The mood of the nation is sombre and a sprinkling of Olympic Medals—gold, silver and bronze—isn’t enough to remove the gloomy veil of apprehensions and uplift our spirits. The post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of the deadly second wave of Covid-19 pandemic lingers. The state of the economy continues to cause serious concern. The Monsoon Session of Parliament was exceptionally acrimonious and ended abruptly raising issues about the health of the largest democracy in the world.
The opposition parties aren’t the only ones to blame. People have watched how legislation has been rushed through without debate and bills passed after a voice vote overriding the demand for a division. The government enjoying a brute majority would have won the vote in any case but the way parliamentary procedure and propriety were thrown to the winds only highlighted the rulers’ disregard for institutions and constitutional morality.
The apex court has been wary of judicial overreach and treads with extreme caution, nonetheless it has been constrained to comment on the sorry state of affairs. Law and order situation continues to be disturbing and not only in the non-BJP-ruled states. Crimes against the girl child and Dalits are a serious blot on the nation’s international image. Profiling members of a minority community by their dress or appearance and blaming them for ‘crimes’ like ‘Love Jihad’ and subverting the population control programmes have made social cleavages even more hazardous.
All these thoughts must have weighed heavy on the Prime Minister’s mind as he climbed the red-carpeted steps to address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort for the eighth time in a row. TV anchors were quick to remind us that NaMo was registering yet another accomplishment. His compatriots have gotten used to the PM using this moment to deliver soul-stirring exhortations. What could he say that would compare favourably with seven preceding speeches? Euphoria and charisma were enough to fuel promises for the initial years. Schemes and mega projects were announced which generated enthusiastic support. ‘Ujjwala’, ‘Swacch Bharat’, ‘Shauchalya’ before ‘Devalaya’ revitalised billions with hope. By the time, Modi began his second term in office, promises weren’t enough to sustain the momentum. People were waiting for the report card of performance.
No longer all the failures could be blamed on seven decades of dynastic rule and misgovernance. The strategic environment—beyond India’s control—has deteriorated rapidly. The clash with China in Galwan has forced a harsh reality check. One could thump chest and flex muscles spewing flames using phrases like ‘surgical strikes’ to deter Pakistan but China was a very different adversary. From Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to Maldives, the PRC pulls more weight than India. It talks bluntly (not boastfully) because it walks with a bigger stick.
Only a year back India projected itself as an emerging power predominant in South Asia. A fast-growing economy that could in the foreseeable future claim the third largest place in international rankings. It no longer seems a goal within our reach. Onslaught of the coronavirus exposed several chinks in our ‘self-reliant armour’. Our abject dependence on imports for manufacturing vaccines, medicines, ventilators etc was transparent. Another sobering thought was that ‘atmanirbharta’ was the mantra other countries were practising. Even the USA unabashedly proclaimed ‘America First’.
In short, the world isn’t waiting for imports of ‘world class’ products from India and switching their supply chains from China to India. To make matters worse there are ministers like Piyush Goyal who can’t resist speaking out of turn and branding Indian industrialists as anti-national. But was this the bang of a loose canon or a command performance? The House of Tata was indirectly sniped at but this raised eyebrows. What about the duo darling of the BJP? Not industrialists or equally anti-national? The technical glitch (in the cryogenic stage) had been an unexpected dampener.
The PM did the best he could in these circumstances and tried to make the most of what he had. The Olympians, the Vision for Centenary Celebrations of Indian Independence, the praise for our valiant soldiers guarding the borders and our scientists who produced a vaccine to vanquish the virus. He tried to work in the small farmers in his speech to take the sting off the privileged large rich farmers. He retains the knack of coining slogans—the word ‘Prayas’ was added to ‘Sabka Saath’, ‘Vikas’ and ‘Vishwas’ this year.
And, once at least we could hear ‘Parinam’ (Results). Rhyming tried to energise ‘Gati’ and ‘Shakti’, which resonated well with ‘Deshbhakti’ and ‘Swamibhakti’. Many thought the declaration of August 14 as the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day struck a discordant note when what we need is reconciliation and healing. One doesn’t know why the PM when he addresses the nation reminds us of the oration in Julius Caesar. ‘Lend me your ears’ is the constant refrain. But then other memorable lines drown this in their din. “There is a tide in the affairs of men…”.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University