On India’s 72nd Independence Day Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered yet another long address to the nation. This time round it lasted for 82 minutes – 25 minutes longer than his address last year, but 12 minutes shorter than his longest Independence Day address of 94 minutes which he had delivered in 2016. On social media, he had asked for suggestions from the people regarding points he should cover in his speech, and to be sure, there were plenty of suggestions from every corner on the whole range of issues that are currently uppermost in people’s minds. But once again his speech was only his ‘Mann Ki Baat’, high on pretentious election-eve rhetoric or jumlas and almost completely devoid of any reference to any of the pressing issues that haunt the country and people.
Modi began by talking about the Neelakurinji flower in the Nilgiris that blooms every twelve years and is currently in full blossom, but if you expected him to mention the floods that are ravaging Kerala and Coorg district of Karnataka, then you would feel badly let down. Modi congratulated ‘our daughters … (who) have come back after circumnavigating the seven seas’, but the daughters of India who are suffering the worst kind of sexual violence and exploitation whether in places of worship or government-run shelters from Kathua and Unnao to Muzaffarpur and Deoria found no mention, let alone any assurance of justice, in the PM’s Independence Day address. Modi did talk about the farmers, but only in relation to his false claim of fulfilling the demand for MSP and the vague promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, without uttering a word about the biggest issue of debt burden that is causing farmers’ suicides and the consequent demand for debt remission that farmers have been raising for so long.
Five years ago, Modi and his colleagues went hammer and tongs against Manmohan Singh for his failure to arrest the slide of the rupee. The saffron camp claimed that Modi as PM would strengthen the rupee; some people including Sri Sri Ravishankar even predicted that the rupee-dollar exchange equation would become 40:1. The day before the 72nd Independence Day the rupee had hit the lowest point ever in history, seventy to a dollar, and the PM’s address kept completely mum about it. Corruption and black money were staple fodder for Modi’s aggressive 2014 campaign. Today the government wears a string of scams as a garland of honour – from demonetisation and the Mallya-Modi robbery of Indian banks to the Rafale deal and Jio University, scams and crony capitalism have been the order of the day. Indian deposits in Swiss banks increased by over 50% to cross Rs 70 billion in 2017 and now the Modi government, which came to power on the promise of repatriation of black money from foreign banks, is busy telling us that this is all white money!
The prices of petrol and diesel were another major stick for Modi’s 2014 campaign. Baba Ramdev and many others promised that with Modi in power, petrol will sell for less than Rs 50 per litre. Today petrol has crossed the Rs 80 mark, and the word petrol has just disappeared from Modi’s vocabulary. Modi did not forget to remind us that two out of every three Indians today are less than 35 years of age. But he did not remember the promise of 2 crore jobs every year that he had made to the youth of India that fetched him tens of millions of votes of young people. Today he says unemployment is essentially a problem of data collection and that the MUDRA scheme of the government has turned job-seekers into job-givers! The overwhelming majority of loan recipients under the MUDRA scheme have got loans less worth less than Rs 50,000. It will be nothing short of a miracle for a young person to launch a viable business with such a paltry loan, but then Modinomics has always been full of myths and miracles.
If the people of India wanted to get one single assurance from the Prime Minister on the 72nd Independence Day, it was that of zero tolerance for mob lynching. The lynch mobs first raised their heads as self-styled cow-protectors, but now they hardly bother about the pretext. Any pretext is good enough for them, such is their sense of power and impunity. If the Modi government has actually inspired confidence in any section of the Indian people, it is the lynch mobs who rule the streets and the crony capitalists who command the government coffer. Just the other day, the septuagenarian saffron-clad Swami Agnivesh had been beaten up by ABVP activists in BJP-ruled Jharkhand. On the eve of the Independence Day, defying the high security police deployment in Delhi, JNU researcher Umar Khalid had been sought to be assassinated at only a little distance from Parliament. Another group had the audacity to burn the Constitution on Parliament Street in the name of opposing reservation for SC/ST/OBCs. In vain did the nation expect a categorical commitment from the Prime Minister to the rule of law and respect for dissent, the founding principles of modern India, and a firm warning against the hate merchants and the lynch mobs.
The day after the PM’s speech from the ramparts of the Lal Qila came the news of the passing of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. For the first time we saw people going to pay tribute to a former PM being heckled by supporters of the ruling party. At the same time, trolling in the social media spilled over into the ground and turned into physical violence. While Swami Agnivesh was heckled again in Delhi while going to pay tribute to the former PM, Prof. Sanjay Kumar of Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Motihari was brutally attacked by ABVP/BJP goons for making critical remarks about the tenure of Mr. Vajpayee.
In the wake of the Gujarat genocide when the former PM had famously advised the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to uphold ‘Raj Dharma’, the latter had laughed at it saying he was precisely doing that. Sixteen years later, after four years of power at the Centre, Narendra Modi has left no one in any doubt about his idea of ‘Raj Dharma’ – it is a combination of the colonial legacy of ‘divide and rule’ and the fascist model of a supreme leader running roughshod over every tenet of democracy and rule of law while handing over the entire economy to unbridled corporate plunder. For the democracy-loving people of India, the 72nd Independence Day has thus been an occasion to strengthen their resolve to assert their unity and strength and oust this disastrous regime from the seat of power.