In his first Independence Day speech after being voted back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recounted his government’s achievements ‘within 10 weeks of returning to power’, made a couple of major announcements and outlined his views on some issues of social concern.
A major announcement was appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to head all three wings of India’s defence forces – Army, Navy and Air Force – a decision pending since long. The need for this was strongly realised twenty years ago during the review of the Kargil war and would have far-reaching ramifications for defence preparedness and co-ordination between the three services.
Modi said the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) would “further sharpen coordination between the forces”. The CDS will coordinate between the three services, the Army, Air Force and Navy, he said. “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 have a Chief of Defence Staff. This is going to make the forces even more effective,” PM Modi said from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi.
Another significant announcement related to water, which has emerged as a major concern, conceiving the creation of Jal Jeevan Mission for water conservation and revival of water bodies, and an allocation of Rs.3.5 lakh crores.
“Just as I called upon the country to join the Swachchta Mission to make India Open Defecation Free, I ask that you join the Jal Jeevan Mission which cannot succeed unless people participate on a mass level,” said PM Modi.
Modi dwelt upon the removal of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the reorganisation of the State into two Union territories and the passage of the Triple Talaq Bill in great detail, stating that his government believed neither in “creating problems nor prolonging them” but in meeting them head on and resolving them.
On J&K and Article 370, he said that scrapping the special status to Jammu and Kashmir is the first step towards realising the dream of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He slammed the previous governments for needlessly letting the issue go on for all these decades. “India is asking those who supported Article 370, if this was so important and life-changing, why was this Article not made permanent? After all, those people had large mandates and could have removed the temporary status of Article 370,” he said.
The removal of special status to Jammu and Kashmir would ensure justice and development to backward sections of society in the State and lakhs of migrants who had moved to the State post partition of India, he said. “Now we can say with pride, One Nation, One Constitution,” he said, reiterating the long-standing stand of the party.
On the Triple Talaq Bill, he said that if social evils such as ‘Sati’ could be proscribed, “Muslim sisters were also deserving of justice by the removal of Triple Talaq.” Citing the new triple talaq law as a medium to ensure a better life for Muslim women, he said, “Scrapping of instant triple talaq will help Muslim women live a better life. The decision should not be seen through a political prism. If we can take steps against ‘Sati’ custom, female foeticide and dowry, then why not against instant triple talaq.”
Modi also reasserted his stand on simultaneous Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, saying the concept of ‘one nation, one election’ is imperative to make the country great. “Today, India is talking about ‘One Nation, One Election’. Discussions should now be held on one nation one election, it is imperative to make the country great,” he said.
Asserting that his government will not leave any stone unturned to “fulfil the aspirations of the New India”, he said, “GST brought to life the dream of One Nation, One Tax. India has also achieved One Nation, One Grid in the energy sector. Arrangements have been made for One Nation, One Mobility Card. Today, India is talking about One Nation, One Election.”
A large part of the Prime Minister’s speech was devoted to concerns related to the environment and behavioural changes needed at the societal level.
Pitching for population control, he termed those practising a small family norm as performing a form of patriotism. “Population explosion in the country will create various problems for the coming generations. Those who follow the policy of small family also contribute to the development. It is also a form of patriotism,” he said.
He also emphasised the goal of becoming free of single-use plastic starting October 2nd, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. He urged shopkeepers to discourage the use of plastic bags in their stores and asked citizens to gift cloth bags to each other for use this Diwali.
He made a special appeal to farmers to avoid the use of chemical based fertilizers and aim to keep at least 20-25% of their land holding free of these. “When we say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ we should care for the health of the motherland too,” he said. He also urged bureaucrats in his own government to find ways and means to reduce the presence of government in the everyday life of the people.
He made a special appeal to youngsters to travel to at least 15 destinations within India in the next year, not just to know the country better but to give a boost to the tourism sector.
The PM’s speech had no reference to neighbouring Pakistan but did make common cause with other neighbours such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who had been, like India, at the receiving end of terror fomented from beyond their borders. He also wished Afghanistan on its upcoming centenary of independence.
While the economy continuing to be down, Modi sought to assure people that the fundamentals of the economy were strong and that his government had earmarked Rs.100 lakh crores in the next five years for investment in infrastructure which he said would lift the economy.
“India does not want incremental progress. A high jump is needed, our thought process has to be expanded. We have to keep in mind global best practices and build good systems,” he said.