PM Modi said that India was making enormous efforts to stand on its own feet and linked several initiatives taken recently for this effort — farmers now face no impediments in selling their produce because of the end of the APMC system; the space sector has been freed for private investment; and a health crisis has created a new Indian industry to manufacture sophisticated medical equipment and masks.
“The goal must no longer be just 'Make for India'. It should be 'Make for the World' the PM said, reminding that Indians had done all this while being battered by floods, cyclones and locust attacks. He said Covid-19 was a calamity but it had not succeeded in curbing the spirit of India: FDI flows grew 18 per cent over the last year.
He recalled how the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had created the Golden Quadrilateral of roads but added that India had gone far beyond that. He announced that a new project of four-lane roads all along sea coasts would be unveiled, as coastal development was essential for world trade.
He referred to all the reforms the government had done in the banking sector
and said no Indian had remained untouched by Jan Dhan, health insurance
and inclusive banking. The BHIM UPI app had seen transactions amounting to Rs 3 trillion just last month.
Free rations had helped people live with dignity even in troubled times. Digital education – a part of the New Education Policy – and online education would get a new fillip. The Prime Minister referred to migrant labourers and mentioned new housing projects on the anvil to provide cheap housing to migrants. More than 20 million families had been provided access to clean drinking water in the past year; this would be expanded and diversified.
New arrangements for Jammu & Kashmir also found a mention in the PM's speech. Modi said the delimitation in Jammu & Kashmir was going on and would soon prepare the ground for elections. ‘J&K would have its own MLAs, and ministers soon’ he said. There was new energy in the region, he said, urging Ladakh to follow the example of Sikkim, a wholly organic state, with the added advantage of being carbon-neutral as a new 7,500 Mw solar power plant would come up in the region.
“From the LAC to the LoC, the world has seen what Indian soldiers can do to those who try to challenge us. We reply in their language,” the PM said, referring to the stand-off at Galwan in eastern Ladakh, adding that whether it was, expansionism or terrorism, India was capable of beating it back.
“India has to become the best in the world at everything – it is no longer enough to become better. We have to be the best,” he said.
There were two political messages in the speech: one for the development of Eastern India – Bihar and West Bengal (where elections are due) eastern UP and the Northeast, which has been left behind in development. This asymmetry would be corrected. And for India’s middle class, the PM said it mostly wanted freedom from bureaucracy. “They can perform miracles and we have seen this,” he said. For this sector, income tax limits had been reduced, EMIs on home loans had become cheaper, cooperative banks had been brought under the remit of the Reserve Bank to make the savings of this class safer, and homes were being built for them to afford them a measure of dignity.
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He made a pointed reference to women and measures for their empowerment via steps ranging from free gas cylinders to mudra loans. The government was considering increasing the marriagable age of girls to postpone motherhood.
PM Modi’s speech was an account of what his government had done over the past six years. But it was also an intervention to boost sagging morale and confidence in the midst of a health crisis.
Significantly, unlike his previous speeches, he did not refer this time to India’s performance in combating Covid-19 in comparison to the rest of world. Instead, his message was that though it was a problem, India was dealing with it and would defeat it.
Six controversies that PM Modi avoided in his Independence Day address
National Register of Citizens (NRC): While the PM talked at length about persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries being given Indian citizenship (the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA), he made no reference to the Modi government’s other big project, documentation of Indian citizens via the NRC. Of course, this doesn’t mean the government has given it up; it probably only suggests that it might have been postponed
Restructuring of the judicial system: The judicial system’s restructuring has been a priority of the Modi government in its second term. There, however, was no reference to this project — which has seen the top court and the government on a politely worded collision course – in his speech.
Winding down of institutions: The government has been quietly winding down institutions, boards and other appendages to government departments that have outlived their utility. Last year, more than 8,000 military engineering service jobs were abolished. This year, the handloom and powerloom boards of India were dismantled, and other institutions also face an exe. There was no word in the PM’s speech on the way forward on this.
Labour law restructuring: A restructuring of labour laws and employment has been a central preoccupation. The PM did not, however, directly refer to any plan to create employment.
Stress in economy: The PM’s speech had no warnings of impending financial disasters – a contraction in gross domestic product, weak economy in general, drop in per-capita income, etc.
Political activity in J&K: There was no word on how political activity would be restarted in Jammu & Kashmir, given that several prominent leaders are in jail or home confinement. The implication is that gains of the delimitation exercise would only apply to those who are not in jail, even though those confined are legitimate political actors in the valley, such as the Peoples Democratic Party’s Mehbooba Mufti.