One speech, two messages
In his third Independence Day address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was intent on coming across as an able doer, and not a mere talker. Midway through his term, he was probably conscious that mere words would not have the same effect they had at the beginning of his prime ministerial stint. 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. He reeled out details of quicker delivery of government services, wider coverage of Aadhaar, curbing of inflation, more toilets in villages and rural electrification, among other things. The message he seemed to seek to convey was that he only wanted to get things done, rather than bother with getting credit for his achievements. In his first year Mr. Modi spoke about taking a series of small steps to bring about concrete change; in his second speech from the Red Fort, he held up his development agenda as the counter to the twin evils of casteism and communalism. This year he sought to present himself as a far-sighted statesman who is above petty politics and empty populist gestures, as someone who holds the interests of the country to be more important than his or his party’s electoral prospects. Obviously, Mr. Modi was seeking to sway his audience not with rhetoric but with evidence of what he regarded were achievements on the ground.
But the Independence Day address was not meant merely for domestic consumption. While Mr. Modi was silent on the violence in Kashmir, he had a lot to say about attacks on Balochs in Pakistan. In what was perhaps intended as a hint of India’s capability to intervene, in an unspecified manner, in Balochistan, he said the people there had commended him for highlighting attacks against them by people within Pakistan. The warning sent out was that if Pakistan continues to interfere in Kashmir, India can do likewise, making an issue over the violence 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. India’s Kashmir problem will not go away with the government’s renewed claims on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Of course, the Prime Minister may have felt compelled to respond in some way to the provocative remarks of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, dedicating Pakistan’s Independence Day this year to the “freedom” of Kashmir. But, in this, as in some other things, India will benefit more if Mr. Modi sticks to playing a more statesmanly role.