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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Narendra Modi signals break from the past in I-Day speech

Narendra Modi signals break from the past in I-Day speech

PM says Planning Commission no longer relevant, invites foreign investors to set up manufacturing facilities

Giving his vision for the country, Narendra Modi stressed that there can be no compromise on the issues of dignity of women and that there was a need to strive to make India clean. Photo: APPremium
Giving his vision for the country, Narendra Modi stressed that there can be no compromise on the issues of dignity of women and that there was a need to strive to make India clean. Photo: AP

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi sentenced the Planning Commission, one of the last relics of India’s socialist past, to extinction on the nation’s 68th Independence Day and invited foreign manufacturers to “come, make in India" products ranging from plastics and paper to satellites and submarines.

In his first address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the first Prime Minister to be born after India gained independence also promised bank accounts and life insurance for the poor, scathingly condemned crimes against women, and pledged an end to caste- and religion-based discrimination.

Modi, 63, said on Friday the Planning Commission was no longer relevant in an era in which governments were no longer the centre of economic activity. The panel will be replaced by a new institution in which the prime minister and chief ministers will work together as a team to strengthen India’s federal structure.

“Sometimes it costs more to repair the old house, but it gives us no satisfaction," Modi said in his speech. “Thereafter, we have a feeling that it would be better to construct a new house altogether; and therefore within a short period, we will replace the Planning Commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilization of resources..."

The Planning Commission was set up by a March 1950 resolution of the government and charged with assessing national resources and making five-year plans for the effective use of the resources as India, under first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, built a socialist-style economy hobbled by a myriad government controls.

India is now into the 12th Five-Year plan (2012-17).

Modi, wearing a white kurta tunic and saffron turban, signalled a break from the past in his speech, which he said he was delivering “not as the Prime Minister, but as the Prime Servant". He also described himself as a Delhi outsider.

“This national festival is an occasion to refine and rebuild the national character," said the 14th Prime Minister of India, who steered the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Democratic Alliance it leads to a spectacular win in the April-May general election.

In his more than one-hour-long speech, Modi appealed to the nation to shun what he called the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, and discrimination on a social and economic basis.

“Let’s resolve for once in our hearts, let’s put a moratorium on all such activities for 10 years, we shall march ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions," he said.

Modi, who spoke extempore, dispensed with the bullet-proof screen from which his predecessors have delivered their independence day speeches.

He did not neglect any constituency, addressing “our farmers, our workers, our mothers and sisters, our youth".

Modi’s speech was a “very well crafted and emotional" address, said Rajeev Bhargava, a political analyst from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

“It was not really a big vision or a five-year plan speech and in that sense it was a little low on substance. But on the other hand, it did talk about a number of good points like women’s safety, access to toilets and domestic manufacturing, which will go down tremendously well with the ordinary people," Bhargava said.

Modi announced an initiative called the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, through which bank accounts will be opened for the poor who will be given a debit card with built-in life insurance cover of 1 lakh.

Modi also extended a hand of cooperation to India’s neighbours, and called on all governments in South Asia to draw up a plan to eliminate poverty from the region.

In a remark that could be interpreted as a call to Pakistan, though he did not refer to it by name, Modi said: “We fight together to defeat poverty. Let us make this attempt once...leave aside the world of violence and see what happiness there is in living (together)."

Modi urged foreign investors to come and set up manufacturing facilities in India to help the country lessen its dependence on imports, boost exports and create jobs.

“Sell in any country of the world, but manufacture here," he said. “We have got skill, talent, discipline and determination to do something... Come, I am giving you an invitation."

Modi’s less than three-month-old government has laid stress on the manufacturing sector to revive economic growth that fell below 5% in each of the previous two fiscal years, and generate employment.

He said there was a need to focus on developing skills of job aspirants to generate employment.

“The government wants to prepare two kinds of youth—those who are job creators, and those who can win hearts through their skill, ability and talent," he said.

Modi condemned crimes against women such as rape, tracing it to a deep-rooted patriarchal system that imposes restrictions on female children while never questioning the behaviour of the boys.

The speech shifted the “focus from blaming women and instead questioned the upbringing of boys", said Ranjana Kumari, sociologist and head of think-tank Centre for Social Research.

“It has the right emotions and the right words, but lot of efforts are needed for implementation," she said.

Modi’s speech invoked late leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Jai Prakash Narayan, but omitted any reference to Nehru. He did express gratitude to all previous governments and former prime ministers who worked for the nation.

The only other BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, mentioned Nehru in his independence day address of 2001 when he said efforts to improve relations with Pakistan had been “continuing right from the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru".

Bhargava of CSDS agreed that there was a conspicuous omission of Nehru in the speech, but added: “The fact that he gave an extempore speech was much like Nehru. When the speech ended, he went and met the children at the event, which too was very Nehru-like."

Modi, who has set a goal of eliminating open defecation by 2019, announced the launch of a four-year clean India campaign from 2 October, when India will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

He said parliamentarians should utilize their MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) funds for constructing toilets in schools.

Nearly 76% of schools in India are run by the government and nearly half of these don’t have usable toilet facilities for girl students. Lack of toilets for girls is blamed by many experts for the high female dropout rate in schools.

“The corporate sector should also give priority to this. This target should be finished within one year with the help of state governments and on the next 15 August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for girls," Modi said.

Only then would the female dropout rate decline, he said.

“It (Modi’s announcement) is revolutionary in that it is target-oriented and specific. Money is not the problem. Maintenance is also an issue," said Yamini Aiyar, senior research fellow and director of the Accountability Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research.

Modi also announced the Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana, through which parliamentarians would be able to adopt a village and transform it into an “ideal village" by 2016.

“After 2016, every MP must select two villages in the constituency and develop it till 2019. After 2019, MPs must take up five villages for the next term," he said.

Prashant K. Nanda, Anuja, Ashwaq Masoodi, Elizabeth Roche, Shauvik Ghosh, and Asit Ranjan Mishra, and Reuters contributed to this story.

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Published: 15 Aug 2014, 08:51 AM IST
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