Prime Minister Narendra Modi painted a vivid picture of a nation on the move, powered by lofty goals and cutting-edge technology, literally reaching for the stars. In a powerful pre-electoral punch, he sought to recapture the 'hope factor' of 2014 by presenting the four years of his reign as a sharp upward - and continuing - trajectory. The subliminal message was ‘I'll be back'.
He effectively leveraged the extravagant-yet-doable notion of putting an Indian man – or woman – in space, thereby joining the elite club of space-faring nations. At the same time, he spoke of linking villages to the world through an information superhighway. From the village to the stars was but a short leap, he appeared to say.
A government capable of hard decisions had brought India to the cusp of transformative change, he indicated. Positioning himself as above mundane political and electoral compulsions, he took credit for GST, the MSP increase and OROP — an end to policy paralysis and a new era of 'reform, perform, transform'. As always, he sang the development and good governance mantra, consciously avoiding any hint of a majoritatian narrative.
The two focal points were his government's overall performance and the rural sector. Presenting a glowing report card, he dwelt on the delivery of services to villages: electricity, cooking gas, toilets, housing, optical fibre, roads and now, universal health insurance. All in a short span of four years, as compared to the snail's pace progress of the previous seven decades.
India was no longer in the Fragile Five and was looked upon not only as an investment destination, but the engine that would power the global economy in the decades to come. Playing the national pride tune all through his speech, he dwelt on the enhanced power of the Indian passport, India's strong voice in international forums and leadership role in alternative energy.
He described the farm sector as being on the brink of a technological revolution, with solar farming, record tractor sales and new-age water conservation. In a departure from the usual harping on farmer-friendly yojanas floated by his government, his tone was celebratory: bumper harvests of food grains, doubling in honey exports, a sharp uptick in fish and ethanol production.
The crusade against corruption figured yet again, in a somewhat different avatar. Termite-like power brokers had been banished from the corridors of Lutyens’ Delhi, he said. The corruption in subsidies and dole, which had prevented the common man from getting his entitlements, had been addressed, resulting in a saving of Rs 90,000 crore.
The PM drew potent word-pictures throughout his speech. An Indian astronaut waving the Tricolour in space. The Indian elephant on the move as the world watches in awe. The Indian farmer, with the scientist at his back, competing with his counterpart in the developed world. The middle-class taxpayer sitting down to a meal in the happy knowledge that three poor families are eating at the same time, thanks to his tax-rupees. Highways being rolled out and houses taking shape in real time.
As always, his speech was marked by short, action-oriented, exclamatory sentences and accompanied with eloquent gestures. His trademark populist style was evident in the frequent use of “my country”, “my dear brothers and sisters” and “we”, “us” and “our”.
He did not address unemployment directly, but stressed instead on skill development centres, the MUDRA scheme, start-ups and first-time entrepreneurship. Manufacturing was up, the khadi sector was booming, handlooms had seen a revival and more aircraft were being bought than ever before.
Inclusiveness was an underlying theme: the distance between Delhi and the remotest corner of the Northeast had been eradicated. A development offensive was underway in Kashmir. Terrorism and poverty were on the run everywhere, with five crore people lifted above the poverty line. As usual, obeisance was paid to the military, with a reference to the surgical strike.
This being his last Independence Day speech before the General Elections, Modi could not resist potshots at the Opposition, first by decrying the awful economic situation of 2013 and then by referring to the delay in passing the Triple Talaq Bill.
No Modi speech is complete without obeisance to Mahatma Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. He laid his Swachh Satyagrah, which, he said has saved three lakh lives, at the feet of Bapu. Likewise, he dedicated the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyan to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, by declaring that it would be launched on his birth anniversary on September 25.
(The writer is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)