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Modi in I-Day Speech: Politics of Othering and Distortion of History

The speech did not display anxiety over the pandemic but instead, focused on tightening the political stranglehold.

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Although the annual prime ministerial speech at the Red Fort on Independence Day has evolved into a keenly anticipated event due to new programmes that are traditionally announced, the political content in these is also important, more so for Narendra Modi because of his belief in the dictum of politics first.

But, in the second I-Day speech in the post-pandemic period, Prime Minister Modi's principal political message was communicated to people almost twenty-four hours prior to his address from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

For this, he chose Twitter, the platform in news in recent days for straightaway locking the account of Rahul Gandhi.

Why the Need to Sow Hatred?

It is indeed a sad irony that days before the prime minister announced that 14 August would now be observed as 'Partition Horrors Remembrance Day', a Muslim man was assaulted in Kanpur and forced to chant Jai Shri Ram.

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If one goes back to the personal history of this man, one would discover that his ancestors chose to continue living in their country of birth because they believed in freedom and liberty that was assured to all citizens irrespective of social identities at independent India's birth.

Would the likes of those who have been selectively targeted in numerous incidents in recent years not wonder if previous generations made a mistake?

Amid the politics of othering, it has been long forgotten that the second speaker during the dramatic midnight hour session of the Constituent Assembly when India stepped into freedom, was Khaliquzzaman, a Muslim League leader from what was then, United Province. He was chosen by India's leaders to underscore the compositeness of Indian polity.

Sadly, he too left to join other family members after the communal virus reached his doors. More than two decades later, he died a sad man in Pakistan, underscoring that not all who went away found that the nation and its trajectory was actually the land they dreamt of.

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But for Modi, and the political forces he represents, hatred that resulted in lives of countless and the displacement of millions, is one-sided and exists solely in the past.

True, the prime minister said that the horror 'reminder', which he introduced into the national calendar of observances, shall "keep reminding us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions, disharmony and further strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment."

But neither in his tweets or in almost one and half hours of his address, Modi felt the need to refer to and condemn the daily culture of vilification and prejudice that has undeniably deepened in India while under his charge.

The selection of 14 August, the Independence Day of Pakistan, also a nation which emerged as a political entity through the havoc of Partition days, is an indication of the need to sow hatred for its capacity to harvest political victories.

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If teaching 'distorted' history and diverting loathing was indeed not the objective, why was, if at all such a remembrance was of utmost necessity, 16 August not chosen as the day for this observance?

This was after all, when the Muslim League called for Direct Action in 1946, and the turnout triggered the Great Calcutta Killing for three days. Thousands were killed and maimed in the senseless communal violence that followed, and after which Partition of the country became a fait accompli. It merely remained a tragedy whose timing and magnitude were the only elements to be decided.

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'Greatness in 2047' 

After the major political objective was fulfilled, it was time for the sanctimonious chest-thumping. As major portions of his speech subsequently demonstrated, most 'targets' had already been met and accomplishments piled up in the past seven years.

All that remains is required to be done, is for citizens to be aware that this is the 'priceless moment' when all one has to do is to 'get up and sway the Tricolour and unfurl India's future.'

The line between confidence and vanity is extremely thin but it is enormously important for it to exist within individuals, especially a political leader. There were large parts of the speech where the future is a given, and it is just a matter of minor adjustments that India shall be on the path of greatness when it sits on a hundred years of history as an independent nation in 2047.

"In 2047, whoever shall be the prime minister, whoever unfurls the national flag here, I can say with confidence, when that person talks of accomplishments, they will be the same for which the nation is taking a pledge now. What I am saying today in the form of a resolve or announcements, would have become accomplishments of the future..." PM Modi said.

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But is not this always the case? Does not the past pave the way for the path ahead? Did Rajdhani Express trains not show the way for other superfast passenger trains and Shatabdi Express series? Do the Vande Bharat trains not have a past genesis in past achievements of the Indian Railways?

Chest-Thumping on Vaccines but Mum on Sedition Laws

Like always, Modi again denied that the first steps in any field were ever taken and made a case to suggests that all progress that is visible in India now, is due to his labours. Even in the case of vaccines, his claims remained an old one – that previously it took years for a vaccine to be developed from new health threats.

This section in the speech was a veritable copy-paste from a previous one he made in June when he wrongly claimed, "India would have to wait decades for procuring vaccines from abroad. When vaccination programmes ended in other countries, it wouldn't have even begun in our country."
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Fact is, even in the pre-independence period, India was among nations with indigenously manufactured vaccines. The prime minister also ignored the fact that India was a pioneer in polio research for both Oral Polio Vaccines and injectable vaccines.

A master of reiteration and presenting one fact of the situation has always been the case with Modi. He returned to another old theme, repealing archaic laws. Lofty claims, that he worked to liberate people and the system of the archaic laws.

But there was radio silence on the sedition law. It, after all, is a colonial remnant that gives strength to the present regime like it benefited the previous ones. The difference being that this one possible uses this more often.

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A History of Recasting Old National Programmes

The nation will have to await the unveiling of the Gati Shakti idea he announced. It also remains to be seen how this promise is different from similar announcements in his previous two I-Day speeches

In 2019, he promised to invest a Rs 100 lakh crore on developing modern infrastructure. Modi assured people this would aid in nearly doubling the size of the Indian economy to $5 trillion in the next five years.

In 2020, from the same venue the promise was for the same amount for what was then called National Infrastructure Pipeline Project. Government departments mention its launch and also expansion earlier this year. However, little details are available on the plan announced in 2019.

In December 2019, as well as in 2020, it was announced that projects in sectors like power, roads, railways, urban irrigation, mobility, education and health and urban development would be prioritised under these initiatives.

The Modi government has a history of recasting old programmes and rehashing previous announcements. But a verdict on this pledge by Modi in this year's speech shall await scrutiny of the fine print after the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plans is announced.

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This was a speech that did not display anxiety over disparity levels having widened substantially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the focus was on tightening the political stranglehold.

With an inept Opposition that poses little challenge and is unable to communicate major issues to the ordinary people in a language they understand, the small window of desire for change that opened in the wake of mishandling of the second wave of the pandemic appears to be slowly shutting.

Undeniably a keen tracker of ground reality, Modi appeared aware of this. That is why he emphasised political continuity for the next twenty-five years, certain that the regime then shall hold this one in great esteem.

(The writer is a NCR-based author and journalist. His books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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