For a Prime Minister who thundered his way into the hearts of Indians, Modi’s performance this Independence Day was pale and off colour. Clearly, the job of governance is tougher than he bargained for and a defensive PM tacitly acknowledges that
The story from India is that the most powerful and strongest Prime Minister in three decades, Narendra Modi, can also be off-colour. That he can also be defensive and, more importantly, be unable to hide it. For a man who energised the entire stadium of 40,000 Indians in Dubai on Monday, it was a energy-less leader who addressed India from the ramparts of the Red Fort last Saturday, India’s Independence Day.
Even the most ardent of Modi fans noted the manner in which the country’s most mesmerising speaker in the last couple of years - from the time he decided to campaign for the prime ministership of the country - spoke without that gusto that sets him apart from his predecessors and political rivals. A careful hearing of his speech of last year on the same occasion of Independence Day and his latest speech from the same location will make anyone ask: What’s wrong with him?
To recap, his speech last year was brilliant oratory in which he outdid himself. He spoke from the heart to deliver several social messages to the people. Its range was impressive. From basic hygiene issues to saving the girl child and educating her, the subjects he spoke about reinforced the image that he had acquired for himself in the last couple of years. That of a man committed to act upon everything that he had promised in the run-up to the elections. In many ways, it was a confidence building measure just 11 weeks after coming to power.
Have faith and ‘I shall deliver’ was the simple message that came across. And, it did come rather strongly. But, Saturday saw a change in that delivery model. It was ‘Team India’ that was to be committed to delivering on the dreams within the timeframe, marking a classical shift in the game of politics where when mammoth problems exist it is best for the political practitioner to include all. To be fair to him, he did recall his speech of last year to say that he was new last year and that he had expressed his opinion to the 1.2bn people from what he had seen in the government. This was the first indication from him that the governance was a challenging assignment.
For a man who mocked those in power, his predecessors, Modi appeared hemmed in by the motley opposition in parliament. The foremost emphasis that came across in his speech was that his focus had shifted to speaking about what his government had done for the poor. It was crystal clear that the leader of the motley opposition had pushed him to a corner by calling his government a ‘suited-booted government’, alluding to its pro-business, anti-poor approach to governance.
Modi went down to churning out statistics on how many toilets were built; how much and what kind of urea was being delivered to farmers, how much subsidy had the middle classes given up on LPG connections to help the poor shift from the smoky and hazardous ways of cooking on traditional wood burning contraptions; how 170mn people got an opportunity to open zero balance bank accounts etc. We shall not get into the numbers because officials have quoted figures different from what was
mentioned by the Prime Minister. However, such details were not forthcoming on one of the most critical promises made by his party which claims to be more patriotic than all others.
That is the issue of the OROP or one-rank-one-pension demand of those who have served in the armed forces. This was a demand over which successive governments have not delivered. It was a campaign issue that was bolstered up by Campaigner Modi. Prime Minister Modi, however, simply reiterated the oft repeated statement that the proposal has been accepted in principle and indicated something would be done. Such details were also given out by his predecessors, but it has become noteworthy in the case of Modi because he had given a completely different impression of what he would do once in the seat of power.
Take even his reference to cleansing the termite-like corruption in the system. This was also a standard line that would be found in many speeches from the same spot. Many expected him to put in place systems, possibly, newer systems that would curb corruption. That has not yet happened. But, the strange aspect was that he chose to emphasis on this in his Independence Day address when could have very well made the same statement in parliament which the opposition had obstinately blocked for the entire 17-day sitting on this very same issue. The opposition had disrupted the entire parliamentary session seeking the resignation of his ministers on charges of conflict of interest.
Much of the opposition’s recalcitrant approach was also fuelled by the lack of a response from him, giving room for speculation that he did not want to defend his External Affairs Minister and senior colleague, Sushma Swaraj, on the floor of parliament. The foolhardy approach of the main opposition, the Congress, is a different matter. But the fact remains that the government was unable to do much to get its prime legislative business passed in parliament, showing very clearly that despite its majority, the ruling party has not been able to deliver. This is what came to be reflected in the speech of the Prime Minister. He may have introduced a new catchphrase ‘Start-up India, Stand-up India’ but the fact remains that unless the aspirations of the people are met, it would be difficult to see that gumption in the communicator par excellence from the Red Fort next year.
For Saba with love
Many a time, it makes people wonder about the nature of India-Pakistan relations. On one side, there are frequent ceasefire violations, infiltration of terrorists and terror attacks. On the other side unfolds this strange story about how an Indian NGO is crowd funding for the treatment of a teenager from Karachi, Pakistan. Fifteen year old Saba has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain and other organs. ‘Wilson’s disease’ as it is called can be identified only after the age of ten. Accumulation of copper leads to fatigue, jaundice, problems of speech and coordination.
Saba was already treated in Mumbai’s Jaslok hospital with the money saved up by her mother, Nazia. But, they have to return soon to Mumbai because her condition has deteriorated. The only hitch is that Nazia needs to raise R1mn (RO5,880) for the entire treatment. Shabia Walia of Bluebells community, the NGO, has taken the initiative to create the ‘Save Saba’ appeal. To start with if the NGO gets R200,000, (RO1,176) Saba could be brought to Mumbai for her treatment to begin.
Several years ago, there was this case of an infant, Noor Fathima, whose soulful eyes made India pray for her. She underwent a heart operation that saved her life. Her treatment led to many other patients also making their way to India. Those from friendly countries also arrived in India. Not just for cardiac problems or surgeries but also for psychiatric treatment. Clearly, there is more to people-people contact that makes a difference to the lives of common people. Will the powers-that-be in Pakistan think of the advantages of making peace with India for, at least, this reason?
Is the famous brand of noodles banned by various states really safe? The court has ruled that it cannot be banned. Fresh tests have to be completed though, before those famous packets hit the stands in stores. So what happens next?
Says a hostelite: “Wow, we can have some decent food!!!’’
[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]