Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered what he described as an account of his two consecutive terms in office, delivering his 10th customary address to the nation on Independence Day. His last address on August 15 before the general election next year also turned out to be a campaign speech in effect, as he expressed confidence of winning a third term. Cataloguing the achievements and initiatives of the country since 2014 — the year he became the Prime Minister — Mr. Modi suggested that it was a new beginning for the country which was until then unstable and aimless even though Independence from British imperialism was won in 1947. Mr. Modi cited demography, democracy and diversity as the three core strengths of the country, before lauding young entrepreneurs, farmers, and sportspeople who overcome the odds. He cited three challenges that hold back the progress of India — corruption, dynastic politics and appeasement politics. Since 2014, Mr. Modi told fellow citizens — whom he addressed as ‘family members’ throughout the speech — he has been tackling these challenges head on and making many enemies but remains undeterred. According to him, India was overcoming the ills of “1000 years of slavery” of the past, and is now laying the foundation for a “1000 year golden era”. In an emerging new world order, India would be playing a central role, Mr. Modi said.
The Prime Minister’s speech was inspiring and optimistic at one level. But it was also more self-congratulatory and exclusive than self-reflective and unifying, though Mr. Modi said India’s unity across regions, communities and gender was the utmost priority for him. The unity pitch did not resonate well, as the principal Opposition party, the Congress, said Mr. Modi’s speech was full of “distortions, lies, exaggerations and vague promises”. The Prime Minister deployed his skilful oratory to conflate his own persona with the country. The continuity in India’s progress since 1947 is as self-evident as the daunting challenges of its present. Denying or overlooking either is not a great strategy for progress. Mr. Modi noted that peace and normalcy were returning to strife-torn Manipur, but no State accountability for the violence and chaos was mentioned. Mr. Modi’s claims of an uncompromising crusade against corruption are weakened by the selective approach of the central investigative agencies that target only Opposition politicians until the point that they align with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Overall, Mr. Modi reinforced the faith of his faithful and the scepticism of his sceptics.