A rough anatomy of the Independence Day speeches delivered by our eminent leaders points to a very simple fact – sentiments of nationalism, patriotism and other such emotions are useful only when there’s a dais to mount with hundreds of television cameras directed at you, ready to capture, slice up and analyse every bit of your oration. Having said that, the audiovisual yields proffered by the respective political figureheads, whether in the government or the opposition, are strangely dismal and in fact, falling far short of standards that had been set by leaders of yore, particularly the first prime minister of India. Nevertheless, harping on populist tropes, both Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi turned their I-Day speeches into pulpits to preach their poll-bound mantras from, packaging possible election slogans in the wrapper of nostalgia for 1947. While Singh’s speech, possibly his last from Red Fort before the general elections are held next year, emphasised on the UPA government’s so-called ‘achievements’ in what the BJP has termed the ‘dark decade of malgovernance’, it also tried scoring brownies by pointing an accusatory finger at Pakistan’s latest transgressions across the LoC, and condemning in no uncertain terms, the ‘dastardly’ acts, including the killing of five Indian jawans recently. However, the prime minister’s underlining of sectarian ideologies propagated by the likes of Modi or his assurances on the economic front, ring rather hollow, particularly a day after the unimaginable tragedy that was the loss of recently overhauled nuclear submarine, INS Sindhurakshak.
While the PM’s message got lost in transmission, the saffron camp fared no better, with Narendra Modi squarely pegging his speech on the next general elections, and more or less, delivering a reactionary, anti-Manmohan soundbyte. This open denunciation of Manmohan Singh could have been left for another day but knowing the Gujarat CM, it is not surprising that he didn’t miss out on the chance. Attacking Singh and the UPA on development, Pakistan, dynastic politics, corruption, food security bill as well as extending the bevy of accusations to the online and television studio wars waged by the two camps, Modi canvassed it all, but admittedly, he lowered the bar of political speech-making. Even if we excuse Modi’s acerbic idiom that left many traditionalists aghast, as modeling itself on the American presidential mode, the brazen ad hominem show of aggression was certainly not in good taste. Falling back on the ‘shock and awe’ theory and brash display of politically-laced machismo might help him acquire more followers on the social media, but such unceremonious exhibitionism might end up doing discredit to his credentials as someone who’s positioning himself as the next in line to take up the country’s top job. Moreover, playing the cards that are decidedly unconstitutional, such as bringing up caste, rousing communal feelings and presenting delusive figures on development might make for good optics on news channels, they are, nevertheless, detrimental to the spirit of democracy and secularism, the foundational pillars of our system. If Modi is counting on an explosive combination of jingoism and show of iron will, Singh’s talk was a blank and staid attempts at covering tracks for his unbelievably corrupt government. Clearly, India is counting its limited options as it assesses the legacy of the freedom struggle as well as the hard-won independence after two centuries of colonial rule.