Offering hope without hype

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:36 pm IST

Published - August 16, 2014 01:47 am IST

Small things can make for big changes. In his first Independence Day address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid almost as much emphasis on a dirt-free India as on a Digital India. Instead of offering big-ticket reforms at one stroke, he promised changes in governance, a sharper and swifter government in the place of a bureaucratic establishment pulling in different directions. The philosophy underpinning his speech seemed to be that small steps taken quickly and taken across the country could have a greater impact than big schemes implemented slowly and patchily. “Just imagine, if 125 crore countrymen take a step forward, the country will move 125 crore steps forward,” he said, while offering to work harder than everyone else as India’s “prime servant”. Within one year, the Prime Minister intended to ensure separate toilets for girls and boys in all schools in the country. While talking of his dream of a Digital India, and of Information Technology uniting the country and the people, he articulated the need to make India’s villages and towns free of dirt. With good governance and development as his buzzwords for progress, he promised to make his government an organic unit for fulfilling the aspirations of the people. If there was one big scheme, it was the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, aimed at financial inclusion that would link the poor of the country with a bank account, and provide them a debit card and insurance cover worth Rs.1 lakh. This was part of Mr. Modi’s efforts to make technology work for the poor. If Jan Dhan Yojana was the big new scheme, the big reform was the dismantling of the Planning Commission, seen as a remnant of the Nehruvian, socialist model of governance. The change is intended to be drastic: the new institution that would replace the Planning Commission would have a new body, a new soul and a new outlook.

However, despite this push for change, Mr. Modi did not belittle the achievements of his predecessors, and he sought to recognise the contribution of all previous prime ministers and past governments to the growth of the country since Independence. Also, Mr. Modi seemed keen to move forward on the basis of consensus rather than on functioning on the basis of his party’s majority in Parliament. Even for those who feared his divisive agenda, Mr. Modi had some words of reassurance: he pointedly referred to the “poison” of casteism and communalism, which, he said, was a hindrance to progress. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, Mr. Modi certainly appeared more inclusive than he was on his campaign. If his speech, shorn of hype but full of hope, is any indication, Mr. Modi looks ready to make the transition from a skilled political orator to an able administrator.

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