Millennium Post

An address to worry about

Around 8.30 pm on 16 August 2014, as debates raged on the television channels on the effectiveness of the address delivered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, a spontaneous unrest and protest broke out against the nation’s Pradhan Sewak (head servant) at Dhaula Kuan on the south west periphery of Lutyens’ Delhi, the nation’s power centre.

Pedestrians, cars and buses were brought to a grinding halt as the cavalcade of the prime minister was to pass through.

Having heard and watched the Prime Minister passionately christen himself as the head servant barely 36 hours earlier, the address admirers, including your reporter, on being helplessly subjected to a very prohibitive traffic restriction could not but feel anything other than frustration and agitation. The incident left me wondering why did a full regiment of the para-military cops with the traffic and Delhi police in equally large numbers in tow, were put on VIP route duty since 4 pm, when the cavalcade passed only around 8.30 pm.

On the morning of 15 August after the extended monologue by the Prime Minister ended, I found the veteran from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Pushpesh Pant drawing a very relevant analogy. Pant said that Modi’s address from Red Fort reminded him of the address delivered by Indira Gandhi soon after the Bangladesh war in 1971 and of Rajiv Gandhi’s speech, after winning a massive mandate in 1984 general elections. This parallel has left me worried as both the mother and the son were to lose their aura of popular mass leaders within a few years.

I heard the prime minister’s address with the same interest as I had heard addresses of his predecessors. And as everybody in the media are falling over each other to sing paeans to a ‘never before speech’, I want to scrutinise it against a simple parameter used during debating competitions in schools. There the participant is judged for turnout, delivery, content and overall impression.

While, on the scale of 10, the first three have three marks and one mark is for overall impression.
In the case of Modi’s Indpendence Day address, I would give him seven marks on the scale of 10. This should be counted as a good score but it has left me worried especially when I look at the breakup. I would give him 2.5 for the turnout (out of three), 2.5 for delivery (out of three), .75 (out of one) for overall impression but cannot convince myself to give more than 1.25 for the content. This could make some of the fellow Modi admirers pillory me for blasphemy but I have my reasons for making the conclusion.

Take for an example, on the safety of woman, the prime minister said, ‘The law will take its own course, strict action will be taken, but as a member of the society, as parents, we also have some responsibilities.’ Now did we not hear any other leader speak like this earlier? We heard in this very city Sheila Dikshit expressing similar sentiments and inviting scorn from every nook and cranny. The difference is that Modi chose a place and time, where his words sparkled whereas Dikshit’s left one irritated.

But then how long does it take the people to get irritated? They were some clues, as mentioned earlier, at the Dhaula Kuan crossroads of the last Saturday evening as the Prime Minister’s cavalcade passed. Some may point out that the citizens of Delhi are a pampered lot and that they brook no restrictions. True, but then Delhi has for years proved to be a barometer for the national political mood.

The mood in Delhi doesn’t provide the prime minister or his team the requisite courage to go back to the people to seek a fresh mandate to govern the city. They would probably wait for favourable poll results from Haryana and Maharashtra to let the winds of change flow into the capital and get the citizens of the national capital on their side. That’s going to prove to be an onerous task.

City under the Modi government through its regent Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung is being administered badly. The fair price onion and potato shop outside the vegetable wholesale markets have become a permanent feature with no scheme or policy in sight to curb inflation. Lawlessness in the city has hit a nadir with never before incidents of school buses with children onboard being attacked by ruffians with impunity. The fear of law lies in tatters and the prime minister assures us passionately that ‘law will take in its own course.’

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post  

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