The Indian PM has spelt out his vision for a New India ahead of the next General Election in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, in past Independence Day addresses to the nation, announced grand flagship schemes that promise to transform India. So, one was expecting more of the same this year.
Instead, the Prime Minister announced a vision - of a New India, that he urged all Indians to work towards, by 2022. He outlined the broad contours of this New India. It will be a country where every Indian will have a brick and mortar house with electricity and water connections and easy access to quality healthcare and education, farmers will earn double of what they are doing today, society will be free of casteism, communalism and terrorism and the country's women and youth will have access to ample opportunities to fulfil their aspirations.
And as he did while selling demonetisation to the people, he has set nation building within a moral compass by saying that in this New India, dishonest citizens who evade and cheat on taxes and loot public money for their personal benefit will lose their sleep. The message was clear: it wasn't he, Modi, who would deliver this New India.
It is Team India, comprising 1.25 billion ordinary Indians, who would march together towards this shared destiny. Modi's role would be that of the shepherd, the pathfinder, the bellwether.
This was not merely a very articulate leader outlining his vision for his country and its people. It was a supremely confident Prime Minister subliminally asking the electorate for another term in office. By telling them that he has an unfinished agenda of building a New India and by putting them at the centre of his vision for getting there, he was giving them a stake in his re-election in 2019.
So, in that sense, this Independence Day speech may also, in times to come, be viewed as the sounding of the bugle for battle royale that lies ahead. Looked at from another angle, Modi's I-Day speech only picks up the strands from his earlier initiatives as Prime Minister. The vision for New India is not really very different from his very evocative slogan “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” (Development for all, discrimination against none), which has paid handsome political dividends by enabling the BJP to reach out to the Dalits and other so-called backward castes, thus, broad basing the party's support base and helping it break away from its image of being a party of upper castes and businessmen.
Then, his New India, which includes a vision for a disease-free India, is also obviously betting on the success of other flagship schemes such as Swachh Bharat, Make in India, Digital India and Start-Up India to deliver the goals enumerated above.
It is a sign of his political acumen and his genius at messaging that he has packaged Swachh Bharat, which proposes to make India free of open defecation by building millions of toilets, not so much as a health and cleanliness issue as one relating to gender equality. By giving women a personal stake in ensuring that their families build proper flush toilets, he has, at once, converted a large part of this constituency, comprising one half of the Indian population, into a strong vote bank. The speech indicates that Modi appears supremely confident of winning a second term in office, which will enable him to complete his agenda of transforming India. A recent 'India Today' opinion poll has predicted that Modi and the BJP-led NDA will return to power if elections were held now. But it will be wise to treat such surveys with caution.
One doesn't have to look too far back to find instances where the favourite to win an election has ended up as the runner-up. Look at what happened to Hillary Clinton in the US or Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004. Even Theresa May barely managed to hold on to her office despite opinion polls predicting a sweep for the Tories in the UK.
Although a week is a long time in politics and two years an eon, it will take a very reckless punter to bet against Modi and the BJP-led NDA in the 2019 General Elections.