It was the perfect note to strike — the man from a poor family unfurling the tricolour from the ramparts of the magnificent fort built by a great emperor. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech was confident, substantial and delivered extempore with great pizzazz. After the somnolent performances by past prime ministers, this was an electrifying one. In the hour-long speech, he, in a departure from the past, spoke of policy changes, the foremost being the phasing out of the Planning Commission and replacing it with a National Development and Reforms Commission to deal with the challenges of a new India. He made a very strong and very welcome pitch for women’s rights and spoke of the national shame arising from the frequent cases of rape. The financial inclusion of the poor featured high on his agenda as also his invitation to foreign investment. In fact, he went further and reiterated very vocally the need to get foreign companies to ‘make in India’.
In his free-wheeling speech, he did not hesitate to talk directly to the people about their problems. This explains why he spoke of hygiene and providing Indians with proper sanitation. What really touched a chord was when he spoke of his amazement over how, under his regime, babus reporting to work on time were making news. But to the elite audience listening to him, his reference to himself as an outsider, a person not conversant with the high and mighty of the Capital, was a signal that he would very much be his own man and bring in his model of development and turn away from the time-honoured practice of grace and favour that we have seen in Delhi.
His exhortation to MPs to take up a village each and make it a model will keep them on their toes because this is one of the yardsticks by which they will be judged at the end of this government’s term. Perhaps a major minus point in the speech was his lack of any reference to the corruption issue. His rise to power centred on this and it is an issue which bedevils India and holds it back. But, he did stress other issues like communalism being unacceptable, a crucial point at a time when religious clashes seem to be on the rise. And for those who did not think he would even pay lip-service to the environment he spoke of the need not just for zero defect but also zero effect. His refrain of no one benefiting from violence is well taken.
The fact that he was able to bring so much to the table within a few short months of assuming office is commendable. If this is a blueprint for India, it is certainly a tall order. And it would seem that he will lead by example if his punishing work schedule is anything to go by.