The Prime Minister’s Independence Day address, delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort, is an eagerly awaited event. It is an occasion for the leader to highlight their successes and inform us of their vision to take the nation forward.
PM Modi always had a penchant for long speeches lacking in substance but high on theatrics and rhetoric. If we were to analyse the speeches from 2014, a clear theme emerges. There are loud claims that do not match the reality. There is a grandstanding of ideas devoid of a plan of action. There are theatrics and slogans fit for an election rally not an address to the nation. It appears that the PM treats the solemn occasion as a chance to further BJP’s political narrative. The claims and visions he espoused have not been met, leaving people disappointed.
A Prime Minister’s address to the nation should inspire confidence. But over nine years, common citizens have been left with scepticism after PM Modi’s every speech. During the Congress-led UPA era, Dr Manmohan Singh made short speeches that were backed by strong performances. India’s growth rate averaged an impressive 8% and the country scaled new heights in every sector. Investments in physical and digital infrastructure continue to benefit us today. The UPA government ushered prosperity and championed welfare policies that benefitted every citizen. But at no time did the Party claim sole credit for every achievement.
In his first Independence Day address, PM Modi stressed on the importance of manufacturing sector and called the world to ‘come, make in India’. It would be expected that such an invitation would have led to a drastic change and created a robust manufacturing sector generating lakhs of jobs. The reality, however, is bleak. In 2022-23, the manufacturing sector growth was a measly 1.3%.1 Between 2016 and 2023, 15 lakh manufacturing jobs have been lost.2 Industry leaders have exhibited no-confidence in the governments claims. Small and medium enterprises are still struggling from the impact of demonetisation and a patchy Goods and Services Tax regime.
A laudable part of the 2014 speech was the stress on sanitation and cleanliness. Soon after, the UPA era ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’ was renamed ‘Swachh Bharat’ and re-launched with much fanfare. In 2015, the PM once again brought sanitation into focus. After nine years, all the claims sound hollow. The National Family Health Survey V revealed that one in five households is still practising open defecation.3
It is important here to highlight that Modi government’s contribution has been most significant in changing names of programmes and policies that had been in place for years. The propaganda machinery claims old schemes as new. For example, the direct benefits transfer (DBT) was initiated under the UPA government. However, PM Modi often passes off the programme as inventions, sole credit of which must be accorded to him. There are at least 32 Congress-era programmes that have had their names changed.4 The ‘Aam Admi Bima Yojana’ was renamed ‘Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana’, the ‘National eGovernance Plan’ renamed ‘Digital India’, the much touted ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’ was started in 2005 by UPA and was called ‘Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account’. The focus has been on marketing and not performance.
It is not just name change we must concern ourselves with but how welfare schemes have been rendered ineffective. UPA government put together a digital and banking framework that allowed LPG subsidy to reach consumers directly. Cylinder prices were then around Rs. 400. In 2015, PM Modi falsely claimed in his speech that his government initiated DBT, ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’ to ensure subsidies reach consumers directly. Since then, cylinder prices have risen to Rs. 1100, the subsidy has been effectively abolished. Families struggling with rising prices of essentials face an additional burden every time they book an LPG cylinder.
PM Modi in his speeches has often referred to ‘kisans’ and ‘jawans’ (farmers and soldiers). He claimed to have resolved the ‘one rank one pension’ issue. However, a day before his 2015 Independence Day address, jawans protesting peacefully in Delhi were allegedly manhandled by police forces.5
Farmers have now heard great stories of prosperity from Narendra Modi. In his 2018 address, he shared with the country his dream of doubling farmers’ income by the 75th year of independence. Last year, we celebrated the 75th Independence Day and the latest government data once again exposed the claims. Farmers are earning Rs 27/day from cultivation.6 Double incomes would have required continuous double-digit growth. However, the growth clocked in the past years has been 2.8%.7 The frustration with low incomes fuelled the biggest farmers’ agitation in history when the government enacted three anti-farm legislations by stealth. It was only after sustained protests by farmer groups and political parties that the black farm laws were repealed.
In the 2018 speech, PM Modi also referred to the farmers’ demand of remunerative minimum support prices (MSP) for crops. He claimed to have fulfilled that demand. The reality is that MSP increases have been way below the yearly inflation rate. Farmers have also been troubled with rising diesel and fertiliser prices. Further, imposing high GST rates on farm equipment has affected farm incomes. It is perhaps first time in independent India that farmers have to pay high taxes on equipment and machinery.
Often, PM Modi has asked citizens to build a prosperous India by 2022. In 2015, he said that by 2022, there should be no poor without a house and ‘we all’ have to work to provide 24 hour electricity. As per PM Awas Yojana dashboard, one-third of the sanctioned houses have not been completed.8 Regular electricity supply is still a dream for lakhs of families.
Good governance and targeting corruption have been key themes of PM Modi’s speeches. Sadly, they have been only limited to speeches.
India has been lagging behind on major indices. It was ranked 107 out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index.9 The mishandling of the COVID pandemic showed how the government lacked good governance. India is ranked 127 on global gender index10 and 161 on the press freedom index.11 Common citizens who were left to themselves during the COVID waves still ask if this is good governance that was promised.
Corruption has scaled new heights and now stands institutionalised. Bad loans have ballooned and in 2022-23 alone, loans worth 2 lakh crores were written off.12 Defaults have risen sharply and banks have failed to realise their loans.
There are several other promises that remain unfulfilled. The non-performance is secular. There are no houses for all, no electricity in every house, farmer incomes have not doubled, or even improved substantially, the bullet train is not operational, ‘Make in India’ has not helped domestic manufacturers or job seekers in a significant way, ‘Bharatmala’ has been pushed to 2028, and economic growth is uncertain.
There is such a wide disparity in the statements and results that people have started wondering if they should take these speeches seriously. Take for example last year when in his address, PM Modi spoke of respecting women and how much he was pained by the disrespect women had to endure. The same day, 11 men convicted of rape and murder during the 2002 Gujarat communal riots had their sentence commuted. Gujarat government’s actions directly contradict PM’s speech.
Assertions of women empowerment sound hollow when we look at the status of women. Young women are struggling to find meaningful job opportunities. The economic mismanagement has affected them disproportionately. Crime against women is rampant and the government has looked away. The women wrestlers have had to protest publicly to demand action against a senior BJP member of parliament. There has been no credible action in several cases where BJP leaders have been accused to crime and inappropriate behaviour. PM’s strategic silence in these cases demoralises women across the country.
With the rise in communal tensions, it was expected that the PM would allay the fears of people but he has refused to do so in a meaningful manner. A genuine appeal for peace and brotherhood would do a lot of good, unfortunately, it has been missing from the speeches.
We have all heard the idiom: ‘actions speak louder than words’. Dr. Singh’s speeches averaged around 40 minutes whereas PM Modi’s speeches averaged around 80 minutes. While India survived a recession and underwent unparalleled growth under Dr. Singh, we are currently facing the brunt of a rising inflation and massive job loss. Therein lies an important lesson, the leader must talk less and do more.
(The author is a public policy professional and National Coordinator, AICC Research Department)
(Footnotes) 1 MOSPI 2 https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-economics/explainspeaking-indian-manufacturings-productivity-growth-report-8825587/ 3 https://thewire.in/government/nearly-one-in-five-households-in-india-practise-open-defecation-nfhs-5-data 4 https://www.inc.in/congress-schemes-renamed-by-bjp 5 https://www.firstpost.com/india/police-manhandled-us-say-ex-servicemen-delhi-protesting-demand-orop-2392796.html 6 https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/farmers-earned-27-a-day-from-cultivation-in-201819-101631569791714.html 7 https://theprint.in/opinion/most-indian-farmers-faced-erosion-of-their-real-incomes-since-2012-13-but-survey-cant-tell/749637/ 8 Data Accessed on August 6 2023 9 https://www.globalhungerindex.org/india.html 10 https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-climbs-eight-places-127-global-gender-index-wef-report-8677547/ 11 https://rsf.org/en/country/india 12 https://indianexpress.com/article/business/banking-and-finance/banks-write-off-bad-loans-worth-rs-2-09-lakh-crore-in-2022-23-rbi-8856435/