Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second Independence Day address was significant not for what he said. Its eloquence was in his silence over issues dominating public discourse: the impending talks with Pakistan, the Lalitgate snafu and the resultant parliamentary impasse that blocked passage of the much-awaited but long-delayed goods and services (GST) tax.
Was the speech a Red Fort version of the PM's Mann Ki Baat? The parallel would fit perhaps barring the marathon 90 minutes for which he was on his feet. Somewhat charitably, it could be taken as a report card the PM presented to the nation on the work done and the work in progress.
One can argue perhaps that Modi skipped talking about the NSA-level dialogue with Islamabad to ensure the ambience conducive for the complex engagement later this month. But his failure to take up the none-too-encouraging internal security scenario was inexplicable in the backdrop of the recent terror attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur.
Video: PM Modi's I-Day speech
Even his pet 'Make in India' theme didn't figure in the address that unveiled a new, attractively titled "Start-up, Stand up" scheme to unleash entrepreneurial energy in the hinterland. The bank-funded start-ups will have the Dalits, tribals and women among the target social groups.
From the achievements he flagged and the plans he announced, it was evident that the NDA that rode to power as a pro-business entity, was anxious to balance its self-image with an emphatic concern for the poor. Somewhat illustrative of that was the addition of the new portfolio of "Kisan Kalyan" to the ministry of agriculture.
The fleeting references the PM made to his foreign policy initiatives were also contextual. He merely weaved them into his narrative of combatting corruption, staring from the G-20 summit in Australia where he successfully lobbied for exchange of information on black money in foreign banks.
The image makeover was necessitated as much by the Vyapam and Lalitgate stains that found no direct mention in the speech. But the PM sought to negate the damage by underscoring certain 'tough' legislative-administrative measures his government took ---to minimise the role of middlemen in reaching subsidies to the poor and deter the rich from holding black money at home and abroad.
At times Modi got precariously close to crossing the line. But he kept eventually the prime ministerial élan that marked his first I-Day speech. Conscious of the solemnity of the occasion, he prefaced some of his remarks -- including those on money accruing to the exchequer from coal block and spectrum auctions-- to present them as matter-of-fact statements distinct from political jibes. He resisted the temptation even while promising to reach electricity to 18,500 un-electrified villages in 1,000 days. But his seemingly innocuous suggestion --that it would be instructive to know which state had a bigger share of such villages --wasn't all that innocent.
The remark brought forth the shadow of the poll campaign in Bihar that has had the PM repeatedly question Nitish Kumar's claims of improvement in the supply of electricity. His exhortations to neutralise the poisons of casteism and communalism with the "nectar of development", cannot also be delinked from the electoral face off the outcome of which would have a significant bearing on national politics.