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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (REUTERS)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (REUTERS)

PM Modi's I-DAY message: Yes We Can, Yes We Will

India will move forward with new policy, new customs. Now banal won’t work, said PM

On Saturday, India celebrated its 74th Independence Day. A remarkable milestone, especially since the country, despite pulls and pressures, has remained a democracy. It is a moment to relish and reflect. Exactly what Prime Minister Narendra Modi did in his near 90-minute address from the ramparts of the Red Fort. In his typical style, he threaded a conversation aimed at Bharat, and also set out his transformative vision for a ‘New India’. Here are six things I gleaned:

First off, I was glad to see that despite the threat of the covid-19 virus, the PM preferred a public speech; yes, care was taken to minimize risks, including keeping school children out. Indeed a strong message on learning to live with covid.

Second, the PM has unambiguously signalled his backing for a mindset makeover. Towards the end of the address, he said: “India will move forward with the new policy, new customs in this decade," before adding: “Now banal won’t work. The time has gone when casual attitude used to suffice."

To me, this is officially the end of “chalta hai" (the Hindi euphemism for anything goes). More importantly, there is a clear signal that the rule of law will prevail; India’s preference for exception-based governance has been an unmitigated disaster.

Third, the PM laid out the political economy of policy changes that his government has pursued. Something that is rapidly rewriting the politics of this country. Modi dwelled on the nudge to economic and social empowerment at the bottom of the pyramid by ending open-defecation, providing electricity to all, seeking to universalize cooking gas and drinking water, scaling of direct-benefit transfers to cut out the middleman, and healthcare for all.

“When a toiling society gets amenities, the struggles of life ease, everyday troubles are reduced and this helps in boosting their energy, paying rich dividends," he said.

Economic empowerment for the middle class, the PM said, was in creating an enabling environment. “The middle class has the power to do miracles. So, the middle-class families get the greatest benefits of ease-of-living, cheap internet, affordable smartphones, cheap flight tickets under the UDAN scheme (and access to) our highways or information (high)ways," he added.

Fourth, in what is a message to the immediate neighbourhood and to the rest of the world, the PM emphasized that India’s potential rise did not pose a threat to the world. Clearly, the PM is, without saying so, referring to the vexing challenge posed by China after it got obsessed with its pursuit of superpower status.

It also helps that India is a democracy with a massive consumer economy waiting to be tapped. The PM is clearly ticking all the boxes for foreign investors.

Fifth, the PM has made clear that the driving ideology for ‘New India’ will be atmanirbhar (self-reliant). In a very interesting analogy (also an indictment of the previous custodians of South Block) Modi said that most children are economically on their feet by the time they turn 21, yet India, which is turning 75 next year, is still not able to meet its requirements. “What is necessary for a family is also essential for a country," he said.

Fifth, the PM made clear that the immediate strategy to revive the economy is going to be infrastructure investments. “It is often said that during crises the emphasis should be given on infrastructure so that economic activity is speeded up and people get employment and it generates a cascading effect."

Sixth, and finally, the PM is culpable of several significant errors of omissions. For one, the historical references to key personalities jump from Mahatma Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, something that will certainly not go down well with the Congress party.

Also missing was the usual refrain on anti-corruption measures. Interestingly, India Inc. finds no specific mention, even while farmers, the poor, small scale industry, women and the middle-class figure prominently throughout the speech.

Sometimes the unsaid is equally important. Food for thought.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.Comments are welcome at anil.p@livemint.com

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