Amid the Usual Buzzwords Like “Atma Nirbhar”, “Vocal for Local”, Some Surprises in Modi’s I-Day Speech


Amid the Usual Buzzwords Like “Atma Nirbhar”, “Vocal for Local”, Some Surprises in Modi’s I-Day Speech

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

India celebrates its 74th Independence Day this year, and as is customary, the Prime Minister made an address to the nation in the morning. PM Narendra Modi appeared on the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi for his seventh consecutive Independence Day speech, which he made after the customary unfurling of the national flag. Yet the truncated guest list and masked ministers in the audience socially distancing from one another reminded us that we were in the middle of a pandemic.

In his speech, Narendra Modi touched upon several wide-ranging topics, like the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, digitisation of India, better health and sanitation practices, and drive to make India “atma nirbhar”, or self-sufficient.

Some of the major points raised by PM Modi in his speech were that India is presently working on three separate vaccines for the coronavirus, each at a different stage of development. He also thanked the healthcare workers, doctors, and nurses – India’s corona warriors – who are serving the nation as it continues its fight against the pandemic. He tied in the theme of self-sufficiency to India’s Covid-19 battle, pointing out how the country went from importing PPE kits and N95 masks to making them domestically during the pandemic.

Throughout this pandemic, the PM has spoken about being self-reliant, “vocal for local” a number of times; we’ve heard him talk about how India has become the world’s second largest producer of PPE kits before. What was new though was the launch of the National Digital Health Mission. Saying that this will usher in a health revolution in India, Modi promised that now every Indian will get a unique health identity card.

Modi also spoke about the government’s efforts to empower women in the country. “This government is constantly concerned about the health of daughters and sisters. Through 6,000 Jan Aushadhi centres, about 5 crore women have got sanitary pads at Re 1,” the PM said.

In India, where conversations around menstruation are generally hush-hush, the PM’s attempts to break this taboo has won him praise.

The prime minister also said that the government has set up a committee to reconsider the minimum age for marriage for women. This is a big step toward gender equality. The last time such a change was made 42 years ago, when the minimum age was raised from 15 to 18.

PM Modi brought up how there was an 18 per cent increase in Foreign Direct Investment in 2019, seeing it as an indicator that the world has confidence in India. He said that in addition to “Make in India”, the country needs to adopt the mantra of “Make for World” as well.

Modi also announced several new initiatives, like an agriculture infrastructure fund of ₹1 lakh crore. He indirectly addressed the Chinese intrusions in Ladakh, saying, “From LoC to LAC, whoever tried to raise their eyes towards the sovereignty of our country, our soldiers responded to it in the same manner.” However, he did not name China directly in his speech.

As far as the content of the PM’s address is concerned, it was a retread of familiar ground. The talking points dealt with topics Modi has already held forth on in the past few weeks. But there were a few surprises like the much-needed boost to health infrastructure and women empowerment.

And so, India enters another year of its independent history, with the PM keeping one eye on the future and another on the past.