Last week, the prime ministers of Pakistan and India addressed each of their countries on the occasion of their 73rd Independence Day on 14 August and 15 August, respectively. While PM Imran Khan chose to address the assembly of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), PM Narendra Modi, sticking to historical precedent, spoke from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi. The speeches were a study of staggering contrasts.

PM Khan took up his entire speech, dripping with vitriol, to rail against India, specifically with respect to the decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to end the special status accorded to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. PM Modi, who spoke for much longer, on the other hand, referred only in passing to Pakistan (though he did devote considerable time explaining the rationale of India’s legislative actions on Kashmir), instead preferring to bring the nation up to speed on his government’s plans for the next five years, including spending 100 trillion to create an enabling futuristic infrastructure for the realisation of a modern India.

Hearing Khan, it was hard to imagine that he was addressing his country on Independence Day. It was not just the vitriol—which one would expect in a stump speech during an election campaign—he expended against his immediate neighbour. Worse, the speech made several fictional claims about India (probably sourced from the trolls infesting the internet) and was largely rhetorical—probably Khan got carried away and committed a strategic mea culpa, conceding that the Balakot strike carried out by Indian fighter jets on terror hideouts had been substantive even as he claimed that India had bigger plans to mount an assault on PoK. Presumably, the politician in Khan sensed that this is what an angry Pakistan may have wanted to hear after India’s actions on Jammu and Kashmir blindsided them.

But if someone outside the country was to listen in, they would be baffled. There was absolutely no reference to the grave economic crisis facing the country or a blueprint for action; unofficially, Pakistan is bankrupt and is desperately seeking life support from the International Monetary Fund; however its past, using terrorism as a business model to browbeat its neighbours, is catching up as the country is perilously close to being blacklisted by Financial Action Task Force, the global body working to prevent money laundering and terror funding.

In contrast, PM Modi’s speech exuding the usual dollops of confidence, focused on the economic present and future of India and its role in the world. Suggesting that India was now an investment destination, he said, “Today, the Government in India is stable, policy regime is predictable; the world is eager to explore trade with India."

Significantly, he emphasized the objective of eliminating (not just reducing) poverty and addressing the growing aspirations of people as key to transform India. “People’s thinking has changed. Earlier, people were happy with merely a plan to make a railway station. Now, people ask when will Vande Bharat Express come to my area. People do not want only good railway stations or bus stations, they ask: when is a good airport coming?" he said.

The big message from PM Modi on Independence Day was that it was time for India to change gears. “India does not want incremental progress. A high jump is needed, our thought process has to be expanded. We have to keep in mind global best practices and build good systems," he said, before he held out an olive branch to India Inc, which of late believes is being unfairly treated. “Wealth creation is a great national service. Let us never see wealth creators with suspicion. Only when wealth is created, wealth will be distributed."

It is then clear that the PMs of Pakistan and India articulated differing messages for the people of their country. The contrasting circumstances implicit in these messages are also cause to introspect as both close in on a milestone—75th Independence Day. One about its dubious past and the other about its future potential. Their respective futures depend on the choices they make. The ball is clearly in Pakistan’s court.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

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