the divisive talk is being done right now by his own people - people like Yogi Adityanath, who recently delivered an inflammatory speech in parliament, or like Goa deputy CM Deepak Dhavalikar, who said that all Indians are Hindus.
13. Modi unveiled a new scheme whereby each member of Parliament would adopt a village and make it an ideal village so that it would stand as an example to everyone in the neighborhood as an example of what to aspire to. This is a commendable idea.
All in all, a thought-provoking speech, but we need to wait and see if Mr. Modi is willing to do what it takes to achieve these noble aims. It is still early days and the jury is still out on the Modi administration. The vision is good and we hope he will deliver on the hopes of the nation. But if he is serious about the vision he laid out, he has his work cut out for him. Specifically, ending the license raj and freeing up India for foreign competition will require him to fight major battles, not only with the opposition, but within his own party.