Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first Independence Day speech after getting re-elected was as political as it could get.
He touched upon a host of issues, like the effective revocation of Article 370, triple talaq, economic growth, population control and trade. The thrust of his speech was to project that his government has achieved what no government could in the last 72 years.
First, he spoke about ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and how the spirit of ‘One Nation, One Constitution’ has now become a reality.
PM Modi didn’t, however, say anything about the crisis in the Valley, the communication lockdown and the plight of Kashmiris who are unable to resume their regular lives.
Neither was there any mention of the former chief ministers of the state under house arrest. Nor did he give any clarity on the future road map for Kashmir.
The prime minister spoke about ending the practice of Triple Talaq. The Bill was passed in both the Houses of Parliament during the Budget Session amid much uproar, and became a law after the president’s nod.
He said that when the nation can ban Sati, and take strong action against female infanticide and child marriage, then why not this?
India’s Economic Growth
PM Modi also displayed confidence when he spoke about India’s economic growth. He said that India will become a $5 trillion economy in the next five years.
He maintained that ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong.’
But PM’s optimism isn’t quite backed by reality. India’s annual GDP growth rate fell from 7.2 percent in 2017-2018 to 6.8 percent in 2018-2019. And many economists have raised concerns over the sharp economic slowdown.
The rate of unemployment has been at a 45-year high, several sectors including the auto sector, real estate and FMCG companies are facing a crisis.
For instance, the auto sector is facing its worst crisis in almost 19 years, and reportedly 2.30 lakh jobs have been lost.
Similarly, the health of real estate is linked to many industries like bricks, cement, furniture, and in the past one year, the inventory of unsold houses has increased.
Don’t Eye Wealth Creators With Suspicion
Next, the prime minister spoke about wealth creators. He made a very pertinent point and said that they themselves are a wealth for the country. He also said that they are doing a great national service and that they should not be looked at with suspicion.
Now, this statement comes at a time when top entrepreneurs from Indian industries have come out and spoken about income-tax harassment and tax terrorism.
All this at a time when an entrepreneur took his own life owing to financial stress and a few others came out and spoke of receiving threats from tax officers.
While we speak about wealth creation and respecting the wealth creators, why not give them protection and reduce the financial stress?
PM Modi also set the political narrative for his second term in office, and said that there needs to be a nationwide debate on ‘One Nation, One Poll’ and that the people should come together to solve the problem of ‘population explosion.’
This is an important point. But southern states have earlier too raised an objection as to why they are being penalised, even after performing better on population control.
After all, the 15th Finance Commission uses the population as per the 2011 census to allocate funds. Doesn't that dis-incentivise population control?
Keeping politics aside, in his 90-minute-long speech, Modi also made two big announcements.
Position of Chief of Defence Staff
First was the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff to head the Army, Navy and Air Force, a position which was recommended by a high-level committee in the wake of the Kargil War in 1999, during the time of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
PM Modi Announces ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’
Modi also announced the implementation of ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’ to ensure drinking water reaches every household in India, and promised that the government will pump in nearly Rs 3.5 lakh crore in the coming years.
The speech all in all was a report card of what Modi government has done in its first term, but at the same time he set the narrative for the next five years.