Modi ’s course correction

S Madhusudhana Rao

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech from the historic Red Fort in Delhi on Saturday, the second since he took the reins of the country, is notable for two things: One, a major shift in focus area and a report card on the BJP government’s performance.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

In his maiden I-Day speech as Prime Minister of India last year, Modi had unveiled five grandiose plans to restructure the Planning Commission as Niti Aayog; to bring all financial services within the reach of every common man under Jan Dhan scheme; to make the country industrially strong under Make in India; to digitally link every nook and cranny of the country under Digital India plan and a nation-wide campaign for cleanliness under Swacch Bharat programme.

This time, Modi has put more emphasis on rural India and farmers. Nearly half of the new initiatives he announced in his 85-minute speech, one of the longest by any Indian prime minister, relate to uplifting the agricultural sector and alleviating rural poverty.

Topping the list of new programmes is Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (Farmers’ Welfare programme) with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crores, followed by electrification of the remaining 18,500 villages in 1,000 days and for the first time the centre has taken cognizance of farmers’ welfare by including it in the Ministry of Agriculture. Now, it will be known as the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.

Modi is known for coining catchy phrase schemes like Digital India and Make in India and he has not lost his penchant for such magic words to woo the young. This year, he unveiled a scheme to encourage young aspiring entrepreneurs in the form of “Start up India and Stand up India.” His aim is to make the country No 1 in start-ups.

Other announcements include: Simplification of labour laws; acceptance ‘in principle’ of One-Rank, One-Pension (OROP) demand of ex-servicemen, encouragement to Dalit, Adivasi and women entrepreneurs through banks spread across the country.

Modi’s self-assessed report card on his government’s performance in one year with focus on the flagship programmes is mostly a rebuttal of Congress charges that the BJP government is only hyping up its achievements. The Prime Minister has reeled out statistics to demolish Congress allegations point by point to highlight the BJP government’s record.

Dressed to impress vast audience present at the venue and millions of TV viewers, Modi excelled himself in his oratorical skills that were accentuated by his hand gestures. How well his Red Fort performance was received by the people could be judged by the online polls: Excellent!

Needless to say, he was a winner hands down after the Congress leadership berated him in parliament for keeping mum on controversies involving External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In fact, the just-concluded monsoon session of parliament was a washout because of Congress protests over the former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s links with Sushma and Vasundhar Raje and the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh.

Has Modi turned the tables on his opponents cleverly by presenting his government performance before the public without answering them in parliament despite numerous taunts by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her deputy Rahul Gandhi?

Difficult to say. But if it is Modi’s game plan and if he has won the hearts and minds of a vast majority of rural people with his farm initiatives, BJP is set to ride the winning horse in Bihar during the forthcoming Assembly polls. At the same time, Modi’s new schemes should come as a relief to distressed farmers in many states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka where the south-west monsoon has failed.

His new slogan, “Start up India and Stand up India” should enthuse the young generation which is trying to cash in on the ‘start-up’ trend. Clearly, Modi has his pulse on the latest technologies that is changing the world. His other initiatives are aimed at involving the masses in government programmes which are often criticized as favouring the big corporations and business tycoons. The latest schemes can be considered as a balancing act to minimize the urban-rural gap in a concerted manner.

But one can’t overlook the performance of earlier flagship schemes – how well or badly they have fared so far – in the euphoria generated by Modi’s rhetoric. For example, Swacch Bharat. If it is going on the intended course, the country could have been a tad neater. But, sadly, except giving photo ops to local leaders, the campaign has made little difference to the people.

The Prime Minister has mentioned in his government stock-taking exercise that “promise of toilets in all schools had been almost fulfilled with the cooperation of states.” Is it? Statistics may be satisfying, but ground realities are disappointing.

Nonetheless, due credit should be given to Modi for at least trying to motivate and influence the people which the previous Congress-led government had lacked.

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