After weeks of seeming inactivity, India’s PM begins to outline his government’s ambitions, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Elliott
Narendra Modi has yet to show that his government can make a significant difference to the way that India is run and performs, but on Friday he impressed critics as well as supporters with his first Independence Day speech as prime minister from the ramparts of Delhi’s majestic Red Fort.
Breaking with tradition, he ad-libbed his hour-long speech in Hindi with minimal notes, and was not protected by the bullet-proof screens that have cocooned prime ministers at this event for some 20 years.
That left Modi free to deploy his impressive free-wheeling oratory and speak directly to the thousands of people (including school-children with whom he chatted later) gathered at the Red Fort, and others watching television. This was in stark contrast to the monotonous detached delivery of most previous prime ministers, especially Manmohan Singh, who made the speech 10 times.
Modi’s key policy announcement was the expected closure of the Planning Commission, which has become an outdated top-down hangover from the days of India’s controlled economy. It is to be replaced by a new, less aloof, reform-oriented organization that cooperates with the states.
Other initiatives included providing bank accounts and insurance for the poor plus a campaign for cleanliness and separate school toilets for girls within a year. People “might not appreciate my talking about dirt and toilets from the Red Fort,” said Modi, who went on to condemn the country’s widespread rapes and appeal for parents to rein in their sons.
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