5 takeaways from Modi’s Red Fort speech

5 takeaways from Modi’s Red Fort speech

On his first Independence Day speech as India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi acknowledged India’s existing social and economic problems and proposed new policies. Here are 5 aspects of Modi’s Red Fort speech worth mentioning.

On August 15, 2014 Narendra Modi delivered his first Independence Day speech as prime minister of India. Delivered from the iconic Red Fort, a home of the Mughal Emperors for over 200 years, Modi continued the tradition of hoisting the national flag and giving a nationally broadcasted speech.

The tradition goes back to 1947, when then prime minister and founding father Jawaharlal Nehru gave a speech outlining his vision for the country from the ramparts of the Lahori Gate. On August 15th of every year since that date, various prime ministers’ have lifted the flag and spoken of the current state and direction of the South Asian nation in the highly ornamental old red octagonal structure.

Here are 5 takeaways from Modi’s Red Fort speech:

1. Political humility

Perhaps seeking to assuage partisan worries and reach out to other parties outside of his BJP, and certainly seeking to claim the mantle of statesman which the site of the address essentially requires, the prime minister stated, “This is a platform not for rajniti (politics) but rashtraniti, or national policy formulation.”

In a tacit acknowledgement of the tide of popular discontent with governmental officials that helped sweep him into office, Modi made a point of insisting that he was speaking not as the prime minister, but rather as the ‘prime servant.’

The vaunted humility underscores how different the address was from the soaring exclamations that typically have marked the occasion in years past. Some can certainly view this as a new prime minister addressing a country undergoing a generational and economic transition. Further belying the changes, the 63-year old himself is the first prime minister giving the address who was born in post-partition India.

But it was not only Modi’s style and his age that differentiated his address at Red Fort from his predecessors’.

2. Domestic issues

Acknowledging both the crippling poverty that plagues many areas of the country and perhaps seeking to placate worries and critiques of the BJP as a party that is too pro-industry and overly beholden to the richest elements of Indian society, Modi made a special point of discussing poverty and inequality.

The prime minister also made mention (albeit rather briefly) of skill development programs for India’s youth, acknowledging not only one of India’s greatest resources but a particularly active and much heralded force in the last election.

He also spoke of the numerous rapes which have occurred in various villages calling them a ‘shame.’ In so doing, he is speaking not only to domestic audiences upset with local officials and their inability to protect but foreign audiences as well, where such incidents have hurt India’s image.

3. India’s economy

On the economy, there were few surprises policy-wise. Not departing from concepts advocated by himself and his party in the elections, Modi sought to paint a vision of India as a manufacturing hub that will largely be self-sufficient. In addition to manufacturing and self-sufficiency, the prime minister also emphasized the role of states as entities in promoting economic growth and in stepping away from more centralized planning. For those who listened to candidate Modi on the campaign trail, none of this is terribly new.

Yet, Modi did announce new initiatives that will play an important role in addressing economic issues facing the country. In a populist outreach, the prime minister announced a bank card initiative for India’s poor in which the poor will be given bank accounts and debit cards. Called the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana’, the stated aim is to assist the 2/5 of Indians who are at the mercy of moneylenders who charge exorbitant amounts of interest.

4. Elimination of the Planning Commission

Modi proposed to do away with the Planning Commission, a relic of the Fabian socialism which for years guided India’s economy since the founding of the state. While perhaps purposefully vague, Modi stated that the commission would likely be replaced by a ‘new institution’ that will work through ‘cooperative federalism.’

It was for good reason that Modi was vague; given the extent of vested interests, the implementation of such a policy is likely to be quite complicated. Such a move would be substantial and would likely be politically popular with both India’s young voters who relate little to Nehruvian era centralized planning, the intellectuals and activists of his party, and a great swath of the electorate.

5. Modi’s tone

Perhaps the most striking thing about Narendra Modi’s speech at the Red Fort was not the acknowledgement of the nation’s poor, its youth, problems of rape, or the few new policy prescriptions, but rather its measured tone. For those expecting a rousing call to arms similar to what was sounded a few short months ago, it is likely that the Prime Ministers speech was a disappointment.

Yet, by taking an inclusive tone and working slowly Modi is signaling that his government is quite aware of the various vested interests and power brokers that stand in the way; the many compromises that will likely have to be made in a country not known for its fast moving bureaucracy.

The Modi speaking at the Red Fort may not sound like the fire-breathing reformer that the party faithful had hoped for, but he showed his awareness of the realities of governing. How much of his agenda he will be able to implement at this pace and whether his base can adjust to it remains to be seen.

About Author

Sean Durns

Sean Durns worked as a research assistant to a former high ranking Pentagon official and the Director of National Security Strategies at a DC based think tank. His analysis has been referenced by a variety of media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Roubini's EconoMonitor, OilPrice, and many more. He holds a M.Sc. in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics where he focused on US foreign policy, security studies, and energy security.