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PM Narendra Modi bats for ‘wealth creators’

He said his idea of freedom was that the government should slowly step out of the lives of the people

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 16.08.19, 12:01 AM
  • Updated 16.08.19, 12:01 AM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the Red Fort on Independence Day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the Red Fort on Independence Day. Picture by Prem Singh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday delivered his sixth and longest Independence Day speech, patting himself for scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status but skirting the deepening concerns about an economic slowdown and a fall in consumption.

In his 92-minute speech, he instead chose to rhapsodise about the people’s “high-as-Himalayas” aspirations and their “determination” to overcome all hurdles to build a “New India” with a $5-trillion economy.

He also sought to spur people with calls for water conservation, population control, an avoidance of single-use plastic, a reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, a switch to digital payments and intra-country travel to help the domestic tourism industry.

“My dear brothers and sisters, we know that our aims are as high as the Himalayas, our dreams are more than the countless stars but we also know that in front of our determination even the sky is nothing,” the Prime Minister, who wore a red-and-yellow turban, effused.

He claimed the “fundamentals of the economy” were “very strong” and that this provided him with the confidence to surge ahead.

Despite his brave front, however, he appeared to betray some concern at the slowing growth rate when he spoke about turning every district into an export centre, creating more jobs and raising incomes. He did not explain how he hoped to achieve all this.

While Modi made the usual comments about improving the lot of the poor, he also acknowledged the importance of “wealth creators”, appearing to make a placatory gesture amid the criticism of the budget proposal to additionally tax the super rich.

“We have to come out of old beliefs. Both the people who create wealth and those who contribute to wealth creation are serving the county,” he said. “We need to respect wealth creators in India because if wealth is not created, how will it be distributed? And if wealth is not distributed how will it benefit the poor?”

Modi asked people not to look with “suspicion” at wealth creators, whom he called the “wealth of the country”.

While Modi had already defended the decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status multiple times, he chose to highlight it again as an example of his government’s resoluteness.

He said the move had achieved Vallabhbhai Patel’s dream of “Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat” (One India, Great India) and the popular demand for “One Nation, One Constitution”.

Modi claimed that most parties were in favour of doing away with Articles 370 and 35A but did not dare act owing to their compulsions of “vote bank” politics.

“If Articles 370 and 35A were so sacrosanct, why didn’t they make it a permanent feature of the Constitution? Why was it temporary?” the Prime Minister asked.

In the same vein, he celebrated the enactment that makes the pronouncement of the instant triple talaq a criminal offence: “If we can raise our voice against (the practice of) sati, why can we not speak against the triple talaq?”

The Prime Minister hailed what he projected as his second government’s sterling achievements in just 75 days of coming to power, and issued social charters that he urged the people to fulfil in the national interest.

Modi, who used to celebrate the country’s “demographic dividend”, for the first time flagged the dangers of a “population explosion”.

“Today, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, I want to address the issue of population explosion. Parents need to give serious thought to whether they can fulfil their children’s dreams and aspirations,” he said, stressing the need for family planning.

He announced a “Jal Jeevan Mission” to conserve water and urged the people to make it their own mission as they had done with Swachh Bharat.

Modi said it was a concern that half the country’s households still lacked access to clean drinking water despite 70 years of efforts by various governments.

While promising to double the farmers’ incomes, he flagged the dangers that chemical fertilisers and pesticides pose to “mother earth” and urged a reduction in their use.

He also stressed the dangers of single-use plastic and called on shopkeepers to promote cloth and jute bags. He also urged shopkeepers to discourage customers from using cash and to put up posters promoting digital payments.

Flagging the need to boost the domestic tourism industry, Modi exhorted those who travel abroad on holidays to instead travel inside the country for the next two years.

“I want to appeal to the nation that every family should visit at least 15 tourist destinations in the country by the time we celebrate the 75th Independence Day,” he said.

Modi said people should do this even if some of these places lacked good hotels and other facilities.

He said his idea of freedom was that the government should slowly step out of the lives of the people.

“There should be no interference on the part of the government in people’s daily lives, but the government should always be there when needed,” he said.

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