In 2018, if the last Independence Day address of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first five-year term was focused on persuading Indians to give him a fresh endorsement of five years to enable him to fulfil his dreams for the country, the first August 15 address of Modi 2.0 appeared to lack focus or coherence.
It was about motherhood and apple pie — having a little bit of many indubitably good things on the vaunted list, such as discouraging chemical fertilisers, ending plastic use, creating modern infrastructure, taking digitisation to rural India, and ending corruption, alongside not a little chest-thumping on scrapping the special status for Jammu and Kashmir. As for the latter, it was the second time in less than a week. What the PM had said in his recent address to the nation to justify his government's drastic action on J&K was rehashed in summary form, with just one minor difference.
Mr Modi in his Independence Day address challengingly asked why his party’s opponents (when they held power) had not changed the heading of the chapter in the Constitution — where the controversial Article 370 figures — from “temporary” to “permanent”, if they thought it was not temporary, and as such was not meant to be removed.
The answer, the PM was possibly not advised, is to be found in two Supreme Court judgments — Sampat Prakash vs State of Jammu & Kashmir & Anr (1968) and SBI vs Santosh Gupta (2016). These make it clear that Article 370 is not “temporary”, as the PM and the Union home minister have strenuously sought to underline, and the use of that particular expression is in the nature of “marginal notes”, which are different from the text of the article.
Once again the assertion was reiterated on Independence Day that Article 370 proved an obstacle to the development of J&K and bred corruption, dynasticism, and terrorism, but no attempt has so far been made to explain how. A crucial area totally invisible in the address was the deepening deceleration of India’s economy and ways to tackle the gigantic problems that appear to loom.
There was an important announcement buried deep in the PM’s speech — that his government had decided to have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a move to integrate the functional aspects to make the performance of the three armed services (Army, Navy and IAF) more effective. This is a move in the positive direction and has been under discussion since the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. The defence budget may need some adjustments in the light of this.
Mr Modi also dwelt on population control, though there was no indication of any policy contours in this direction. This is a tricky area, as the experience of the Sanjay Gandhi period, as well as the Chinese experience, show. Promoting domestic tourism also constituted a bullet point in the PM's address.