That was the big theme in PM’s speech
If prime minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech didn’t have new ideas like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan—with the emphasis on stopping open defecation—that his earlier ones had, it is because, as he said, people were no longer impressed by statements of intent or even budget allocations for new schemes, they wanted action on the ground. What followed was an enumeration of the government’s achievements, some accurate, some less so. Two crore new toilets in rural areas is a small number compared to what is needed eventually, but is an impressive number in itself. Similarly, building 100 km a day of rural roads as compared to 70 km earlier is impressive, as are the achievements on electrification of villages, though villages being electrified and people using electricity are two different things. While the achievements on distributing 13 crore LED bulbs and dramatically slashing their costs thanks to bulk purchases was important, the larger linkages Modi made were really the critical issue. As he said, when 70 crore bulbs were issued over the next three years, this would help save 20,000MW of generation capacity—that’s R1.25 lakh crore in annual energy costs—and help India meet its global warming targets; a similar statement was made in Paris when Modi linked India’s carbon emissions reduction to the Railways regaining part of its lost market-share.
While the prime minister reeled out statistics on the number of Jan-Dhan accounts and the plan to use this to stop the 40-50% theft levels in the government’s annual social sector spending, the most important was his subtle social messaging of how each Indian had to contribute if a better India was to be built. The three crore persons in the ‘personal sector’ who have taken Mudra loans may not be the solution to India’s unemployment problem—many argue the businesses are too small to even provide a livelihood—but a Mudra loan needs to be repaid, it is not charity. The electronic marketplace (eNAM) for farmers that Modi talked of is far from reality, but the underlying concept is not of dole, it is of a solution that allows farmers to benefit from the market—creating the enabling conditions for the market, though, is the government’s job. By talking of the role of FDI in agriculture processing, the prime minister underscored that his goal of doubling farmer incomes was dependent upon how farmers took advantage of the opportunities afforded them—while many feared this goal was to be achieved by increasing the minimum support prices (MSPs) of farm goods, Modi’s clarification is a welcome one. Ditto for the reference to the model shops and establishment act which will allow shops to remain open 24×7 should the owners so desire. Though it is not clear how the prime minister will deal with the entitlement created by the UPA’s Food Security Act that promises subsidised food for two-thirds of the country, a telling remark in his speech was the one which said ‘to empty government coffers has been a tradition of past governments, I have tried to keep away from such a temptation …for me … empowerment over entitlement’. Even in the case of societal evils—the public flogging of Dalits in Una is fresh in everyone’s minds—Modi said ‘we have to fight social evils together’ instead of, as was expected, using the occasion to symbolically castigate the self-styled gau rakshaks and their vigilantism. Truly a prime ministerial speech.