For starters Modi’s oratory stood in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, the mannequin-like Manmohan Singh, who droned along in his dull under-pan tone, reading from a prepared script that impressed nobody. Modi spoke extempore and straight from the heart. He spoke every bit like the prime minister of India who enjoyed the mandate of the people of this vast and diverse country, and not like some unelectable babu who had been nominated and foisted up to that position by his political boss, who desperately needed somebody as pliable as him, so she could rule India by proxy.Modi referred to himself as the “pradhan sevak” and stressed that that was how he visualised his role and did not see it through the traditional prism of power politics, despite occupying the gaddi of the “pradhan mantri”. I am not sure when was the last time any Indian PM had sought to consciously cast himself, or herself, in the humble mould of a “servant”. Modi acknowledged the contribution of every Indian prime minister before him in making India what it is today. Honestly, I cannot recall any other prime minister before him, for as long as I remember, displaying such magnanimity of spirit. In fact, most of them used the occasion to take potshots at their political opponents and indulged in petty gamesmanship to score worthless brownie points over them.
In fact, Modi alluded to Congressman Lal Bahadur Shastri’s stirring slogan of “Jai jawan; jai kisan!” He also referred to the Mahatma more than once, and dwelt on issues other prime ministers may well have considered beneath the dignity of their high office. He emphasized cleanliness and urged his countrymen to undertake a nationwide drive to clean up our cities. That, he pointed out, would be the best tribute we could all pay to Bapu on his 150th birth anniversary, coming up in 2019. In this context, Modi bemoaned the fact that even in this day and age our women were forced to defecate publicly, which they were forced to do under the cover of darkness.
He encouraged parliamentarians to “adopt” villages in their constituencies and transform them, into what he termed, “ideal villages”. Modi called upon entrepreneurs to help build toilets in the schools of India where none exist at present. This, he opined, could be done as a part of their CSR obligations. Hence, Modi, not only diagnosed problems, but also prescribed their remedies. This came as a breath of fresh air, when his predecessors had preferred pious platitudes instead, and indulged in empty rhetoric which was without much substance.
Allaying the misgivings in some quarters about the future of India’s Planning Commission, Modi shared his vision of replacing the defunct institution with something that is more in tune with contemporary realities. His clarion call to businessmen abroad to “come, make in India”, followed by his challenge to the youth of our country to work towards seeing goods with the “made in India” label flooding international markets, exhibited his economic vision in simple and direct terms. He did not take refuge in bland theorising or hide behind vague promises. Modi’s pledge to ensure that the underprivileged sections of India’s populace hold bank accounts, coupled with life insurance cover of Rs. 1 lakh, is welcome as it was a long overdue measure.
The prime minister also touched upon sensitive subjects such as communal harmony and the necessity of maintaining peace. He invited leaders of SAARC countries to join him in fighting the scourge of rampant poverty in this part of the world. He left his audience much food for thought as he alluded to the vision of great souls like Swami Vivekananda. Incidentally, I couldn’t help notice that foreign dignitaries who attended the function at the Red Fort had headphones on, which meant they could listen to Modi’s speech in English. I am not sure whether this had been done before.
Just to sound a note of caution, while Modi’s speech certainly inspired many, he would do well to rein in the strident Hindutva elements within the establishment to ensure that the minorities, particularly the Muslims, do not continue to feel insecure. While there has been nothing overtly communal in his words or deeds ever since he became the PM, some of his party men and women do queer the pitch, off and on, when the national discourse has thankfully shifted to development and peace. If Modi allows these lunatic fringes to take centre stage and hijack his nation-building agenda, it would be most unfortunate.
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