There are two things that make a good orator: content and delivery. When one can strike a balance between the two, one is remembered by posterity for his skills. Others often make up for the lack in matter with the manner of their delivery, or vice versa; but a veritable balance is always maintained. This was the second time that Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi addressed the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort. Last time, no matter what else, he managed to successfully puppeteer a patriotic mass through his rhetoric. Many claimed that the rhetoric, albeit, was hollow. However, for a nation used to silence or scripted whispers delivered by unapproachable, unattainable, unbelievable PMs, Modi’s rhetoric was refreshing.
With endless promises of a better tomorrow and a passionate allusion to his tea-stall-to-Lal-Qila story, with catch-words like “development” and heart-wrenching phrases like “prime servant of the Democracy“, he did manage to hold in thrall the attention of a nation. The problem with rehearsed rhetoric is this: unless there is new content, the theatrics begin to appear as histrionics. That is what went wrong. Mr. Modi sounded exactly like he would at any other election campaign: desperate to demonstrate to his audience what he had achieved in the last fifteen months; over-eager on making newer vows; tactical in avoiding mention of the failed promises. Has the campaign for the Bihar elections already started then? One wonders!
Let us briefly gloss over some of the things he said to the nation in his nearly 90 minute long speech – and frankly, if for nothing else, he’ll go down in Indian history as the PM that was a relentless talker (no, I’ll not call him an orator anymore, for reasons already explained).
“I had announced last year that I would implement the Prime Minister Jan Dhan Scheme. For over sixty years the doors of the banks were inaccessible to around 40% of the poor people in this country. I decided that I will remove this blot from the face of our nation by implementing the ideas of financial inclusion that are discussed in the world … I had declared that by January 26th 2015, when the nation stands in front of the Tricolour again I will have implemented this scheme. Countrymen, I can say this with immense pride today that I have done my job. 17 crore poor people have opened bank accounts in this country (zero balance savings accounts).”
Fair point, well made, Mister PM! You see, I’m not an irrationally biased person, unwilling to see the good in this world. I’m not one of those people that delights in spreading “pessimism” and “hopelessness“, or “nirasha“, as Mr. Modi puts it. I’m glad that this scheme was declared and that it has benefited 17 crore fellow countrymen. It should have been implemented earlier, but I’m happy that it was at least done when it was done.
The PM went on to declare how he had talked of “toilets and hygiene” last year. It must have surprised the nation, he said, to see their premiere bring the issue of the toilet to a space as sanitized as the Red Fort. Irrespective of such reactions he had continued his work, he said, and estimated that 4,25,000 toilets had to be constructed in around 2,62,000 schools across the country. The task has nearly been completed in a year. Again, well done! This was long overdue.
Mr. Modi then proceeded to offer a brilliant analogy – “you must have seen how sick people, ironically, offer tips on staying healthy to others.” He has in mind the ugly C word – corruption. “We talk of corruption in India … I’ve never made any such declaration before but I want to set the accounts straight in front of my countrymen today – that our country can be free of corruption.” How? He quickly moves on to his next analogy – “Corruption has spread in this country like termites. To fight against this one needs to inject pesticides in every square meter of the floor.” And how has Mr. Modi done that? “I swear by the Tricolour, I swear by the dreams of 125 crore people that it has been 15 months since you elected me into power and no one has been able to file any allegation of corruption against me … I have [also] initiated cases against 1800 [corrupt] government officers to fight corruption.”
This precisely is my problem with the Prime Minister’s speech: the government in a democracy is accountable to its people and the functioning of our democracy – the largest in the world (and I somehow fail to see how sheer quantity, without much quality manages to excite us so much) – has come under the scanner primarily because our elected representatives feel that they aren’t accountable to the common people. Yet, should the Independence Day speech be rightly turned into a report card of the government’s annual performance? I don’t know for certain! Also, is it acceptable for the report card to be lop-sided? Is the purpose of a report card not to show exactly where a person has fared well and in what areas there is scope for improvement?
By standing in front of the national flag and repeatedly “swearing” Modi, to my mind, loses his credibility. Yes, as the elected representative of the largest Democracy of the world we do expect you to be honest, especially so when you make public declarations on days of national significance standing in front of not only the flag of the country which you rightly consider sacred, but also in front of all your countrymen – whose presence should be as sacred, if not more, than the flag. However, when you have to persistently “swear by the flag” to drive home the integrity of your intentions, I am not convinced Mr. Prime Minister. It is when you take recourse to such drama that I’m taken back to questions that I might otherwise have not engaged in – not today, at least. You talk about how there is no space for the “poison of communalism” in this country and I’m forced to think about Godhra, Muzaffarnagar, Sabarmati Express, 1984, Love Jihad and a rush of other incidents that one should never forget. I can’t believe you, Mister Prime Minister, not when you’re trying so hard to convince me with your hollow, forced metaphors.
What are the new promises made this year? All very promising, of course –
• To further talks with the stakeholders regarding the One Rank One Pension agitation – an idea that the government has “accepted in principle“.
• To invest 50,000 crore rupees for agricultural welfare and ensure that water, electricity and fertilizers are provided to farmers at the earliest possible.
• To provide electricity in the 18,500 villages of the country that are still deprived of this basic facility. The nation is evidently not willing to wait for “ten years“, according to Mr. Modi, and thus electricity will be made available in these villages “within 1000 days“.
• To ensure that India has enough ‘start-ups’ to give wings to young entrepreneurs. Each bank, of the approximately 125 lakh banks in this country, will be expected to give a loan to at least one marginalized person to start his own venture such that there are 125 lakh new entrepreneurs in this country, who can in turn give employment to at least one more person, each. The slogan? Start-up India, Stand-up India.
• To have fulfilled 125 crore dreams by 2022, the 75th year of Indian Independence.
Honestly, if this were to happen I would be happier than I can sufficiently express.
God knows this nation has waited long enough. This is what I call the romance of eternal hope. This is what will keep us going, for some time now at least.
In conclusion, I have a question. If it seems incongruous, feel free to suggest another platform where I can raise it. Are the little children placed near the podium to clap on cue?