In his 88-minute speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, to mark India’s 75th Independence Day, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi weaved in India’s past, present and future. By recognising the entire spectrum of India’s freedom fighters — including Jawaharlal Nehru, whose legacy the ruling party is uncomfortable with — the PM underlined that India’s struggle for freedom was a collective enterprise and each citizen, known and unknown, deserved credit. By declaring August 14 as the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day — the formal announcement was made on Saturday — the PM was right to acknowledge the suffering and grief that millions underwent at what should have been a moment of unadulterated joy. But while India needs to do more to memorialise its past, it is important that the memory of Partition serves as a reminder of the perils of the politics of hate and religious division and does not end up aggravating it.
As is the right of the head of the government, PM Modi sought to highlight the improvement in governance in the past seven years, with a focus on welfare delivery. He also dealt with the pandemic — praising India’s vaccination programme and locally-manufactured vaccines, while acknowledging there were difficulties and mourning the loss of those who succumbed to the infection. He defended the government’s record on agriculture when farm protests continue to rage against new legal reforms, made the small farmer the face of Indian agriculture, and highlighted the need to focus on energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, innovation and technology as sectors that needed a boost in the next 25 years. No one can dispute the need to combine enhanced agri-productivity, leverage the new economy, and work for equity as a three-pronged road map. The challenge, of course, is translating this vision into reality — especially at a time when the government has been less than enthusiastic about a fiscal stimulus to tide over the current crisis and has embarked on (much-needed) reforms without adequate consultation.
A key theme in the PM’s speech was the need to liberate citizens from the overbearing hand of the State, especially by removing administrative hurdles. This bureaucratic and legal clean-up is necessary, but the government also needs to recognise that liberty extends to the political realm. Ensuring the ease of living for citizens also requires the State to allow them to express and organise themselves, without fear. Indeed, that is the essence of freedom. A more prosperous, a more harmonious, a more equal, a more just, and a more free India must be the goal for 2047.
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