For the sixth year straight, the Prime Minister has delivered a meaningful Address from the ramparts of Red Fort. Widely anticipated remarks on the events in Jammu & Kashmir were all but a significant yet small part of the speech; and the provocative statements made by those inside and across the borders of India, who have made their allegiances fairly clear by mischievously hoisting black flags, were completely ignored, as he set his eyes on the future. This, to me, was the first big takeaway of his 92- minutes long speech, delivered without the aid of a teleprompter.
Speaking without a bullet-proof enclosure, the Prime Minister has started a national conversation on ideas for future. Aside from the fact that he spoke at length on issues such as Water Conservation, Environment Protection, Complete ban on single use plastic, Creation of Five Trillion Dollars economy, Digital payments, Ease of Living, and Tourism; four issues specifically caught my eye:
- Creation of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post– As things stood, the protection of India’s sovereignty, and integrity was the responsibility of the Chief of Staffs Committee. At this juncture, I am reminded of Winston Churchill, who had once said that “committees do not win you wars”. While it is true that we have won quite a few, our military history records that lesser lives would have been lost, if there was greater synergy between the Armed Forces. Creation of CDS was an idea which was first recommended by the Kargil Review Committee, but had been kept in cold storage by the political, intellectual, and military elite. Raksha Mantri Swargiya Shri Manohar Parrikar had last year promised to make it a reality, and it is now that India will finally give this idea a chance.
- One Nation, One Poll– It is not hidden from the world that in our country, election cycles are highly disruptive to the task of governance. While the political leadership is busy indulging in political wrestling, the time of their bureaucratic counterparts is occupied in making necessary arrangements. Ours is a country where a polling booth is set up even if there is a solitary voter; and the neighbourhood school alongwith its teachers, is usually the first casualty. Those who queue up at district offices for regular work, are forced to return to their homes upon seeing the “On Official Duty” tags, and even the constitutional Courts of law are told by law officers, that nothing can be done, for the “Model Code of Conduct” is in operation. The disease of populism also plagues the legislative agenda in an “election year”. Imagine a nation where this happens all but once (or twice) in a 5-year cycle, and not the five times that it happens each year. The experience of Odisha has consistently shown that the electorate is mature, and can differentiate between the state, and the national agenda. The finer details can be worked out once an in-principle decision is taken.
- Population Control– There will come a time when the electorally sensitive issue of population explosion would need redressal. Family planning needs to be incentivized in more ways than one, as has been done in various other countries of the world, with varying success rates. The limited resources that form a part of our national treasure reserve, are required to be used equitably, in confirmation with principles of not only inter-generational, but also intra-generational equity.
- Infrastructural Upgradation– I am now reminded of a Ronald Reagan special. At the centre of his story is the conversation between a boy who is wearing a “Cut Down Big Government” badge and his Socialist friend, whom he must convince on why she is wrong. Reagan, in his own inimitable style, speaks through the boy:
“Socialists ignore the side of a man that is spirit. They can provide a man shelter, fill your belly with bacon and beans, treat you when you are ill- all the things that are guaranteed to a prisoner or slave. But they do not understand that sometimes we also dream– yes, at some point, even of owning a yacht.”
Ofcourse, Reagan was particularly charitable of their ability; for the Communists and Socialists have more often than not, failed to provide for even the necessities.
Coming back to India, what lies at the heart of our growth story, is the fact that our people are deeply aspirational. The Prime Minister rightly recounted how owning a mobile phone was not enough for the ordinary citizen; and that he now wanted good data speed.
As the Vajpayee experience would reflect, creation of infrastructure is at the heart of people’s aspirations. It incentivizes wealth creation, and makes people attach a definitive purpose to their existence. The government has therefore, done well to invest Rs. 80,000 crore in building roads under the Pradhan Mantra Gramin Sadak Yojana- III. This will have a cascading effect on economy. Even the worst critics of the present dispensation would agree that infrastructural creation has picked up speed under the NDA government. In today’s address, the Prime Minister has further promised to invest a sum of more than Rupees One Lakh Crores in building the infrastructure for future. This should be welcomed- for young India wants to dream.
Happy Independence Day, India. Things are getting better.
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