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Perhaps, PM Modi Only Wanted to Check if We Pay Attention to His Speech

Yes, PM Narendra Modi, we pay attention to the Independence Day speech & we are not impressed, writes Rajeev Gowda.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort during the 75th Independence Day function, in New Delhi, Sunday, 15 August.</p></div>
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The Prime Minister’s speech on Independence Day is an important landmark in our national calendar. It gives us a window into the government's vision for our country. It is also a platform for important announcements.

In PM Modi’s 8th address from the Red Fort, the one thing constant since 2014 has been the duration. The speech is usually long. The second constant is that the failure rate of his grand announcements is 100%.

Take for example PM Modi’s promise to double farmer income by 15 August 2022. We are now one year away. Has there been any substantial progress? Are those farmers who are protesting against the government’s farm laws a bunch of ungrateful people whose incomes PM Modi has nearly doubled already?

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Consider some basic arithmetic. The government announced an MSP hike for this kharif season to the tune of 4% (paddy and cotton), 2% (ragi and soyabean), and 1% for maize. Headline inflation in the previous months was in double-digits. What is this innovative mathematics that enables us to double farmers’ incomes when their returns are lower than inflation?

PM Modi's Claims on Handling COVID-19

A good part of the PM's address focused on COVID-19 and India’s ‘success’ in handling the pandemic. There cannot be a better example of hubris and disinformation. It has now emerged that India has been underreporting deaths and cases by a huge margin. One analysis suggests nearly 50 lakh Indians died due to COVID-19. The government owes it to the deceased and their families to open our eyes to reality. We have not forgotten the painful pictures of people dying for lack of oxygen or bodies floating in holy Ganga. The PM should not either. A possible third wave may soon be upon us. Empty triumphalism will derail any efforts at controlling the pandemic, a lesson we learnt from the second wave.

Vaccination remains our best bet and we are lagging far behind both the government’s announced targets as well as what we need to achieve to contain the pandemic. India is one of the largest vaccine manufacturers, yet 11 out of 12 Indians are not fully vaccinated. India ranks 94th in the world among nations that have vaccinated their populations with at least one dose. The government needs to step up the pace. Now!

Failure of Flagship Schemes 

It is now customary for the PM to mention Ujjwala Yojana and Ayushman Bharat. The National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS-5) revealed that since the inception of Ujjwala Yojana in 2016, there has been a mere 20% increase in the usage of clean cooking fuel. With LPG cylinder prices rising above Rs. 850, the subsidy has been effectively abolished, further straining family budgets.

The failure of Ayushman Bharat was there for all to see during the second wave of the pandemic. The government’s push towards privatisation of healthcare has created a situation where the public sector was overburdened and reached a breaking point. Our medical personnel and frontline workers deserve commendation for repeatedly rising to the occasion even as the government went missing.

Platitudes Don't Address Hunger, Food Does

The PM has a unique trait of offering platitudes and achieving nothing. He mentioned our athletes’ success at the Tokyo Olympics. Of course, he would not speak of how his government slashed our sports budget this fiscal year. Or how Neeraj Chopra’s coach complained of poor facilities and lack of proper diet for the athletes.

The PM spoke of nutrition and his government’s commitment to beat starvation. The facts tell you that the government has been least committed to caring for our children and their mothers. Childhood stunting has increased in 13 out of 22 states between 2015 and 2020. Anaemia in children and women worsened in the past half-a-decade. As many as 68.4% children (up from 35.7 % in 2016) and 66.4% (46.1% in 2016) women are anaemic in 2019.

It is rare for malnutrition to rise this rapidly. How did the government respond? By slashing the nutrition budget! The nutrition budget saw a reduction of Rs 1000 crore (27% reduction) this fiscal year. This is at a time when we are amidst the worst economic performance in independent India’s history. Poverty has risen and our middle class has shrunk. The people need more support. They get empty slogans.

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Infrastructure Pipeline Has Remained a Pipe Dream

Infrastructure has been this government’s major agenda, or so we are made to believe. The PM announced a 100 lakh crore national infrastructure master plan. A commendable initiative if we ignore how the same 100 lakh crore infrastructure pipeline was announced in 2019. And again in 2020. Perhaps the PM wanted to check if we pay attention to his speech, we do, and we are not impressed. The infrastructure pipeline has but remained a pipe-dream.

A competent government would have announced a fiscal stimulus that gave people the confidence and resources to spend, thus boosting demand and reviving the economy. But all the government has to offer is platitudes and the rehashing of failed schemes.

The PM announced a special package for the North-East region. His speechwriters perhaps forget that Assam and Mizoram, both NDA governed, have been fighting each other violently, and with the BJP government in Assam even announcing a blockade. This is unprecedented in modern India. Thankfully tempers have cooled and some normalcy restored. But clearly, the North East will benefit most if the government would just keep its divisive agenda out of the sensitive region.

PM Modi's Laughable Statement About Govt Interference

It was laughable to watch the PM speak of not interfering in the lives of citizens. Barely weeks ago, it was revealed that the government was allegedly using the military-grade software Pegasus to target opposition leaders, constitutional functionaries, journalists, civil society members, and even its own party MPs and ministers.

On another sombre note, the PM has announced that August 14 will be dedicated to commemorating the horrors of Partition. He would do well to remember that such horrors arose as a direct consequence of the politics of religious hatred and communal violence.

If the PM’s intention is to ensure that our nation never again experiences such horrific bloodshed, then he needs to take strict action against his party members and others who threaten and lynch minorities.

Else the remembrance of horrors past could be interpreted by some as a veiled warning of horrors that could be unleashed on us once again.

(Prof. Rajeev Gowda is a former Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Research Department, All India Congress Committee. He tweets at @rajeevgowda. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(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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