We are now one nation with one Constitution, says PM Modi
In his sixth Independence Day speech from Red Fort, but the first after taking over for a second term in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday highlighted the removal of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, ending the practice of instant talaq among Muslims, strengthening of laws to fight terror, and moving towards “one nation, one Constitution” as some of the key accomplishments of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in less than 70 days of its second term.
Modi, after decades of the proposal being in limbo, also announced the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for more effective coordination between the three armed forces, which was widely welcomed by domain experts.
The PM outlined the journey of India from 2014 to 2019 as one from disappointment to hope; urged citizen participation in a range of new environmental initiatives, from water conservation to ending single-use plastic; and in a move that could have policy implications in the future, flagged population explosion as a key concern.
Modi first focused on the achievements of his government in the rather short period since it won a renewed mandate, with a focus on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). He said, “We do not avoid problems, nor do we let them fester. The work that was not done in the last 70 years has been accomplished within 70 days...The removal of Articles 370 and 35A is an important step towards achieving the dreams of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.”
The government has argued that these moves would lead to closer integration of J&K with the country. “I can proudly say that every Indian today can speak of ‘one nation, one Constitution’,” he added. Linking it to other themes that have permeated his governance, he said, “Through GST [Goods and Services Tax] we have fulfilled the dream of ‘one nation, one tax’. Similarly, we successfully achieved the dream of ‘one nation, one grid’ in the energy sector recently. Likewise, we have developed the system of ‘one nation, one mobility card’, and currently there is a nationwide debate about holding simultaneous elections in the country.”
He said Parliament cleared the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, 2019, to scrap the articles and divide J&K into two Union Territories with a two-thirds majority. “This clearly indicates everyone wanted to do this but no one was willing to be the first to take this step. I have come to do the work you have given me,” Modi said in his 92-minute speech.
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Kashmir has been in the throes of an unprecedented communication blackout and restrictions on movement and assembly -- steps taken by the government 11 days ago to pre-empt a law-and-order nightmare following the removal of the articles that granted privileged status to J&K.
The PM said with the removal of Articles 370 and 35A, the spirit of “one nation, one Constitution” was a reality and the country was proud of it. Modi said the country had a question for those supporting Article 370.
“If this was so important and life-changing, why was this Article not made permanent? After all, those people had large mandates and could have removed the temporary status of Article 370. Why did you keep it temporary?” He said even they knew it was not the right thing to do. He said some in the in the corridors of power were backing Article 370 to draw mileage from vote-bank politics.
“It is our responsibility to see that the aspirations of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh get fulfilled. It is our collective responsibility to give new wings to their dreams.”
Modi then spoke of the government’s decision to end the practice of instant triple talaq to help Muslim women stop living in fear. He said several Islamic countries had put an end to the practice but for some reason India was hesitant to give Muslim women their rights.
“If we can abolish Sati Pratha, if we can enact laws to end female foeticide, if we can raise our voice against child marriage, if we can take strong steps against dowry system in this country, then why can’t we raise our voice against triple talaq?”
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage), Bill, 2019, which criminalises instant triple talaq among Muslims and attracts a jail term of three years for the husband, came into force on August 1.
Modi also announced a significant and long-pending military reform -- India would soon have a CDS to provide “effective leadership” at the top and strengthen jointmanship or a degree of co-ordination and integration in terms of strategy, capabilities and execution across the three services.
“Things cannot move smoothly if anyone from the navy, army and air force is a step ahead of the other two forces, while the other two are lagging behind. All the three should move simultaneously at the same pace,” he said, stressing on the need to end a “fragmented approach” at a time when the nature of warfare was changing in a technology-driven era.
Flagging concerns about population explosion in the country, the PM said it would pose complex challenges for the current and future generations. He said sections of responsible and self-motivated citizens were contributing to their own and the entire country’s welfare by keeping their family small.
“They express patriotism…The people who have played this huge role need to be honoured, and by setting them as examples we need to inspire the segment of the society that is still not thinking on these lines. We need to worry about population explosion,” he said.
The PM also focussed on a flagship initiative of his second term, mentioning the creation of a separate ministry for Jal Shakti. He said, “I want to announce from the Red Fort that we will move forward with Jal Jeevan Mission. The Centre and states will work towards it and in the coming years, more than Rs 3.5 lakh crore will be spent.”
At a time when there have been concerns expressed a slowdown in the economy, Modi also reiterated his government’s resolve to make India a $5 trillion economy in five years through several initiatives, including a Rs 100 lakh crore investment in infrastructure, making the policy environment more predictable, and pushing for ‘Make in India’ with special emphasis on rural economy, and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
He said the government had abolished 1,450 obsolete laws -- almost one daily -- in its previous term to ease the burden of the common man. “The new government has only completed ten weeks in office, and already 60 laws have been repealed to bring about ease of living,” he added.
Former Union minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram questioned the government over the detention of J&K politicians, asking why their freedom was being curbed. “Happy Independence Day! Salute the freedom fighters who braved a colonial power to win independence for the nation... Why is freedom being denied to three former CMs of J&K since August 6? Why are two former CMs under virtual solitary confinement and one former CM under house arrest? Why are political leaders who fought secessionists and militants locked up?” Chidambaram said in a tweet.
Former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd) said the image that Modi projected while delivering his address was of a very decisive leader who is willing to move ahead on major reforms and break the deadlock on longstanding issues such as Article 370 and the appointment of CDS.
Modi’s Independence Day speech was representative of a leader who has just been re-elected with a bigger mandate and someone who is quite reassured about the policies and politics he is pursuing, said author and journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
“His speech is neatly divided into a report card of the five years of the NDA’s first term and 10 weeks of his second term. There are segments on intent, policy and announcements like the CDS. And there’s a segment that reflects his ideological orientation, the one where he refers to those with smaller families as patriots,” Mukhopadhyay added.