An Evaluation of Indian PM’s Independence Speech

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 18 Aug 2014

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

I listened to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on India’s 68th Independence Day. Here I elaborate some of the points in the speech which I find inspiring for India’s growth. Modi’s emphasis on Shastra instead of Shastra (both words can be written same in English but their pronunciation and meaning in Sanskrit and Hindi – in which Modi delivered his speech – will be different: one is, for the sake of differentiation, Shaastra – meaning broadly book of knowledge and wisdom and the other is Shastra – meaning weapons) is the need of the time. Not only India and other countries in South Asia, but also most parts of the world, are affected by violence. Whether it is militancy and terrorism in India, or the Maoist problem in its east and south, or the problems in Afghanistan, or West Asia, or former Soviet space – all are marked by bloodshed. Geo-strategies and power politics have further contributed to bloodshed. The wisdom from the great books can guide us towards peace. It is time to give up guns and cultivate the inner virtues of human beings.

The replacement of a gun by a plough on the shoulder of a militant will cause much good to India, Modi believes. I believe in this too. We have seen many guns, wars, fear of guns, and their consequences. Guns have not resolved conflicts, not provided food and not brought peace and security to a nation-state or the globe. Now the time is for peace and economic development without the aid of a gun. I hope Modi will follow this principle while making decisions and implementing them.

The prime minister vigorously pitched for a India which has all means for economic development. He specially appealed to the youth of India. Here, it was the pro-business, pro-development, Modi was at his best. Modi is known for using new slogans. For the development of India, for increasing its exports, he gave a two-fold slogan ‘zero-defect, zero effect.’ He called the entrepreneurs, including the young entrepreneurs of India, to bring India’s name to the front not as an importer but as an exporter of qualitative goods. Zero defect implies that goods must be produced without any defect; they should be of best quality. This will ensure India’s global prestige as a quality goods producer. Any defect will bring bad name to India. Similarly, Modi called for production and export of goods which have least negative effect on environment. They should not prove environmental hazards.

As a tech-savvy politician, who uses social media for publicity of his policies and actions, Modi gave the call for transforming India into a ‘digital India.’ A digital India will cure many of the evils from which the Indian political system suffers. The idea of digital India also includes the idea of e-governance, which for the prime minister not only implies easy governance but also good governance. I agree with the prime minister that much of the red-tapism, which haunts India’s governance system, will go away if digital governance is practiced. India has required technological expertise to usher in digital governance. It has perhaps the largest number of IT professionals than any other country in the world. Hence, it is absolutely possible to embark on e-governance, which will cater to the needs of the people without the aid of the middlemen.

To fight the menace of middlemen, the prime minister announced a program under which money from government will directly reach the needy. Without such a provision there is rampant corruption in welfare programs launched by the government. Go to any village and talk to the people below poverty line, they will tell you clearly how they have suffered in the hands of the middlemen. Whether is rural employment guarantee scheme, or old age pension, Indira Awas Yojana (in fact there are many welfare programs, which were certainly initiated with the aim of helping the poor), the hapless victims are the rural poor who have no recourse to justice against corrupt middlemen. Under the new program announced by Modi, a recipient of welfare benefits will have a bank account to which government will send money directly. The recipient will have a debit card to withdraw money easily. The prime minister rightly pointed out an irony that there are people in India who have mobile phones but not bank accounts. The governor of India’s central bank, Reserve Bank of India, has also made a resolve to fight crony capitalism. The new program will help fulfill this resolve.

About gender insensitivity and discrimination against women, the prime minister made a strong pitch for gender equality in all walks of life. Drawing from the tradition, he urged the parents to give moral education to their children. He rightly pointed out the rapist is somebody’s son. I agree with him that moral education by parents can help develop the character of a child and make him a responsible citizen of the country. Modi argued against female feticide and cited the recent Commonwealth Games in UK in which women got a good number of medals. Women and men are equal and there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender, the prime minister appealed to the people of India.

Modi also pointed out other evils that eat into the vitals of an emerging India. The main among them include communalism and casteism. He appealed to the people of India to rise above these evils and fight them collectively. He cited a Sanskrit hymn that we should walk together. It is when we think and work collectively as a nation that many of the problems we confront will wither away. He applied the same yardstick to other evils such as corruption. Selfishness is the main mover of corruption. One should not only think about his ‘self’ but also the ‘self’ of the society, of India as a whole. Here comes to my mind the Gandhian dictum: the nature has for everybody’s need but not for anybody’s greed. The famous Gandhian talisman read: when an individual is in confusion as to whether he should take a particular action, he should think about the most miserable person on the earth he has seen and think whether the action he is confused about will help that person. If the answer is yes, he should initiate that action otherwise not. Perhaps Modi has in his mind this talisman when he urged the people of India to think of India as a whole, as one family.

Modi also evoked the spirit of Gandhi when he was talking about cleanliness. India is one of the dirty countries in the world. Go to any city, town or public places, or to India’s rivers, the sight says it all. Modi said, we are going to celebrate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in near future, but we must remember Gandhi’s emphasis on hygiene. He rightly pointed out that government will not be able to carry out this mission without the support of the citizens. He is right in this. Government is of the people and for the people and by the people. Without the support of citizens, the government efforts will be vain. The people must take care of their house and make it clean, and the same logic they need to apply to their neighborhood, and public spaces like parks, markets, tanks and rivers. Unless this happens, India will remain dirty and dispel the investor who wants to invest in India, dispel a person who wants to be an India lover and wants to say India is my home.

Besides Gandhi, Modi also evoked the names of Maharshi Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. In his message on India’s first Independence Day in 1947 Sri Aurobindo had elaborated his five dreams. Among them included a strong and vibrant India, and emergence of India not only as a developed and harmonious nation-state but also as a teacher (Guru) of the world. Swami Vivekananda gave the call to the youth of India to march ceaselessly till the goal is reached. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Modi drew heavily from India’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage while speaking from the Red Fort.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. He is a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.

 

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Aug 2014.

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