Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Maiden Speech on Independence Day.
Like most Indians, if not all , I was curious, even anxious and hopeful at the same time about what PM Narendra Modi would say from the ramparts of Red Fort in Delhi on 15 August morning. Like most people I also listened to what he had to say very carefully and objectively.
Let me make myself clear that since 2002, I have been anti-Modi ,even during his election campaign, which was very impressive ,but his many utterances more than his actions had left me in some anxiety .Yes ,his interaction with leaders of neighboring countries at his coronation and with leaders of Brics summit in Brazil gave a glimpse of his changing outlook and also thankfully for India prepared him for an independent policy ( from USA ) to safeguard and promote India's strategic and economic interests.
I was uneasy because since the BJP majority win there have been divisive and even reckless statements by obscurantist extreme right-wing speakers, like Ashok Singhal, Swami Aditya Nath and other rabble rousers and just criminal elements from Sangh Parivar both inside the Parliament and outside .They were shocking and disturbing .Modi had kept quiet during all this time. He also did not say anything when it was quite obvious that RSS and many BJP leaders were creating communal incidents especially in western UP keeping in view the forthcoming by-elections and a general encouragement to right-wing Hindutva forces.
So his extempore oration, never mind his life long career as a RSS pracharak (preacher) came as a pleasant surprise when in clear, but not very aggressive terms, he spoke against differences based on communal and other factors, asking for a 10 year moratorium .It should act as a check on India's right-wing forces. But with Amit Shah as BJP president and elections in 4 states and even Delhi, the priority to win elections would outweigh other compulsions .Let us wait and see.
Modi also made it abundantly clear and fairly convincingly that he wants to be the Prime Minister of all Indians, beginning from the bottom of the polity and across the political spectrum. We have to see how policies of the government especially on social issues unfold. It was heartening to learn that there was little reference to bombastic claims on foreign policy .If at all he hinted that we are competing with China in manufacture and economic growth and not for influence at the behest eternal warmongers USA and West Europe. He also made it very clear that India would like foreign investors to manufacture in India and then, if possible export .In this endeavour India can cooperate with China, Japan, South Korea and other countries. Quite obviously the speech will not go down well in Washington, whose envoys still use patronizing terms and use India against other powers and states. It was as well that Washington had denied Modi a visa, which gave Modi time to think about US attitude while at the same time he prepared himself for the current onerous task by visiting Russia, China and Japan. He has made it very clear that he is in favour of Asian nations to come together for economic growth, prosperity and peace.
Frankly, it was bold, educative and well delivered speech .By promising to be the Prime Minister of all Indians he has also sent a message to the Brahmins of Nagpur that he will be his own man and not be at the mercy of RSS cadre .Even Prime Minister Vajpayee was able to keep away from Nagpur influence quite successfully.
From the decisions and policy measures, it is clear that Modi is his own man. For all practical purposes, so far he has made it clear that he will run the government in all its aspects directly or through his trusted aides and politicians. Frankly only a strong leader can keep the country together and make it strong especially with its end Moghul era polity, feudal with mediaeval outlook .Since I started understanding nation states, I have a feeling that a country like India needs a strong ruler, if not a presidential system itself .With state leaders with 30 or 40 MPs hoping to become PMs as in two disastrous exercises ,it reminds of the era of Holkars , Scindhias , Jats ,Rohillas and other marauding bands trying to dictate terms to a hapless Moghul emperor in the Red Fort.
Let me quote from a media report;
"However, despite this push for change, Mr. Modi did not belittle the achievements of his predecessors, and he sought to recognise the contribution of all previous prime ministers and past governments to the growth of the country since Independence. Also, Mr. Modi seemed keen to move forward on the basis of consensus rather than on functioning on the basis of his party's majority in Parliament. Even for those who feared his divisive agenda, Mr. Modi had some words of reassurance: he pointedly referred to the "poison" of casteism and communalism, which, he said, was a hindrance to progress. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, Mr. Modi certainly appeared more inclusive than he was on his campaign. If his speech, shorn of hype but full of hope, is any indication, Mr. Modi looks ready to make the transition from a skilled political orator to an able administrator."
Below are two Oped page articles one by SHIV VISVANATHAN in Hindu and another by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express , the latter written soon after the end of the speech, so mercifully, it is devoid of his usual heavy phrases popular in US social studies program. He should learn to write in simple idiomatic English like Bertrand Russell, Huxley and others.
There is something in Mehta's comparison of Narendra Modi with late French leader Gen Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle hated the British for the ill treatment meted out to him during WWII when he was forced to stay put in UK. Thus, the American denial of visa and behavior would help Modi understand US better and treat Washington and its perpetually warmongering leaders with disdain and at arm's length .Modi did point to violence around the world. The Americans only want to sell their equipment, commercial or military and control India. Modi's clear preference to make hardware and equipment in India is an encouragement to Russia in military hardware, China, Japan and others in Asia for commercial production of other goods.
Coming back to Gen de Gaulle, he had changed the French unstable political system with revolving door like brief coalition (of Dharma type) unstable governments .The presidential system has brought stability to French politics .He had said that the French cannot agree on what cheese they will choose, there are many hundreds of varieties, then how can they agree on which party to choose from. Therefore, the presidential system in which the winner must get 50% plus one vote (generally in two rounds) is the best to give a real mandate to leader. India should change the electoral system away from the centrifugal and chaotic British system as early as possible .If France has so many varieties of cheeses and wines , India has more varieties of languages, religions ,beliefs ,ethnicities, levels of education, poverty and richess , thus the directly elected leader is best for the country. The governors posts in the states can be done away with and the Chief Minister be elected directly .In India, there is no clear separation of the executive and the legislature as in USA. Rich industrialist or their proxies get elected to lower house or buy seats in the upper house, become members of Parliamentary committees making policies on their industries and enable decisions in their favour You can see the result , endemic large-scale pervasive corruption and scams .With Modi's tried reputation for personal honesty and integrity, let us hope for the best.
K .Gajendra Singh 16 August, 2014.
Ushering in a new era
SHIV VISVANATHAN Hindu Oped 16 8 14
Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech was an attempt to evoke an everyday civics, replacing empty policy as the first step to development
Sometimes a nation creates the new by restating the old. It is an act of symbolic gardening, where dead clichés once again become live values, where unity is no longer equated with unanimity but with inclusiveness. A new frame recreates a new nation. One could see it semiotically in the staging of Narendra Modi's August 15 address.
Announcing a new era
The languor and still life speeches of Manmohan Singh's era had to be forgotten. First Mr. Modi enters exuding confidence. He knows he has to announce a new era. He goes beyond Nehruvianism by appealing to the civics of Swadeshi. This is not the language of politics but of virtue, of the qualities required for nation building. He is attired in a saffron turban with a green border: a Bandhini, Kutchi in its origin. He evokes a new style and his voice resonates a different world. India is not making tryst with destiny. It is going to meet the future by reconstructing it. The camera widens the frame. Lal Quila is not just a fortress. It is a landscape of temples, history and a sense of a bigger city. He is standing at the ramparts announcing a new era by reworking the grammar of the old. There is no big statement on productivity, no appeal to economics, no cliché about foreign policy, no reference to corruption, hardly any mention of China or Pakistan. It is a day for positives, for a nation to recharge itself. The language is simple: it is not politics, not policy; it is a simple sermon on values, simply done, almost faultless.
This Independence Day speech does not begin with 1947. It begins with a salute to those who build the nation. The first shift in attitude is here. Mr. Modi says, "I address you not as Prime Minister but as the first servant of the nation." He then suggests a nation is not made by a great man but by its people. A nation is built by its soldiers, its farmers, its youth, its workers, its teachers, its scientists, its martyrs. Politicians and government don't build a nation; they merely rule it. A salute to a people is a salute to ancestors and predecessors. Suddenly you realise that Mr. Modi is making the transition from politician to statesman. There is little reference to the parochial and the divisive. A speech is tailor-made for the occasion. The hectoring battles of party politics yield to measured rhetoric. This nation, like Mr. Modi, has many selves and he is appealing to the best of each.
He begins autobiographically. He says he came to Delhi as an outsider where an elite class treated him as an untouchable. But in two months, he got an insider view which was devastating. He talks of a labyrinth called Delhi where each department stands like an empire. There are governments inside the government and worse, department battles before the Supreme Court. Unity breaks because of divisiveness of bureaucracies.
He moves to a softer reflective tone. He refers to punctuality — to the people's surprise that clerks are punctual, that offices open on time. He then remarks that if this new punctuality is news, then we as a nation should be embarrassed about ourselves, about the depths we have fallen into.
He refers to the new individualism which asks, "What is in it for me?" He answers: Everything is not for the individual. The individual does not exhaust the nation. The social needs other solidarities and one can hear in this voice all the pracharak strains from the past. The nation is the ultimate construct of the social. He shifts gears. A nation without civics, responsibility and freedom is empty.
He talks of rape. He says when a daughter reaches ten; the parents play out the politics of anxiety, asking her where she is going, when she will return. The mobile phone is perpetually on, tracking her movement. But then, he says, there is not a word about the son, about his behaviour, where he goes, who he meets. If the victim is a woman who needs to belong to a family, so is the rapist. Parents need to ask sons what they are up to. To think of rape only as a wider problem is not adequate. Rapes too begin at home.
He begins with rape to talk of the position of women, of the place of daughters in our lives. He says a man with one loving daughter is better off than a man with five sons in old age because a daughter will never abandon her parents. He lashes out at foeticide, hinting that a society that values sons will be a society with old age homes.
He wants a society proud of women's achievements and cites the medal haul of our athletes as a sign of the new achievement. One senses he is not talking of rights, of freedoms, but about institutions, responsibilities and duties.
The shift from family to governance is fluid. He makes a folklore distinction between a man in a private industry describing his work as "a job" and a man in government calling his work "service." Mr. Modi emphasises the idea of service. Service is civilisational. It is not a secular idea of employment. English does not capture service. Service is the ability to prioritise the other. It goes beyond the individualism of careers, a point the Prime Minister borrows from Vivekananda.
He then examines the innards of society, claiming a decent society cannot ignore the fact of agricultural suicides. He then promises an India where every farmer has a bank account and every family an insurance of Rs. one lakh.
From farmers dying to unemployed youth, Mr. Modi returns to his favourite project: the re-skilling of youth. Skill is what gives employment, what makes India mobile across the globe. Organised skill is manufacture and it is manufacture that has to be the core of dynamic India. He gives it a step slogan: "No defect, no effect." A product should be of high quality and should be environmentally sensitive. Such a product will take India to the world of global excellence. "Made in India" becomes the new dream of Swadeshi.
He talks of his dream of a digital India — not a network for the rich, but a digital India for the poor where digitality helps development, and where e-governance is easy, effective and economical.
To a digital India, he adds a tourist India, portraying tourism as that inclusivity which provides employment for the poor, for the channawala, the pakoda seller, the chaiwala. He adds that what stands in the way of tourism is dirt. It is interesting Mr. Modi begins with dirt rather than corruption. The word he uses is swatchtha (cleanliness) — cleanliness as a mentality, an activity, as a way of life. Interestingly, the values Mr. Modi brings in are civilisational values like seva (service) swatchtha. He is indigenising a way of life with a vocabulary that is civilisational. He invokes corporate social responsibility, not for some fancy dream, but asks corporates to use their wealth to create toilets in schools, including a separate toilet for the girl. The tenor of the speech of a Prime Minister talking about sanitation, dirt, toilets, cleanliness is almost Gandhian. This is an attempt to evoke an everyday civics which replaces empty policy as the first step to development.
The burial of an institution
Yet, those who are waiting for a word about policy are not fully disappointed. Mr. Modi refers to the Planning Commission. He talks of it as an institution which was adequate for its time but then dismantles it like a magician, hinting that the commission was anachronistic. India needed a new institution with a new soul, sensitive to federalism. It is the quickest burial of an institution one has witnessed. A whole vision, a whole network of vested interests and academic cronyism collapses before Mr. Modi. The new governance makes its first step with the death of the Planning Commission.
By now the rhetoric is clear: a new self has been articulated, an old divisiveness is exorcised as Mr. Modi talks of fighting poverty as a dream of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations. He dreams of a neighbourhood of developing nations, a dream of non-violence, where a nation state returns to its sources in a civilisation.
It is a perfect performance, crafted in ease, delivered with confidence. A nation, proud as an elite, looks puzzled. This man is not a new entrant to power, he is rewriting Delhi. As a semiotic act, it is difficult to beat. The success is almost matter-of-fact. Lutyens' Delhi smells a new regime as India senses the new era. Looking back, if politics is performance, the Oscar goes to Mr. Modi. Even Bollywood could not have done it better. India has discovered a new myth maker.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a professor at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.)
Command performance: The first Independence Day speech that did not lean upon authority or pedigree
The clear message was that our big problems are not market failure or state failure, but social failure.
was a commanding oratorical performance. It embodied a peculiar kind of democratic sensibility, but not one that we are used to, and can therefore easily miss. Historical comparisons are fraught, but Modi's democratic sensibility, seems closest of all people, to De Gaulle. De Gaulle was described by one biographer, Jonathan Fenby, as a republican monarch. This phrase was not meant to suggest an oxymoron or hypocrisy. It was meant to rather capture something distinctive about the nature of De Gaulle's democratic engagement: his unique ability to both wield authority and yet personify the people. Modi's engagement has a similar quality. It is deeply democratic in the sense that it rested on the conviction that authority does not come from any source other than people. Modi's was the first Independence Day speech that did not lean upon the authority or pedigree of anything else, but the people. It does not invoke a pantheon, a pedigree or even a party. Modi carries the imprimatur of authority because it was animated by a confident sense that he embodied the nation whose first servant he had declared himself to be. It has the confidence only self made men can have. It is democratic in the sense of being direct: its extempore quality refusing a script as itself being an intolerable form of mediation between the people and its leaders. It called for democratic consensus, a marching in lock step where the people are together. And in times recently marked by a paralytic rancour, this message resonates.
The strength of this form of democratic sensibility is that it allows unpalatable truths to be told with a rare conviction. In almost any other leader so far, talk of toilets or cleanliness, either carried the faint odour of a paternalistic elitism, or a grim reminder that we all want clean so long as someone else is doing it for us: cleanliness was something you escaped into, not a general condition for the country you desired. Privileged politicians exposed their elitism on their issue; less privileged ones wanted to escape the whole matter. If nothing else, Modi's singular achievement has been politically and administratively mainstreaming this issue. It has been to tell an unpalatable truth with rare political directness, conviction and lack of embarrassment: you cannot be a great country if you cannot take care of your filth and your shit. The practical goals set in this area, the synergies being enlisted between the political, the state and the corporate sector, were the most convincing part of the speech. If this is followed through, it is actually big bang reform in a deep sense.
The oratory was at its finest on these social issues. The clear message was that our big problems are not market failure or state failure. They are rather social failure. And that is just right. The admonition to parents who restrict their daughters but seemingly give unbridled license to sons was in this spirit, as was the constant reminder that India falls embarrassingly short of a healthy modernity. But only someone who effortlessly personifies the people can make that a central message.
The speech was remarkable for its lack of defensiveness and negativity. Our relations with neighbours are being created on a new foundation: the joint fight against poverty. It is the same theme: rancour keeps us poor. It might be easy to dismiss the speech as being short on major policy announcements. Financial inclusion is a work in progress; as is broad banding. Free insurance, was an inevitable reminder of a democratic commitment to the poor. The only moment he seemed genuinely at sea was in describing what might replace the Planning Commission. The "sansad adarsh gram" scheme sounds like a cross between a centrally sponsored scheme and MPLAD in disguise: institutionally dubious. On the economy, the sense of aspiration was palpable. "No defect" manufacturing is a much better aspiration than the self justifying homilies to jugaad we are used to. But Independence Day Speeches are not meant for policy wonks, and the Prime Minister rightly kept away from that.
A republican monarchy can enlist energies in a unique way. But it also has its drawbacks. The first is that when you imagine the people marching in lock step, how do you account for disagreement? Is the invocation of consensus and unity an ideological mystification? Is criticism, something to which he referred, understood as genuine, or simply to be dismissed as obstructionist rancour? Citizens will rightly point to Modi that the gap between his dream and its institutional incarnation is wide. He clearly has understood how communalism can wreck the country that we need to rise above the "us versus them" binaries. How does a communalism free India translate in the killing fields of UP or the hallowed chambers of Parliament, where the Prime Minister's colleagues have certainly added fuel to fire? Strong affirmative action for Dalits is required. But how does a new caste paradigm emerge, when the BJP government three days ago endorsed reservations for the Jat community? The idea of "no effect" manufacturing that has no deleterious impact on the environment is terrific. But how do we explain the fact that the Ministry of Environment seems to be gutting what meagre environmental protections we have?
Modi's unprecedented democratic strength has an energy, vigour and elements of a vision. But the capillaries of institutional power that will nourish this vision are still absent. He has grasped that a measure of discipline in government is one aspect of this institutional regeneration. His commitment to renewing government in the opening lines was admirable. But this disciplinarian aspect is at most, only a small aspect of what is required. Indeed, the emphasis on discipline can sometimes render problems invisible. One historian, Hall, wrote of De Gaulle, " His cabinet meetings, by all accounts, were not discussions, but rather series of ministerial reports, the various discussants being treated like school children being graded by their disciplinarian teacher." This proved to be a weakness as well. Democracy is about getting the right balance between consensus and difference; it is not about producing a regimented unity.
When you incarnate the people in you, it gives tremendous power and confidence. But it can also sometimes render invisible the mediating institutions that have an effect on them. The words uttered on August 15, are a welcome departure. But their effects will be secured by institutions built in their image. De Gaulle, thought that what would make France new was simply the fact that he was new. Modi should not make the same mistake.