"To all Indians celebrating our Independence Day, greetings from the Pradhan Sewak. I stand before you not as Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) but Pradhan Sevak (prime servant)."
— Narendra Modi
Today's Independence Day speech by the Prime Minister was all about playing to the gallery. It was like an election rally. From the word go he was marketing himself — whether it was to talk about how a poor man had made it to the Red Fort (quite fittingly a Mughal monument that makes his supporters froth at the mouth at other times), or how an outsider made it to Delhi, in a way negating the idea of a cohesive India especially when there is increasing resentment against immigrants from other villages, towns and cities.
Even the quote above is wrong on so many counts. The whole concept of a sevak is feudalistic, and to be a prime servant does not upset the status quo but works as a taunt to its own to suggest he is not one among them too.
"We have seen instances of communal violence for too long. Till when will this go on? Be it caste or communal violence, they stall the growth of the nation."
He went to the extent of calling for a ten-year moratorium on violence. And what exactly does he mean by "we have seen"? Is everything to be brushed under the carpet? The growth of the nation also means inclusiveness of all communities and castes, and ensuring that political lightweights do not incite them or, worse, ignite the situation by lighting the matchstick. The state and the police have a huge role.
It is convenient when you are the 'supreme leader' to want peace, but do little to check those who whip up such frenzy, including right inside Parliament.
"We have to stress on cleanliness, sanitation. By 2019 we must ensure a Swacch Bharat...Dignity of women is our responsibility. We have to ensure that we provide toilets for all."
He recalled Mahatma Gandhi for this. At that time, toilets also had to do with caste, as they continue to do now. Why did he not talk about how that should stop? What we are likely to have is the urban elite 'doing' cleanliness with much fanfare. Interestingly, there were pictures of ragpickers cleaning up after the speech. This is the real issue, of the poor will have to continue to clean up the mess the not-poor make.
Tying up the "dignity of women" with lack of toilets (after the case of the rape and public hanging of the teenage girls in Kanpur) is a sop. We need toilets, but rape happens even where there a toilets. It happens inside toilets. This will only make society complacent.
Besides, by saying that people might wonder how a PM is discussing such things on an occasion like this he conveyed that he was doing a favour.
I'll leave it at that and quote his own words after last year's August 15 speech by Dr. Manmohan Singh:
"Media channels said this is PM Manmohan Singh's last speech from Red Fort but he said he has miles to go, which rocket will he take?"
Somehow, I am thinking..."mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai ke kaheen chaman ko jalaa na de..."
For now, some pictures:
This I wrote last year