For the third consecutive year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi donned a turban and addressed the nation during Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort. Much had changed since Modi delivered his first I-Day speech. The honeymoon period of the BJP-led NDA government was over.
In his third speech, PM Modi was expected to present a substantial picture of his government’s development initiatives. The eloquent politician spoke for over 90 minutes. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Union Ministers Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar were seen taking a catnap during the PM’s speech which was described as “humdrum” by Deccan Chronicle. However, an unperturbed Modi went on talking about foreign policy, terrorism and good governance.
exchange4media perused through the editorials of the major English newspapers in the country to find out what they had to say about the PM’s address.
Mentioning Balochistan backfired
During his I-Day speech, Modi raked up the issue of atrocities in Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. The move was seen as a major shift in Indian foreign policy and seen as a measure to counter Pakistan’s attempts of internationalizing the Kashmir dispute. But most newspapers were left unimpressed.
Hindustan Times was at the forefront of criticizing the PM for his remarks on Balochistan. “A policy change on Balochistan is neither likely nor desirable for India,” HT editorial said. HT pointed out that Balochistan shared a long border with Iran and China-Pakistan economic corridor passed through it. It also mentioned that the Taliban was active in the region.
Considering the semantics involved, the newspaper stated that the notion of India supporting Balochistan’s independence “is not a responsibility that India can, and perhaps should, take up at this juncture.” But The Times of India praised the PM for holding a mirror to Pakistan.
“It’s welcome if its purpose is to highlight Pakistan’s glaring lacunae on providing human rights to its own citizens,” TOI said. However, the largest selling English daily cautioned against exporting terror to Pakistan. “But India must not envisage a tit-for-tat in terms of aiding Baloch insurgent in the same way Pakistan aids terrorists in Kashmir, as that would erode its moral high ground on terrorism.”
The Indian Express also expressed reservations in relation to the Baloch issue being used as a tit-for-tat measure. Express, which is remembered for fighting the Emergency, felt that the strategy might not be “as neat a deal as foreign policy hawks” think it to be.
Questioning the PM’s motives, it opined that the said references could have been made by Modi keeping in mind the domestic audience. “The PM’s remarks might only be aimed at a domestic audience, meant to recapture voters disillusioned by the twists and turns in his Pakistan policy.”
The Hindu’s editorial also stood firmly opposed to any intervention in Balochistan. “Other than further escalating tensions between the two countries, it is difficult to see what can come out of such aggressive posturing on the internal problems of Pakistan,” it said.
Assurances not sufficient to wipe out the scar of cow vigilantism
Some of the dailies criticized Modi for failing to specify steps taken to contain cow vigilantism and ensure social justice. “He spoke of “social justice” but offered no glimpse into what the government means to do to punish perpetrators of the increasing violence against Dalits,” said Express’ editorial titled ‘Fighting words’.
The Telegraph argued that despite Modi’s embrace of “weaker sections”, the scar of cow vigilantism would not go easily. Even Deccan Chronicle highlighted that the PM’s pitch for social and communal harmony coincided with a huge march of Dalits to Una in Gujarat.
“Even as he did so, in Gujarat, thousands of Dalits drawn from across India marched from the state capital Ahmedabad to Una near the coast, where Dalits were flogged by cow vigilantes for skinning dead cattle last month,” said DC’s editorial which proclaimed the I-Day speech to be “undercut by hyperbole”.
Co-existence of anti-terror talk and terrorism
Newspapers were quick to point out the ironical side of Modi’s address. On one hand, Modi roared against the menace of terrorism but several regions including J&K saw the eruption of violence on I-Day.
“It is a painful irony that the explosions that were heard all over the country that day were not entirely to celebrate the 70th year of independent India,” said The Telegraph. The Kolkata-based daily reported that medium and low intensity blasts had occurred in Assam and Manipur.
Deccan Chronicle mentioned how the security forces remained engaged in a fierce gun battle even as Modi boldly spoke out against terror. “Even as the PM was addressing the nation, for the first time in decades, armed militants engaged in guerrilla-style firing on the CRPF at Nowhatta, a locality of old Srinagar.”
The approach adopted by PM Modi to highlight his government’s work was likened with the “feel of a government report card” by TOI. But newspapers seemed divided over the strategy employed by the PM.
“After stating that he would not list out the achievements of his government as it would take a whole week to do, he proceeded to do just that,” wrote The Hindu as it took a swipe on Modi. However, the newspaper asserted that Modi was seeking to convince his audience not through “rhetoric” but “evidence” of the work undertaken by the government.
Express felt something was amiss. It said, “From the number of LED bulbs in use to the LPG connections distributed, the PM offered rich detail, but no framework of policies.” The newspapers also did not fail to mention Chief Justice TS Thakur’s criticism of the speech on account of failing to raise the issue of judges’ appointment.
The editorials published in the business newspapers evaluated Modi’s speech from a slightly different perspective other than Balochistan. The Economic Times wondered why GST wasn’t touted as a game-changer by Modi. Going by the “cursory” mentioning of the initiative, ET suspected whether the government was actually keen on it.
“But cursory mention is not what a path-breaking reform (GST) won after long, arduous and distasteful engagement with the Opposition, calls for. This failure by the PM to portray GST as a paradigm changing reform by his government raises doubts about the tax being rolled out anytime soon,” ET stated.
The Financial Express chose to factcheck some of Modi’s claims. In relation to the establishment of 2 crore toilets in rural India, FE stated the number was “small” as compared to what was “eventually” required. But the newspaper hailed the same as “impressive” along with the government’s building of 100 kms of rural roads every day.
As far as the electrification of villages was concerned, the newspaper sought to differentiate between “villages being electrified” and “people using electricity”. It held the two as being different.
Hailing Modi’s oration as “truly a prime ministerial speech”, the newspaper left with one big question: How will Modi balance between fulfilling his promises and UPA’s entitlement legacy in the form of Food Security Act?