Sambad English
Sambad English Bureau
Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra

On August 15, 2023, after hoisting the National Flag on the occasion of the 77th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his 10th consecutive Independence Day speech from the rampart of the historic Red Fort in the national capital. This is his last Independence Day address before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Prime Minister’s address lasted for about 90 minutes (1 hour and 30 minutes).

Prime Minister Modi gave his longest speech in 2016 when he spoke for approximately 94 minutes. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru delivered a 72-minute speech from the Red Fort in 1947, which was the longest-ever speech from the Red Fort until 2015. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who delivered 10 speeches during his tenure, kept his Independence Day speeches to 50 minutes.

Prime Minister Modi touched upon a variety of topics, including the situation in Manipur, the G20 Presidency, women’s safety, the economy, corruption, and dynastic politics among others. He said that the trinity of demography, democracy, and diversity has the power to realize the dreams of the nation.

But his statements are neither evidence-based nor fact-based, but just a reflection of his rhetorical dexterity and adroitness. His pompous claims of performance cannot be corroborated with facts and figures but rather camouflages the ground reality. The grim reality is something different.

He decried corruption/ nepotism, dynastic politics, and appeasement as three sins and called for getting rid of them. But the question is: if he is against dynastic politics why he did not stop the same in his own party? Dynastic politics is not confined to Gandhi’s family only, it is applicable to many families in India and to his own party members too.

Corruption and nepotism have grown more during his regime but in different forms as revealed by the Corruption Perception Index. India is ranked 85th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), 2021.  India had the same rank in 2014.  Last year India’s ranking was 86. However, in the 2020 Index, India’s position has declined by six slots from 180 to 186. There are concerns over India’s democratic status, as fundamental freedoms and institutional checks and balances decay, says Transparency International. The further electoral bond issued is helping the ruling party to get funds in an opaque manner. Even a major portion of political donations go to the BJP party.

Banks have written off bad loans worth ₹ 14.56 lakh crore in the last nine financial years starting 2014-15, Parliament was informed on August 7, 2023. Out of the total ₹ 14,56,226 crore, written-off loans of large industries and services stood at ₹ 7,40,968 crore. Out of that written-off amount, only 13 to 15 percent are recovered. Then who are the beneficiaries? Is it not a humongous scam by another name? Can anyone get off scot-free without the support of the ruling class?

Prime Minister compared his performance with the previous UPA government in nominal terms. But nothing is compared in absolute or nominal terms. Inflation is to be taken into account. Every expenditure should be compared as a percentage of GDP. Our budget size is declining as a percentage of GDP even less than half of many developed countries. But PM Modi did not tell how the debt has grown and now seems to be unsustainable. The central government’s debt over the most recent nine years has risen 174 percent, while there has been a 100 percent increase in external debt during a similar period, i.e., between 2013-14 and 2022-23. External debt is a part of the government’s total debt.

Central government’s debt was ₹ 58.6 lakh crore (52.2 percent of Gross domestic product) as of March 31, 2014, which went up by 174 percent to ₹ 155.6 lakh crore (57.1 percent of Gross domestic product) as of March 31, 2023, according to the Finance Ministry. More importantly, the government’s external debt, which was₹ 374,484 crores in 2013-14, will increase by 100 percent to₹ 7,48,895 crores in 2022-23. The external debt of the state is mainly financed by various institutions and their affiliates. It is the poor who bear the burden of debt as interest payments reduce the expenditure of welfare schemes.

India’s public health expenditure is one of the lowest in the world as a percentage of GDP. Education has become unaffordable for larger sections of society due to privatization. India’s tax -GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the world with the burden of taxation falling on the poor. In its report published on January 15, 2023, Oxfam India claimed that indirect taxes are being taken disproportionately from the poor and the middle class as compared to the rich.

“Approximately 64 percent of the total ₹ 14.83 lakh crore in Goods and Services Tax (GST), came from the bottom 50 percent of the population in 2021-22. As per estimates, 33 percent of GST comes from the middle 40 percent and only 3 percent from the top 10 percent,”. Further poor are made to pay more and bear the brunt of petroleum price hikes as the government is collecting exorbitant excise taxes from petroleum products.

The PM said that our inflation is low compared to other countries. But today’s newspapers (August 15) say that retail inflation/ consumer inflation soared to 15 months high of 7.44 percent in July from June. Food inflation that cripples the poor has hit double digits. India’s inflation outpaced major economies and rose faster than many large economies as well as key emerging marketing peers.

The average Indian’s cost of living rose 7.44 percent in July compared to 6.5 percent in Germany, 3.2 percent in the US, and 5 percent in France, 3.30 percent in Japan, -0.30 percent in China. It is also higher than many key emerging markets. This includes Brazil (3.99 percent) and Russia (4.3 percent), South Africa (5.40 percent).

The inflation rate may decline but not prices. Prices of essential commodities and vegetables have increased around two to three times in a few years.  Education inflation is twice the consumer inflation. Lifestyle inflation is much higher. Rupee has depreciated by a big margin and reached a record low of Rs 83 per dollar making the imports too costlier. The concept of self-reliance is a misnomer as each Indian house is flooded with Chinese products. For defence equipment, we are depending upon foreign countries.

The Prime Mister trumpeted India’s growth story and said that in 2014, when his government first came to power, India was ranked the 10th best economy in the world and today it is 5th. There is a publicity blitzkrieg that India is the fastest-growing economy in the world.  First, growth does not reflect improvement in the standard of living of the people. Our growth is neither inclusive nor equitable. India was the third-largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity since 2011 too. When 140 crore people will consume, economic activities will rise. So, there is nothing to celebrate if India becomes the third-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP in the future. In the 1980s, China’s economy was the same as that of India. But now China’s economy is more than five times.

While trumpeting supercilious growth, the Prime Minister should not forget that India ranks very low in per capita income. The brutal fact is that India ranks 139th in the world in terms of per capita income, which means it is below 138 countries even Bangladesh. Similarly, in terms of per capita income (purchasing power parity), India ranks 127th in the world, which means it is below 126 countries.

The Prime Minister said that the world is watching us because of our commitment. But the reality is different as India is home to the largest number of hungry, poor, and homeless people in the world. Around 97 crore people are deprived of healthy food. Crores of people do not know when and where their next meal will come.

India’s reputation is affected in foreign countries as it ranks abysmally in various international indexes. India ranks human development index 2021-22 (132nd out of 191 countries), World Happiness Index 2023 (126th out of 149 countries), World Hunger Index 2022 (107th out of 116 countries)), World Peace Index 2022 (136th out of 163 countries), and Sustainable Development Index 2022 (120 out of 163 countries), Human Freedom Index (119 out of 165 countries). This indicates that growth does not reflect improvement in the standard of living of the people.

Forget India becoming a developed nation, India is yet to become an upper middle-income country.  India continues to be a lower-middle-income country along with 46 others, while Sri Lanka has climbed to the upper-middle-income group for the fiscal year 2020, according to the World Bank’s classification of countries by income levels. The poverty line for lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) has moved to US$3.65 from US$3.20, while the poverty line for upper-middle-income countries (UMICs) has moved to US$6.85 from US$5.50. It means if India uses the poverty line of upper-middle-income countries, the poverty ratio will be tripled.

Under the banner of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, last year’s Independence Day was observed. Today, PM Modi also said that the decisions and actions taken during the “Amrit Kaal” — the period until 2047, the centenary of India’s Independence — will impact the millennium to come.  He also talked of women-led development. Last year, he had said “Nari tu Narayani”.  But India is placed abysmally in the Global Gender Gap Index and Gender Inequality Index with female labour participation being one of the lowest in the world. India ranks 135 out of 146 countries in its Global Gender Gap (GGG) Index for 2022. India ranks 95th out of 129 countries in a new gender equality index that measures global gender equality looking at aspects such as poverty, health, education, literacy, political representation, and equality in the workplace.

The disconcerting news is that over a 15 percent rise in crime against women in 2021 portends how women are treated in society. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2021, cases of crime against women rose to 4,28,278 in 2021 showing an increase of 56,775 cases or 15.3 percent from 3,71,503 cases in 2020.”. A total of 31,677 rape cases were registered in 2021 or around 87 rape cases every day on average – as compared to 28,046 cases in 2020, a 19.34 percent increase in rape cases last year when compared to 2020. Majority of cases under crime against women under IPC were registered under “cruelty by husband or his relatives” (31.8 percent)

It is true that there is no easy method to solve all problems. But can any ruling class talk of “Amrit kaal “when crime and suicide, are growing and society is torn asunder with the institution of marriage crumbling? The NCRB- 2021 notes that the burden of deaths by suicide has increased in India — by 7.2 percent from 2020 — with a total of 1,64,033 people dying by suicide in 2021. The report follows a 2021 Lancet study that noted “India reports the highest number of suicide deaths in the world.

Prime Minister Modi urged the people of Manipur to build on the peace restored there and said that the situation in Manipur is improving. He said, “India stands with the people of Manipur”. But how, in the time of Amrit Kaal, such types of criminal activities are happening? Each time, for any crisis, Prime Minister says things will be solved. But the responsibility of his government is to prevent such happening. Nobody has seen tomorrow. In the long run, everybody is dead. Those who are killed will not get back their lives nor who are raped will get back their dignity. Further cooperative federalism has become now coercive federalism as the Centre is “not allowing” democratically-elected state governments to work as seen in Delhi.  Centre is denying states much-needed resources as it is generating huge taxes through cess and surcharges in which states have no shares.

Prime Minster highlighted the nation’s unique distinction as the world’s largest democracy and cited that we are lucky to have demography, democracy, and diversity. In the past, he has described Indian democracy as a moth of democracy. But now all pillars of democracy are weakened.  The pro-ruling class people are entrusted with the responsibility of various important institutions.

Enforcement Directorate, CBI, and some other investigating agencies are used against opposition and curb dissent. Society is polarised and problems of religious fanaticism, linguistic antagonism, and communal skirmishes are looming large and threaten the unit integrity of the nation especially our cultural diversity and syncretic culture.

Democracy is sliding in India as India is dubbed an electoral autocracy. India ranks 108th in the Electoral Democracy Index of the V-dem Democracy Report 2023. The country ranks way below countries such as Tanzania, Bolivia, Mexico, Singapore, and Nigeria. India has also been named in the top 10 autocratising countries in the last 10 years in the report released in March 2023. India is also ranked 46th on the 2021 Global Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit ( EIU)  and has been classified as a flawed democracy.

India is ranked abysmally 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). India’s position declining in the last few years. It was ranked 140 in 2014. It means India’s position has declined by 21 slots since 2014.

Politicians are only worried to retain power or snatch power by hook or by crooks with problems of people being relegated. Politics has become only rich people’s game. Democracy has been confined to only the right to suffrage. Money and muscle power play a dominant role in getting a party ticket and winning the election. There is growing hatred and criminalization of politics. Critics are harassed.

According to a report released by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 43 percent of the present Lok Sabha MP have a criminal background, and the candidates with a criminal background have more chances to win the election. Further, the average assets of Lok Sabha MP are around Rs 20 crore while that of Rajya Sabha MP is Rs 55 crore. In the last Lok Sabha election, it is reported that various political parties spent more than Rs 60,000 crore together with BJP having a major chunk of the share.

Prime Minster also said that he has full faith in the power of youths. But many youths are roaming on the street without jobs and working in IT cells of various political parties where they are used to create hatred against others. Yes, all cannot be provided with jobs. But how jobs can decline in both central and state governments. Around 9.79 lakh posts lying vacant in central government departments as on March 1, 2021. Central PSU jobs declined by over 2.7 lakhs in the past decade. Over 2.4 lakh vacancies in A, B, and C posts of Railway.

The theme for Independence Day 2023 is “Nation First, Always First”. Throughout the speech, PM Modi referred to the people of the country as “Parivaarjan (family members)”. In his earlier speeches, the PM had referred to the people of the country as “my beloved brothers and sisters. He also said that reform, performance, and transformation is our motto.

But the question is: reform is for whom. The reform, performance, and transformation have no value if the rich become richer and the poor become relatively poorer. But now rich, powerful corporate behemoths are treated first. The system is rigged to favor them at the cost of the poor.  The corporate tax has been cut, wealth taxes are abolished, real interest rates are kept low, and stock markets are manipulated to help corporate behemoths to amass wealth. Further rich, and powerful kept their black money in tax havens to hide their ill-gotten wealth and evade taxes, savers are made to pay taxes on hard-earned savings and insurance premiums.

The rich getting richer reflects how the government is taking the side of the rich. The 2022 World Inequality Report (WIR), headed by leading economist Thomas Piketty and his protégé, Lucas Chancel, did nothing to improve this reputation. Their research showed that the gap between the rich and the poor in India is at a historical high, with the top 10 percent holding 57 percent of national income – more than the average of 50 percent under British colonial rule (1858-1947). In contrast, the bottom half accrued only 13 percent of national revenue. A February report by Oxfam noted 2021 alone saw 84 percent of households suffer a loss of income while the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 142.

The Prime Minster urged Indians to re-elect him in the next 2024 Lok Sabha election. But he did not tell what promises he had made before the 2014 elections and how much same have been realized. He should tell how much he has kept his promises like bringing back black money, curbing corruption, creating 2 crore jobs each year, reducing petroleum prices, prices and inflation, etc. His government has failed to declare the names found in Pandora and Panama papers.

A catastrophic currency ban in 2016, which wiped out 86 of the cash in circulation, and a hasty roll-out of a sweeping new tax code, known as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), hit businesses hard, reduced growth, and decimated jobs. This was further exacerbated by the devastating impact of corona pandemic when the government failed awfully to save lives and provide medical facilities. What is reprehensible is that in his independence speech,  PM never cited a single problem like poverty, hunger, unemployment, price hike, and inequality, which are plaguing nations.

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