In recent decades, Independence Day speeches have been notoriously repetitive, regardless of the speaker. While this holds true for this year too, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s speech added an extra dash of colour to the national day proceedings.
Yet, at the end of Mr Modi’s 45-minute speech one only wished he had chosen another day for his riposte from Bhuj to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 30-minute Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort. If Mr Modi had chosen another occasion for his speech, it would have helped people critique his speech better.
His wordy fusillade after the PM’s address robbed the event of its solemnity. National prestige cannot be expended at the altar of competitive electoral politics. August 15 is best commemorated through a sober reflection on our strengths and shortcomings.
When compared with his maiden I-Day speech of 2004 after the UPA wrested power from the NDA, the PM’s 10th consecutive address — which could well be his swan song — drew little by way of applause.
His assertions over measures to combat corruption were tenuous; the successes cited in the social and infrastructure sector rang a trifle hollow as the nation contends with a sluggish economy, rising inflation and unemployment, a depreciating rupee and inflamed borders with Pakistan.
Mr Modi’s bid to juxtapose the PM’s speech with President Pranab Mukherjee’s address on August 14 wasn’t out of place. The president’s lament over the decline of institutions, rising profligacy, personal enrichment, intolerance, discourtesy in behaviour and disrespect for authority that has eroded our work culture, carried conviction. The presidential reprimand applied to all: the judiciary, the bureaucracy and to civil society.
But a large part of it was addressed to the political class, the Gujarat chief minister not excluded. The PM could have better articulated national sentiments by delivering a no-nonsense message to Pakistan over recent incidents along the Line of Control.
The references to Pakistan in his speech were per forma: “Recently there was a dastardly attack on our jawans on the LoC with Pakistan.
We will take all possible steps to prevent such incidents in future.” Now, one didn’t expect the PM to take recourse to Mr Modi’s jingoistic pitch but a formulation on the lines of the resolution Parliament passed the previous day would have been more appropriate.
What the UPA achieved in the past decade was actually packaged better in the president’s address: “We have given our citizens entitlements backed by legal guarantees in terms of right to employment, education, food and information.
We now have to ensure that these lead to their real empowerment.” Encouraging words from the president at a time when all we get to hear is gloom and doom.