Last updated on: June 30, 2019 at 10:09 pm IST
President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to the joint session of the Parliament, in the first instance, set out the philosophy and priorities of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government that has been re-elected for the second term. It has focused on the Modi’s politics post 2014 victory but it totally ignored the progress the country has made in the previous years that has made India a power. The President said that his government was ‘committed to that very idea of nation-building, the foundation for which was laid in 2014’, but said nothing of the nation built before these years and how democracy has evolved over the past 70 years taking along all sections of the society with its empowerment programme. The address laying stress on the argument that a new beginning was made only after 2014, ignores the basic principles of equitable distribution of wealth following a socialist pattern for overall development of the country. Referring to the thoughts of social reformer Sree Narayan Guru and Rabindranath Tagore to emphasise brotherhood among all sections and celebration of the human spirit would have been uplifting if only the rest of the speech dwelt on those ideas in some detail and with force. Modi’s newly added objective of winning the trust of all governed, Sabka Vishwas, was not fleshed out meaningfully in the manner it should have been. Sardar Patel, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi found mention, but not Jawaharlal Nehru, the founding Prime Minister whose vision and unfailing commitment to secularism, pluralism and progress set the republic on a sustainable course. It also did not find any mention of the other Prime Ministers, who contributed in a big way in building an India, what the republic is today. The present government is moving a step forward from what has been built and strong foundation laid by the previous Prime Ministers and the latter should find a mention in the address. The commitment and contribution of the freedom fighters, who laid down their lives for an independent India also were by and large ignored though the right wing party owns up every person, who it finds fit to be adopted for whatever rhyme and reason suiting its agenda of whimsical approach. The ‘New India’ that Kovind mentioned is a departure from that founding vision, and there was no ambiguity on that aspect. He struck a chord with the constituency of the government, but not with all. The notion that there is a non-sectarian development agenda that is impervious to identity politics is good to have, and the Modi’s evangelical fervour in driving its schemes is laudable. But triumphalism around many schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission has deflected public attention from the serious tasks ahead and an honest discussion on achievements. Some other schemes started by the previous governments now re-christened have found a mention in the address but does not give credit to those, who initiated them in the first instance. New focus on water conservation and management and the rural economy is not a moment too early. These are critical areas, which require serious attention. The President also spoke of the government’s intent to expand scientific research and higher education. A speech by the President is significant not for the technical details it offers, but for the vision. The cultural nationalist agenda of the ruling dispensation that has made intellectual curiosity and academic integrity dangerous in India is not the route to any of these goals. The restrictions on cattle trade and violence against those employed in it – mostly Muslims and Dalits – have not merely become a protracted communal conflict but are also among the factors that have pushed the rural economy off the rails. Announcing yet another scheme for cattle, as the President did, is not confronting the real, self-inflicted problem across the country. What differentiate one dispensation from another is not the material ambitions but the social purpose and direction of such pursuits. The clarity on that aspect and many others particularly the economic woes in both rural and urban areas in the address may be stimulating for many, but perhaps not good for India.