PM’s speech: High on statistics, short on big message

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 16, 2016 13:15 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during the 70th Independence Day function at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi. (PTI)

It was a long speech, perhaps the longest delivered by a prime minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort. But the short of it was – the big message got subsumed in the maze of statistics in Narendra Modi’s governance narrative.

The PM dilated considerably on issues relating to farmers, the poor, the middle classes and the security forces. That’s understandable! He’s midway through his tenure; bracing up for a series of assembly polls.

What didn’t make sense was the footnote treatment Modi gave to societal discords and the cauldron that’s Kashmir. His outreach to the Valley’s alienated youth to make them shun violence, join the national mainstream, was prefaced by the statist ‘no compromise and zero-tolerance for terrorism’. The human touch needed to be warmer.

The PM’s diffidence was surprising. A moment earlier, he had said a ‘strong society’ alone could make India strong. “We’ll have to rise above societal banes; get out of situations of conflict,” he surmised.

Those he named for ameliorative justice included “Dalit, peidit, soushit aur wanchit”. If expanded, the theme would’ve lent gravitas to the speech that’ll now be remembered for references to Balochistan, PoK, Gilgit and Baltistan.

There’s a view the mention of Balochistan, over which India has no territorial claim, could be shown as vindication of the Pakistani charge of an Indian hand in the troubled province. On the flip side, New Delhi’s stance can knock off the moral high ground Islamabad is seeking by hyping up human rights violations in the Valley.

Denial of civil liberties is a leitmotif that runs through Balochistan, PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. It’s a formidable short-run counter to Pakistan’s propaganda of ‘excesses’ on our side of Kashmir. But its tactical value will be lost without a robust political reach-out in the Valley.

On governance, the figures Modi flaunted to show his regime as better than the UPA would require double-checking. There’s often a mismatch between statistics and delivery on the ground.

The PM’s claims of better performance were a critique at once of the Congress. But he did not transgress the limits of adversarial politics: “There once was a government besieged by allegations; we’re besieged by popular aspirations…”

His narrative of the freedom struggle included Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. Of the Sangh icons, he invoked Deendayal Upadhyaya and the concerns he had for the “last man my government is striving to serve”.

“Government is a continuum,” reasoned Modi while dwelling on the UPA schemes he has carried forward. It’s early days still to conclude whether all that signified an entente consequent to the GST breakthrough? But one felt it tangibly till the PM meandered away, shifting from one issue to another, missing the logical flow that embellished his earlier I-Day speeches.

At his oratorical best in the opening passages of the 94-minute address, he linked mythology/ancient history with modern India: “From Vedas to Vivekananda, from Upanishads to Upgrah, from Bhim to Bhimrao….India isn’t 70 years old. That’s only the length of our journey after Independence….”

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