By Kanika Katyal:
Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi delivered a powerful speech at the Red Fort yesterday. Every year, the Prime Minister addresses the nation in a ritualistic ceremony. The tradition holds enormous spatial, cultural and historic significance and is a part of the rites of passage that each PM undergoes to become the leader of the people.
It is a platform held in high reverence and Modi’s speech today not only upheld the dignity of the site but added manifold to his own integrity. His speech wasn’t a political propaganda but ardent with nationalistic fervour.
– He begins by placing his speech in the context of India’ s historic past, reminiscing the contributions of dignitaries such as Gandhi and Ambedkar. He appeals to the people on the basis of a shared past, a sense of identity derived from a collective belonging. But his speech is not sentimentally moulded. He doesn’t dwell upon rhetoric. He speaks to the people “ in the language of the common man” and manages to touch hearts. He doesn’t speak from a position of privilege. The speech is personalised, repeatedly addressing the crowd as “Bhaiyon aur Behnon.”
– “Main Pradhan Mantri nahin Pradhan Sewak hun.”(I’m not the Prime Minister but your Prime Servant), he begins by saying. From the very start, he establishes a direct contact with the proletariat. He professes to be not a ruler but a worker, proclaiming that if you put in 12 hours of work, I will put in 13. As the great Aristotelean tradition affirms that the ending end of knowledge is not in knowing well, but doing well. Similarly, he aspires to put in all his knowledge, experience and expertise in doing things, not just saying things.
– PM asserted in his speech that a nation is not built by its ministers or governments. But recognised the farmers, workers and teachers as the true makers of the nation. A PM after all operates in the public sphere. His actions cannot be viewed in complete political isolation.Â But when he explains the distinction between a “private job” and “public service”, he does sound informed. I like his point about the need of skilled workers as the need of the hour. Respect for workmanship, craftsmanship and labour has been long absent from our economic apparatus which still continues on a hierarchy, originated in the “scriptures”. This could be a path breaking move if individuals, irrespective of their caste, are trained in public institutes to become proficient workers.
– His Mantra : One Direction. One Vision. One Aim.Â He clarifies that he does not seek to operate on majoritarianism, but upon the strength of a united front. He welcomed the opposition and their role. Said he wanted to break down walls and end differences. “ Main Dilli ke liye outsider hu,” he stresses, clearly distancing himself from the elite classes and bureaucrats. He’s not an “urban Prime Minister”, but a man of the masses.
– As a woman, what I couldn’t ignore from the PM’s speech was: “Jab ladki ghar se baahar jaati hai, usse sainkdon sawaal kyu kiye jaate hain ?” ( When a daughter steps outside home, why is she asked a million questions?)Â It is a very fundamental question that we need to ask ourselves.
He spoke of women safety, drawing attention to the importance of upbringing. Family is a charged microcosm of society. Gender Socialization begins at home. The roles we internalise at home, are the roles we employ as future citizens.
A boy who’s out clubbing at night, while his sister does chores at home, will look at girls at the club as ‘easy’. Because, girls belonging to “good families”, such as his own, stay at home after dark. The gender divide needs to be completely done away with.
It really is as simple as that. He talks about the alarming sex ratio and appeals to end female foeticide. If the PM of a country is so cultivated in his views about women, it certainly is a sign of hope. While I agree that rapes and sexual assaults are complex issues, that involve a number of factors more complicated than just familial responsibility. But in a nation like India where Netas accuse Chinese food of instigating the boys to rape, this comes across as words of profound wisdom.
– Isn’t the dignity of women our responsibility? he asked. On our 68th Independence Day celebrations, at a formal occasion, a voice of our leader rises from the cultural bequest of the Red Fort and directs our attention to the lack of latrines for women. While one could be taken aback, to see the Prime Minister, the highest authority, touching upon scatological subjects. But it reflects his proximity with the grassroot level. This move, for me, is symbolic of bridging the gap between that which is organic and the supreme. He calls upon Corporate Social Responsibility and MPs alike to contribute to the making of toilets in all government schools within one year.
– Modi introduced the ‘Jan-Dhan Insurance Scheme’ to provide bank account facilities to the poorest of poor. Under this scheme, Insurance worth 1 Lakh rupees would be guaranteed to each family. Is it similar to UPA’s Subsidy scheme or a revolutionary new scheme? It does sound like a window for economic security and empowerment. Parties in power make a lot of promises but when it comes to employing the stratagem to supplement the schemes, it falls flat.
– He also announced the ‘Adarsh Gram Yojana’ whereby each MP is to adopt one deprived village and transform it into an affluent “adarsh”(ideal) village. Well, what’s new about it? Such schemes and programmes are already in progress in states like Maharashtra. Policies are great on paper, but how effective when it comes to management? Adarsh villages are fabricated and rewards are claimed, but then we discover that they were fraud. So, an indication of the parameters for organisation was found missing in his speech.
– Good news came to me in the form of his declaration to get rid of the long-established, ancestral, conservative Planning Commission to make way for a new institute, build upon a stronger, adept system aiming towards optimum utilisation of the natural resources as well as the human resources. I look at it as a great move towards federalism. His awareness of the arm-chair nature of meetings, and voicing that, was remarkable. Fresh, youthful energy, and creativity were his catch words.
– In his entire speech, Modi did not touch directly upon communal politics. He called religious and caste divisions as poison in the path of progress. “Bohot hua“,Â he says. “Shastr chod ke Shaastra apnao”. Â He advocates unity, brotherhood, solidarity and compassion. Raises questions upon the futility of violent acts. Cites King Asoka as example, who turned a new leaf in his life. Such examples appear abstract in the face of terrorism. It is an entangled mesh of ideologies, which can hardly be resolved by metaphysical reflection. Nevertheless, it made him come across as a sorted, stable and secular leader.
The question arises – does this lay the foundation for the start of something new?
Well, he lays down his Ten Year Plan, making his approach to work very clear. He speaks with a lot of conviction. But development is a combination of policy making and its corresponding infrastructural and socio-economic progress. He has the first step right. Stronger Policy building does provide a strong foundation. But at the same time, bare walls do not make monuments. The strategies have to be implemented in a concrete manner. I believe that if you’re able to say it well, it is half the battle won already. So, I’m really hoping that “ acchi speech” translates to “acche din” soon .