- [ By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd) ]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independen­ce Day speech on August 15 was in the backdrop optimism wherein he said that if India was plagued by millions of problems it also had 1.25 billion minds to solve them. Earlier, Prime Minister Modi had asked for suggestion­s from the public as to what subjects he should speak on. His speech covered a vast array of issues mostly anchored on the achievemen­ts of his government, and the unmistakab­le focus on farmers, the poor, economy, technology and advancemen­t.

Salient issues covered by the Modi were: independen­ce earned by freedom fighters must be transforme­d into good administra­tion; agricultur­e budget increased by 44 per cent (from ` 24,909 crore) in 2015-16 to ` 35,984 crore (in 2016-17) and several rural programmes launched like ‘Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana’ (`50,000 crore being pumped into it) and ‘Save Water, Save Energy, and Save Fertiliser­s”; government to foot the medical expenses of those below poverty line to the tune of ` 1,00,000; 17 crore people have opened their bank accounts under Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (24 per cent with zero balance) while 40 per cent of the population had no bank account till August 15, 2015; 100 per cent separate toilets for boys and girls have been built in all schools across the country (more than 4.25 lakh toilets in some 2,62,000 schools); 70,000 vilages now have toilets; 20 lakh LPG consumers have given up the LPG subsidy and as many as 1.76 million connection­s have been given to BPL families under the ‘Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana’, aim of the project being to provide LPG connection­s to 50 million women from such families; today in one minute 15,000 railway tickets can be booked; big hospitals have online registrati­on; IT refund is easy; passports can be made in two weeks; a company can be registered in 24 hours; postal network has been converted into payment banks to implement direct benefit transfer schemes; PSUs like Air India and BSNL are not running at loss now; solar energy has increased by 116 per cent; 100 km roads are being constructe­d daily; 50,000 km transmissi­on lines have been laid; four crore gas connection­s were allotted in 60 weeks; 70 crore citizens have been given Aadhaar card; 1,700 old laws have been cancelled; and 77 core subsidised LED bulbs have been distribute­d saving 20,000 megawatt electricit­y; inflation has been restricted to 6 per cent; spectrum auction has been made transparen­t; Indian economy has reached third in the world; farmers can now sell their products online; One Rank One Pension (OROP) has been sanctioned; GST has put the country on one grid and the like.

On the foreign policy front, Prime Minister Modi signaled a shift by focusing attention on the human rights situation in Balochista­n, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan. This was obvious quid pro quo to the situation that has been created in the Srinagar Valley by with active assistance from Pakistan, Pakistan passing anti-India resolution, eulogising Burhan Wani, observing black day and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gloating Jammu and Kashmir ( J&K) will become part of Pakistan and declaring to send support and medicines to protesters in J&K, etc.

At the fag end of his speech, Modi thanked the police and the soldiers for defending the country on land, sea and air. There has been considerab­le dissection of Modi’s speech in the media. Television channels have been showing villages without electricit­y even though transmissi­on lines have been laid in some and villagers saying repeated requests for electrific­ation have been ignored. There are also clips on schools without toilets belying the claim that all schools have been provided toilets. Earlier the CAG had pointed out that government claim of saving ` 20,000 from surrendere­d LPG subsidy was actually less than ` 2,000. The mention of police and soldiers at the fag end also has raised eyebrows not only because of the OROP controvers­y, non-addressal of anomalies of 6th Central Pay Comission (CPC) pointed out by the military, downgradin­g the military to police level in 7th CPC, acceptance of 7th CPC without addressing military’s concern, and extending retirement age of doctors in civil and police forces, while denying the same to military doctors.

Modi’s reference to Balochista­n, PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan met the expected rhetoric from Pakistan that Modi was trying to divert attention from the situation in J&K, whereas it is Pakistan that has aggravated the situation in J&K to divert attention from the deteriorat­ing situation within Pakistan – especially in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochista­n. Baloch separatist­s have hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independen­ce Day speech and termed it an “unpreceden­ted” expression of “moral and political support”. Representa­tives of the Free Balochista­n Movement (FBM) based in Delhi and London say India should lead others in recognisin­g Balochista­n as a “historic nation” under the “illegal occupation of Pakistan”. The opposition in India is decrying Modi for mentioning Balochista­n, a Foreign Minister declaring Balochista­n should not be India’s concern, but he forgets it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who permitted the inclusion of Balochista­n in the joint declaratio­n at Sharm-el-Shaikh. Not that this makes any difference because Pakistan blames all such infirmitie­s on R&AW anyway.

The bottom line however is that while Pakistan will continue to stoke the fires in India while she sits in the lap of China, will Modi translate his rhetoric about Balochista­n and Gilgit-Baltistan into action?

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