India Celebrates Independence Day: PM returns with report card, calls for ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’

His maiden Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort last year was all about unveiling his vision, presenting his ideas, making promises, and announcing new schemes and programmes. On Saturday, after 15 months in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was more keen to list his achievements, the promises he has delivered on, and the actions he has taken. Modi seemed eager to send out the message that he is a man of action, the person who delivers. There were some new promises, towards the end of his speech, but unlike last year, there were no big announcements, no new schemes. These were much more humble.

Like his earlier “Make in India” and “Digital India”, Modi coined a new slogan — “Start-up India, Stand up India”, aimed at extending support to people to start new ventures and businesses, especially those belonging to the weaker sections. It was in this context that he urged banks to provide loans to tribals and dalits. Right at the start of his speech, Modi warned against the danger of casteist and communal tendencies disrupting India’s development.

“Our unity, our simplicity, our brotherhood, our goodwill, these are our biggest assets. We must never fritter them away, we must never let them come under stress. If our unity is compromised, our dreams will be shattered too. Therefore, whether it is the poison of caste or the frenzy of communalism, we must never yield space to them, never let them come up… We must overpower them with the nectar of development,” he said.

Modi assured that every village in the country would be electrified in the next 1,000 days, exhorted banks to ensure that each of their branches offered loan to at least one tribal or one dalit to start a business, and told corporate houses that the kind of facilitation they could expect from the government on their investment projects would be proportional to the number of jobs they created. He also expressed his desire to abolish interviews for junior-level jobs.

Modi mentioned the One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) issue that has been keeping the ex-servicemen agitated, but stopped short of announcing his government’s acceptance. Instead, he said that while his government agreed with the OROP formula “in-principle”, some details still needed to be finalised. For the most part, however, his one-and-a-half hour speech was a progress report of his government, especially on the announcements he made at Red Fort last year — the Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, toilets in schools, low cost insurance schemes, crackdown on corruption and black money.

On each of these, he cited figures to illustrate what his government had achieved and where it was headed. The PM credited each of his government’s achievements to “Team India”, a term he started his speech with and referred to 19 times. On more than one occasion, he explained that the reference was to the 125 crore Indians. While Modi showed the same enthusiasm and energy in delivering his speech as last year, the response of the crowd assembled at Red Fort was decidedly different.

The crowd was thinner, and many chairs in the general stands were empty. Unlike last year, there was no chanting of his name. The thumping of the podium, punching of the fist in the air, and spreading of arms in trademark Modi style remained largely unacknowledged. The crowd reponded only two or three times. The loudest applause came when he took a swipe at previous governments and how they used to be indecisive, and when he spoke about the need to abolish interviews for junior level jobs.

By 8:30 am, when Modi was about halfway through his speech, a number of people had already started leaving. During his speech, Modi dwelt on the issue of corruption. He talked about how each of his schemes or actions — auction of natural resources, direct transfer of subsidies, MNREGA wages and scholarships, a new law on black money — was an effort towards eliminating  towards eliminating the “termite of corruption”. “And I can assure you that in the 15 months that my government has been in power, there has not been a single allegation of corruption of even one rupee,” he said. Modi said retrieving black money from foreign countries was an ongoing process and would take some time. “But at least one thing has already happened. No one will think about putting their black money abroad any more,” he said.

He talked about the “tough” law his government had brought in on black money. “After that, every week someone approaches our government to say that we have done injustice by passing that law… that because of this bureaucrats will start harassing us. But sometimes when the disease is very serious, we have to take certain medicine which have side effects as well… Same is the case with black money in this case,” he said. Modi also talked about the need for accelerated development in the east and northeastern parts of the country and said these were priority regions for his government. He announced that the Ministry of Agriculture would henceforth be known as the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare to reflect the fact that it will also be making policies in the interest of farmers.