PM Modi’s Independence Day Speech Is High on Lofty Rhetoric but Devoid of Plan of Action

Like in previous years, the prime minister claimed sole credit for every achievement, often appropriating inevitable progress as a major success; he ignored facts and deftly disregard past promises, and brushed aside legitimate concerns of the people.

In times of generative AI, it is easy to compile a speech for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has now delivered ten Independence Day addresses and a clear pattern emerges. He will claim sole credit for every achievement, often appropriating inevitable progress as a major success; he will ignore facts and deftly disregard past promises, and brush aside legitimate concerns of the people. His rhetoric often has a lofty vision that is devoid of a plan of action. 

On the economic front, Prime Minister Modi has given us a ‘personal guarantee’ that India will become the third-largest economy in the next five years. Sounds impressive at first and hollow after we realise that in 2013 itself a report estimated that India was going to be the third largest economy by 2028. As long as policymakers avert missteps like demonetisation, a badly designed GST, and unplanned lockdowns, we (relying on a Goldman Sachs analysis) can guarantee that we will be the second-largest economy by 2075. 

While guaranteeing the inevitable, Prime Minister Modi mentioned how before 2014, India was grouped among the ‘fragile five’ economies. Between 2004 and 2014, India’s growth averaged 7.8%. In the year 2013-14, our supposedly ‘fragile’ economy was growing at 6.4%; and has now averaged 5.7% in the last nine years. India has drastically lost growth momentum and the people are suffering. 

Constitutional functionaries may have the luxury of ignoring facts, but common people don’t. Therefore, when the youth hear the prime minister proclaim that ‘this country will provide you with unlimited opportunities, you don’t need to worry’ they are not assured but overcome with a sense of disillusionment.  

Youth unemployment has remained above 22% since 2014. The mismanagement of the economy has shrunk the job market forcing people out of the workforce. The government could have stepped up but it chose to turn its back and disregard the plight of our youth. Last year, the Minister of Personnel informed the Lok Sabha that between 2014 and 2022, 22 crore government job applications were received whereas only 7.2 lakhs were provided employment. For every 1,000 applications, only 3 jobs are being created in the government sector. 

What’s worse is the continuous drop in recruitment. The number of candidates appointed has dropped 70% since 2014-15. In 2021-22, only 38,850 candidates were recruited against 1.86 crore applications. The references to MUDRA Yojana as a serial job creator are misplaced. Almost 80% of the loans in 2021-22 are in the Shishu category where the loan amount is less than Rs 50,000. 

The youth have fewer opportunities because the marquee projects have not come through. In his 2014 speech, Prime Minister Modi called upon the world to ‘come, make in India’. The target was to create 10 crore jobs in the manufacturing sector by 2022. Between 2016 and 2023, 15 lakh manufacturing jobs have been lost. However, we cannot let facts come in the way of a speech. Past promises must be disregarded wherever convenient. Therefore, we do not hear of doubling farmer incomes anymore, or the 100 SMART cities, or houses for all, or electricity in every house. 

A major concern with generative AI is that without context, it produces results that may vary significantly from the issue at hand. ChatGPT often creates hyperlinks that do not exist. Similarly, while listening to the prime minister’s speech, it appeared to be laden with hyperbole and steeped in fiction. 

The common people are concerned with rising inflation but the prime minister brushed aside those issues with aplomb, claiming, “We have been able to control inflation successfully.” The Ministry of Statistics released inflation numbers on the evening of August 14 and they tell us that retail inflation is at a 15-month high and vegetable prices have increased 38% month-on-month and 37% year-on-year. Persistently high fuel and LPG prices have been hurting common people for months now. 

The dissonance between claims from Red Fort and the reality on the ground is not new. Today, the prime minister once again spoke of implementing ‘One Rank, One Pension’, perhaps forgetting that a day before his 2015 Independence Day address, jawans protesting peacefully in Delhi were allegedly manhandled by police forces. This year, the prime minister stressed upon women-led development and we must hope things don’t take a turn for the worse.

Ex-servicemen returning their medals during their agitation for the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme in 2015. Photo: PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla

It is no secret that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is anxious to leave a lasting legacy. Bombastic statements without positive change cannot achieve that. For three months now, people in Manipur have been at the centre of a brutal conflict. It is the Union government’s duty to step in and work towards building peace. People will recall how Rajiv Gandhi, as prime minister, initiated dialogue processes in Assam and Mizoram which culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 and the Mizoram Peace Accord in 1986. In both Assam and Mizoram, Congress governments were asked to either step down or fresh elections called to legitimise the peace process. We need more leaders who can sacrifice power. 

India is yearning for a fresh vision that places the vulnerable at the centre of policymaking. The Congress government in Rajasthan has enacted progressive laws to aid gig workers, ensure robust healthcare for all citizens, and guarantee a minimum income to all its citizens. In Himachal Pradesh, the government has responded to the aspirations of its people and is offering them a caring government. In Chhattisgarh, the pro-farmer and pro-Adivasi policies have led to rural rejuvenation. In Karnataka, the government has embarked on a welfare-oriented plan of action that provides relief to the poorest and offers them a real opportunity to prosper. 

Prime Minister Modi has exhausted his ten speeches but still has eight months in government to right the wrongs. Here’s hoping we see some constructive change. Happy Independence Day! 

Akash Satyawali is national coordinator, AICC Research Department.