The Economic Times
Stock Analysis, IPO, Mutual Funds, Bonds & More

View: A mellower Modi on Independence Day

The most notable feature of Narendra Modi’s sixth speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort is an absence: an enemy to attack.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Aug 15, 2019, 11.41 AM IST
PM Modi outlined his view of the role of the state: neither oppressively, intrusively present nor debilitatingly missing, when people need it.
It is tempting to list creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff, the call to banish single use plastic, reduce use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, expand domestic tourism and control population growth as the highlights of the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address. However, the most notable feature of Narendra Modi’s sixth speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort is an absence: an enemy to attack.

Sure, there was the customary disdain for what was achieved by successive governments before his own; a stray reference to nations that foster terror at home and export them to the neighbourhood, but for the most part, the Prime Minister spoke of goals to achieve, for the nation to come together to strive for progress, of what each individual could do in this collective journey.

Modi did not so much celebrate abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A as normalise the act. If Article 370 were so sacrosanct, he asked, why did previous governments not make it a permanent feature of the Constitution, and keep it as a temporary, transitional provision? This might seem a fair point. But an honest answer is that some temporary and transient measures, such as reservation of seats in legislatures for scheduled castes and tribes, do not disappear because the conditions that made these improvisations necessary in the first place prove hardier than originally imagined.

Sections of industry might have expected the Prime Minister to address urgent concerns on the economic slowdown. That is naïve. No leader wants to advertise a problem if does not have a reliable solution to offer. Moreover, the occasion of the Independence Day speech is not for fighting immediate fires. It is an occasion for charting medium term goals and inspiring people to achieve them.

Creating a chief of defence staff is a sound move, but only a beginning. The real need is for a unified fighting force with land, sea, air and space capabilities, not just unified command at the very top. But this is a good beginning.

The call to end single use plastic is sound. But there has to be substitutes, apart from cloth bags for grocery. What of milk pouches? Tetrapacks with multiple layers of plastic and metal are harder to dispose of in a sustainable manner. A biodegradable plastic industry must come up, to take the place of the plastic we are called upon to give up (Should Reliance Industries worry about prime ministerial hostility to one of its main products?).

It would have been useful for the PM to have touched on recycling plastic and other materials and sustainable waste disposal in general.

The call to reduce chemical fertilisers and pesticides frankly rings hollow in the face of the steep subsidies provided by the government to these very things and to water, both brought via irrigation and pumped from the ground with subsidised power, without lots of which fertilisers cannot be used. There is scope to rationalise the use of chemical fertilisers, but not to abandon them – unless, as Normal Borlaug pointed out, you want to eliminate a couple of billion people from the planet.

The best way to reduce the use of pesticides is to deploy the best of genetic engineering. Governments do not have the courage to back science fully on this count, either.

The exhortation for every Indian family to travel within India and discover its splendours is well placed. Travel does broaden the mind, and will help people see both India’s manyhued diversity and the threads that unite them, apart from boosting the tourist economy. Of course, a certain political project to homogenise Indian culture might get dented in the process, but why complain?

The Prime Minister’s concern on a population explosion in India is dated. It is very strange that someone who has been touting India’s demographic dividend should now see a population explosion in its place. India’s fertility rate has been coming down rapidly and will soon dip below 2.1 children, on average, per woman, the number at which the population will begin to stabilise. All of south India has passed below this threshold. Social backwardness keeps it high in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but here also, their delayed decline in the fertility rate has served to stagger and prolong India’s demographic dividend.

Some bigots might see in the PM’s concern about population growth a coded reference to another trope of Hindutva, the prodigiously procreative Muslim. The fact is that India’s Muslim population grew slower than Bihar’s population between 2001 and 2011, according to Census data. Bangladesh’s fertility rate is lower than not only the replacement level, but also the average for India.

PM Modi outlined his view of the role of the state: neither oppressively, intrusively present nor debilitatingly missing, when people need it. This is an ideal to which the people should hold the government. When lynch mobs attack, the state should be present to stop them. When tribal rights activists are locked up without trial, the state’s oppressive presence violates the PM’s norm, blatantly.

The PM referred to the Swachh Bharat campaign as a people’s campaign. How effective it would have been, if he had also called on the people to pay for the power they consume and portrayed politicians who patronise power theft as enemies of the people: after all, India cannot progress with a stricken power sector, laid low by a politically conditioned reluctance to pay for

It is welcome that the Prime Minister called for an end to the traditional mistrust of the bania. Wealth creators are the nation’s wealth and deserve our respect, he said. This is welcome. Creating new income is the surest way for India to grow out of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity, India’s original tryst with destiny, outlined by Nehru. No harm in referring to this local source of inspiration if the PM can, as he did in the course of his speech, concede a nod to John F Kennedy’s famous line, calling on Americans to ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country.
Add Your Comments
Commenting feature is disabled in your country/region.

Other useful Links

Copyright © 2020 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service