The practice of the Prime Minister making big bang policy announcements from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independence Day seems to have been given up for good. This by itself is not a bad thing. Policies have to be thought through and carried out properly; the temptation of playing to the gallery on a momentous occasion like 15 August can backfire badly. Vishwath Pratap Singh discovered this at the cost of his government when he announced implementation of the Mandal Commission report in his single I-Day address to the tion in 1990. Three years earlier, his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi had started reading from a written script on this occasion; that practice continued till rendra Modi reverted to speaking extempore, keeping only salient points on paper. In his 2014 and 2015 I-Day speeches, PM Modi stressed more upon sharing his thoughts about governce with the citizenry. This year, he has sought suggestions from the people about issues they want him to speak about from Red Fort. It is a conscious effort to make the I-Day address not only put across forcefully the PM’s intent, but also reflect alongwith the mood of the tion. How PM Modi leverages his undoubted oratorical skills to take his public outreach to another level remains to be seen. But he will also be judged by his government’s record in implementing his I-Day promises.
It is a decidedly mixed record — which is not at all surprising, considering the sweep of his vision. In his very first address, PM Modi shared his dream of a clean India by 2019. It was, and remains, a very laudable initiative. None less than Mahatma Gandhi had spoken with distress about the utter lack of hygiene in India, once commenting famously that ‘Sanitation is more important than Independence’. But the Swacch Bharat campaign is in danger of sputtering out, just like its predecessor Nirmal Bharat did. Independent surveys have shown that the country is still far from the modest target of even one toilet in every school. And for those schools already covered, it turns out that a substantial number of toilets have been constructed without water system or draige. In 2014, PM Modi also spoke about the need to recast the Planning Commission into a new avatar. The NITI-Aayog that took its place is yet to play its advisory role in a tangible manner. There has been much hemming and hawing by the NDA government whether ‘special category status’ for some states, hitherto considered backward, remains or not. When Fince minister Arun Jaitley filly clarified in Parliament that SCS has been junked for good, it merely spurred vociferous demands for this status from Andhra Pradesh. Funding for states and planning their development within a new paradigm is still to take off.
From Red Fort, PM Modi has also made clarion calls for the country’s youth to come forward and make something, and if possible, export to other tions. But entrepreneurship has to be nurtured on a solid base of education. Over 29 crore Indians are still illiterate; one in every three child laborers in the age group of 7-14 and over one-third of rural India population cannot read or write. Farm distress in large parts of India is a cause of great worry for Central and concerned state governments alike. The country’s economy is growing at a creditable 7.6 percent, but this growth has been primarily jobless. A mere 21 percent rate of internet penetration in the population puts into perspective the challenges for a Digital India to materialize as per PM Modi’s dream. There have been tangible gains in the Prime Minister’s fincial inclusion initiatives, in getting bank accounts opened for the poor and paying in LPG subsidies, as well as providing them life and accident insurance cover. When we consider how well Indians are pulling together as a tion, social cohesiveness seems to be taking a beating of late. According to Central government data furnished in Parliament in February this year, there was a 17 percent increase in commul violence in 2015. Kashmir has witnessed a huge upsurge in violence; disaffected elements in Assam are still creating mayhem at will, as seen recently in Kokrajhar and Tinsukia. The country’s hard-won independence will be meaningful only if it takes all its people along.