India’s Modi Trims his Sails
Second Independence Day speech a modified approach
If Narendra Modi has learned anything since becoming India’s prime minister, it must be that the country changes slowly and that bombast does not work, at least not all of the time and less in India than it does abroad.
That became evident when he delivered his second prime ministerial speech on Aug. 15 in Hindi from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort on the country’s 69th independence day. He was dressed more soberly than last year, exchanging a flowing bright red turban for a more subdued orange model that matched with a calm cream kurta and jacket
There were fewer extravagant claims and less egotistical bravado in the unusually long 90-minute speech, delivered in the 29C sweaty heat of Delhi’s humid monsoon season. That is scarcely surprising coming at the end of a three-week session of parliament that conducted virtually no business because of Congress Party-led opposition tantrums. Urgently-needed sales tax reforms pushed by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party-led government were not passed, partly because the government would not compromise with the Congress on some points.
He and his team also seem to have lost the plot on their once determined plans to speed up industrial and infrastructure projects by reversing key sections of land acquisition legislation that was introduced by the last Congress-led government. The parliamentary disruption, which I described on July 22, continued with Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia, stopping both houses of parliament operating because of corruption and ethics allegations involving three top BJP politicians.
The only winner out of this shambles was Rahul Gandhi, who has found his voice leading the protests, though his limited abilities were exposed a few days ago when a photo of his detailed speaking brief was splashed across twitter [above].
Arguably the Gandhis are working against the national interest by blocking parliamentary proceedings (which the BJP did to them before the election). They have however successfully made Congress heard, punching far above its weight with only 44 members in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, and they have shown Congress has the power to take on the government. As Ajit Doval, Modi’s national security adviser said in a different context recently (he was referring to India-Pakistan border fighting), there is no point in having power if you don’t use it!
When Modi spoke from the Red Fort ramparts a year ago, he was capturing a national mood of hope and desire for change following his landslide general election victory, but that mood has been dissipating since last November when the BJP’s Hindu nationalism, not economic development, dominated the news.
Many of Modi’s dreams have failed to become reality. Perhaps the most significant is his job-creating Make in India campaign that was aimed at attracting masses of foreign manufacturing investments with relaxed and efficient regulatory procedures. But though foreign investment has increased, there has been little discernible improvement in procedures and, despite multi-billion dollar project pledges collected during Modi’s foreign visits, there have been no large scale job-creating manufacturing plans.