If Narendra Modi’s first Independence Day speech as prime minister was all about sharing an ambitious vision for India, the first Red Fort address of his second term was all about consolidating the gains India has made under his leadership.
The broad themes of Modi’s speech on Thursday were working towards a better future for Jammu and Kashmir, addressing the growing menace of population explosion, giving up use of plastic, upholding the rights of Muslim women freed from the social ill of instant triple talaq, a mega push for tourism and a warning for laidback bureaucrats. The biggest announcement, however, was the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff post to lead the army, navy and air force.
And Modi did not limit the theme of consolidation within the boundaries of India. He also cautioned the world on the perils of terrorism and issued a veiled warning to Pakistan at a time when the US is negotiating a withdrawal from Afghanistan, where both India and Pakistan are eyeing big stakes.
Narendra Modi’s speech:
In what may be the biggest policy announcement made by Modi from the Red Fort, the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff post can be seen as a big development. The CDS is expected to integrate the operations of the three forces — the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. Prime Minister Modi said that in times of change, there is a need for the forces to sharpen coordination.
“Our forces are India’s pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort. India will now have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS),” Modi said. CDS is a single-point advisor to the government on all matters related to the military. The officer appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff will head all the three arms of the military.
For the first time since the Union government successfully revoked provisions of Articles 370 and 35A in J&K, Modi hit out at the critics of the move. In a veiled attack on the Congress, which voted against the legislation in both Houses of Parliament, Modi said, “When the entire country, including political parties of different hues, was supporting this historic move, some people within political corridors opposed it. I want to ask them that if 370 and 35A were so important, why did you not make it permanent in the last 70 years. If you had conviction, you should have come forward and made it permanent. You did not have the gumption to correct past wrongs.”
Modi added that what others could not do in 70 years, his government did within 70 days. Exhorting world leaders to unite against terrorism, Modi said, “Any incident of terror around world is a matter of shame. World powers should unite against exporters and promoters of terror. Such forces should be unmasked.” Hinting at Pakistan, the PM said, “Some powers have wreaked havoc… Bangladesh is grappling with terrorism, attacks have happened in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.”
During the speech, Modi also wished the people of Afghanistan who will celebrate their 100th Independence Day on August 19.
Recalling the manner in which he unabashedly had acknowledged the menace of open defecation in his 2014 Independence Day speech, Modi said that a similar problem is ailing this country; that of population explosion, which will also have to be addressed head-on.
“There is an enlightened section in our society that fully appreciates this problem. People in this section, before having children, think whether they’ll be able to give their children good education, whether they’ll be able to fulfil their children’s dreams. Such people are worthy of respect. I urge everyone to look up to them and learn from them. We need to create social awareness on this issue, we will have to appreciate this problem; governments at the Centre and in states will have to come forward,” Modi said.
Taking forward the theme of unity, Modi said the India has achieved ‘One Nation, One Constitution’ with the Kashmir move and discussions are being held to implement ‘One Nation, One Election’ as well. “By introducing GST, we realised ‘One Nation, One Tax’. We are also moving towards ‘One Nation, One Grid’ and ‘One Nation, One Mobility’. We should now continue marching on this path and fully consider the possibility of ‘One Nation, One Election’,” Modi said.
Modi said his government will invest Rs 100 lakh crore on developing modern infrastructure that will aid in nearly doubling the size of the Indian economy to $5 trillion in the next five years. This includes the push for the ambitious Bharatmaala scheme, which entails laying a network of 60,000 km of highways across the country.
Modi also said that the government of the day may be of ideological inclination, but in today’s India, where nearly half houses do not have drinking water supply, every government has to make great efforts to bring water to every household. “For this I am announcing Jal Jeevan Mission. The Centre and state governments will work together to bring water to everyone. We will spend Rs 3.5 lakh crore in this scheme which will include water harvesting, water treatment and micro-irrigation.”
Modi recalled how some very senior bureaucrats had been shunted out in his previous term. To those still serving and not appreciating his vision, Modi served another warning. “Many senior people in the government were told to pack up their bags, they were told that the country doesn’t need them. People within the government need to appreciate what we are trying to do otherwise they may also meet similar fate,” the PM said.