Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sixth consecutive Independence Day speech visualised a new social charter — smaller families, water conservation and a ban on single-use plastic. Lasting 92 minutes and just a few minutes short of his longest speech in 2016, it made no mention of Pakistan, focusing instead on a big leap forward rather than relying on incremental changes to tackle India’s pressing internal challenges. A stimulus package for the sagging economy was not expected on the occasion, though the PM did seek to lift the morale of India Inc, saying wealth creators should not be eyed with suspicion and needed to be respected.
A welcome announcement was the long-overdue creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff, a single-point adviser to the government on all matters related to the military. The CDS will synergise planning, training, logistics and even procurement of the three services, though a clear blueprint is awaited. ‘Water’ was mentioned 24 times in the speech, amid claims of Rs 3.5 lakh crore being earmarked for the Jal Jeevan Mission. Giving a laudatory call for making it a national project, the PM set goals for achieving in five years four times what’s been managed in the past 70 years in water purification, waste water treatment, rainwater harvesting and micro-irrigation.
‘Citizen’ found mention 47 times and the PM outlined his expectation from citizens on the serious issue of the exploding population: ‘People who practise family planning are patriots. Those who follow the policy of small family also contribute to the development of the nation.’ The bold political initiative now needs to ride on pragmatic public inputs on the course to follow — from making available large-scale free condom-vending machines to perhaps incentivising family planning. Abrogation of Article 370 was very much on the PM’s mind, and sharp words were reserved for the Opposition, questioning why special status was not made permanent during Congress’ rule ‘if it was so important’. There are no easy answers when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir.