Modi as master orator

Indischer Premierminister Narendra Modi

In his first Independence Day speech the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed himself as a master orator. And he projectet an unknown inclusive persona. Which isn't Modi's known public image so far.

India gained freedom from British rule on Aug. 15, 1947 with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, hoisting the Indian flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi. Since then every Indian prime minister unfurls the Indian tricolor from the Red Fort and gives the customary speech regarding the achievements of the incumbent government. Most of these speeches follow a mundane and predictable path and in case the PM happens to be a poor orator, as many of our past PMs have been, then the Independence Day speech becomes even more staid and boring.

This year, on 15th of August, India celebrated its 68th Independence Day and a new personality unfurled the tricolor and addressed the nation after ten years. There were, however, some significant departures from previous years. The PM spoke extempore for more than an hour (the second longest Independence Day speech ever by any PM), did away with the customary bullet proof glass, an ubiquitous symbol of the specter of terrorism confronting our nation, and was captivating and spell binding in his oratory. In his speech, Modi addressed a wide range of issues, including those faced by common people in India. These ranged from socio-economic issues like violence against women, a moratorium on caste and communal violence, launch of a ‘clean India’ programme, a financial inclusion scheme which will give banking access to every Indian, along with insurance cover; to economic issues like extending an invitation to the world for making India a manufacturing hub with a catchy slogan ‘come make in India’.  He also spoke of some radical changes like doing away with the Planning Commission, one of the last vestiges of Nehruvian socialism, to bring about economic reforms.

An article in the Asian Age says that,

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first Independence Day speech, showed himself a master orator, raising issues that had an instant audience connect. He also coined succinct phrases which will find their way to headlines, photo-captions and tweets — referring to himself as the “first servant” of India, to “zero defect, zero effect” manufacturing, to e-governance as “easy, effective and economic governance”, and exhorting foreign capital to “make in India” and export as “made in India”.

The article also points out certain loopholes in the speech and states that,

“However, there were two troubling aspects of his speech. One, he projected an inclusive persona which is at variance with his known public image. And two, the economic path he wants India to follow may neither have the answers nor the instruments to address the inequalities inherent in our social and economic structure.”

While many of the issues which were raised by the new PM may have figured in the past speeches of our former PMs, what was important was the manner in which they were said. Writing in the Economic Times, columnist Neerja Chaoudhary said

“Agree or disagree with him, Modi's speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort evoked a sense of confidence that a leader was finally in charge. It reflected in the way he dressed, spoke, and in the manner he got rid of bullet cover and also in the way in which he mingled with children.  Congress leaders have pointed out that many of the issues Modi touched on—like women's safety, manufacturing, e-governance and poverty —were not new and had figured in the speeches of earlier PMs, including Dr Manmohan Singh. However, the difference lay in the detailed planning, oratory and charisma, and the effective use of media to create the Modi effect.”

There can be no two views that Narendra Modi is a communicator par excellence. His ability to connect with the masses and talk about subjects with which they can empathise is extraordinary. This he has been doing since he embarked upon his election campaign, which resulted in an unprecedented victory for him and his party. But he will also have to start delivering very soon as it is only upto a point that people will empathise. Thereafter, they will expect fulfillment of the promises made.

India calls off Foreign Secretary level talks with Pakistan

The scheduled Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan were called off by the Indian side due to the Pak envoy meeting separatist leaders from Jammu and Kashmir despite being asked not to do so by the Indian Foreign Secretary. Such meetings with separatist leaders had been held earlier also and the question which was being asked was why India was baring its fangs at this juncture, especially when the Indian PM had avoided the customary reference to terror emanating from Pakistan during his Independence Day speech, a few days earlier.

The Times of India dated Aug 19, in a headline captioned “Modi govt shows Pakistan its tough side, calls off Foreign Secretary level talks” wrote

“Pakistan’s engagement with Kashmiri separatists had always caused heartburn in New Delhi, but never lead to the breakdown of dialogue. With the unprecedented response to the latest provocation from Pakistan, the Modi government has raised the bar high for Islamabad”.

Explaining India's rationale to cancel the talks, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said,

"At a time when serious initiatives were being undertaken by India to move bilateral ties forward, including towards the resumption of a regular dialogue process, the invitation to so-called leaders of the Hurriyat by Pakistan's high commissioner does indeed raise questions about Pakistan's sincerity and shows that its negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India's internal affairs continue unabated."

Kashmiri separatists termed India’s decision to call off foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan as “unfortunate” and Islamabad said that cancellation of the talks was a setback to the peace process.  

While the cancellation of talks brought cheers from the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party, the question being asked by many was why now and what next. Some felt that the upcoming J&K polls, the repeated attacks on the border by Pakistan or the unstable and weak position of the Sharif government, due to the large scale demonstrations by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf party and cleric Tahirul Qadri’s Awami Tehrik, could have been responsible for the tough stand by the Modi government. Others, however, felt that by setting the bar so high, the Modi government could have painted itself in a corner from where it might find itself difficult to extricate. Only time will tell whether the decision to cancel talks with Pakistan was well thought out or a knee jerk response to a complex and intractable problem which has been unresolved for the last seven decades.