A ringing address from Red Fort

The 73rd Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been devoid of energy and path-breaking agenda. Modi not only manages to locate worthwhile causes to take up in the larger national interest and then systematically goes about fulfilling them. For instance, in his very first address he undertook to implement the Swachh Bharat campaign, provoking a commentator who had fancied his chances as Finance Minister in his government to pooh-pooh it, saying this is the job of a city mayor and not of a prime minister.

Over five years later, the country is witness to what that campaign has done for injecting a sense of hygiene and cleanliness in our daily lives. To return to the address on Thursday, aside from much self-congratulations on the fast-paced execution of old promises such as the ban on triple talaq and new incentives to farmers and traders in record ten weeks after the formation of Modi-2.0, there were a couple of salient announcements. Of course, Modi had to touch upon the sensitive issue of Kashmir.

The scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35A was long overdue. Those who are now criticizing him for doing away with those controversial provisions ought to explain why, if these were so essential, were they not made permanent. They were kept temporary because they had to be deleted sooner than later.

Seventy years is not a short period to delete something which all along was considered by its makers as temporary. Convincing, isn’t it? But the real challenge is to ensure the people in the Valley are convinced that ‘one nation, one Constitution’ is also in their own interest. Sardar Patel’s dream of ‘ek Bharat, shreshtha Bharat’ was yet to be realized but the government was on the right path. However, far more significant was the announcement to implement the long-standing demand for a Chief of Defence Staff.

Umpteen number of expert commissions and inquiries had made that recommendation only for it to be put on the back burner by the entrenched bureaucratic and other interests. In a number of advanced countries a CDS ensures synergies among various branches of the armed forces, joint planning, strategies, training, logistics, etc. Modern warfare is far-removed from the conventional artillery and armoured corps slugging it out on the ground.

Besides the three traditional wings of the defence forces, space, latest communications tools, psychological and propaganda warfare, etc. all mesh together to constitute a successful war strategy. The institution of a CDS can help integrate these functions for better coordination and planning. No less important was the prime ministerial assurance that the corporate sector was key to the progress of the country. There was need to take the stigma out of the public discourse from the business class. It was not right to look with suspicion at wealth creators. “Those who create wealth are India’s wealth,” Modi said from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

From the Prime Minister’s mouth, this ought to be reassuring for the larger business community. Even if some elements in the Opposition siege these words to paint him business-friendly, Modi ought to be proud for having the courage to commend the business class for contributing to the onerous task of nation-building. All these years, politicians who are in bed with the moneybags on the sly have made it a habit to rant against them in public, and the businessmen concerned remain unfazed since they get out-of-turn favours all the same.

Time has come to set a level playing-field for the corporate world, without favour to any particular business house, so that its enormous contribution to economic growth can further gain speed. The socialist was notorious for producing billionaires through government largesse. Under the open economy, a level playing field allows businesses to grow on the strength of their ideas and intellectual and financial clout --- and certainly not through a corrupt nexus with ruling politicians.

India should have its own Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs. Thus far, no Indian billionaire, aside from the internet-linked new age professionals, can claim not to have exploited the bribes-for-favours route for getting enormously wealthy. Modi has done well to accord pride of place to big businesses in nation-building, the challenge is for the corporate world to deserve that honour.

We need a strong and vibrant corporate sector but also an honest and upright corporate sector which plays by the rules and does not insist on tailor-making policies to favour self and undermine rivals. Meanwhile, Modi’s call to conserve water and to desist from the single-use plastic is bound to find traction in government campaigns in the coming months and years. His ‘nal sey jal’ scheme to take piped water to every home, rural or urban, in the country could well win him the next parliamentary poll five years hence.

- S Sadanand

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