Reflections from the Ramparts

Domestic policies took precedence over new initiatives in Narendra Modi’s 3rd annual Independence Day speech. On August 15th, 2016, “from the ramparts of the Red Fort” Mr. Modi celebrated India’s 70th Independence Day, and the progress it has made thus far. He spent his hour-long speech outlining his administration’s performance in healthcare, education, fiscal policies, and energy.  

Under healthcare, a major initiative that Mr. Modi announced was a program where one lakh INR is to be set-aside for families living in poverty that cannot afford healthcare. He also mentioned a reduction in wait time at hospitals that was brought about by introducing technology to the healthcare sector. Increasing efficiency and transparency through technology was a major theme that Mr. Modi touched upon. He cited a wide range of examples from the increase in number of railway tickets issued per minute, to the ease with which tax refunds can be collected, and passport applications can be submitted. One of the Modi administration’s major domestic goals is to not only increase bureaucratic efficiency, but also make similar changes across all sectors. This theme of efficiency has been a major propeller in his economic policies as well.

A week before his speech, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill was passed. “The GST regime is to become a powerful tool to strengthen the economy”, claimed Mr. Modi. The passing of this bill is a major accomplishment for the NDA government and is a step towards achieving some of Mr. Modi’s economic goals. He went on to discuss that ease of doing business has significantly improved as technical issues such as registration of a company have been worked on to increase overall efficiency. He claimed that registration time has decreased from 6 months to 24 hours – a change which apparently has been brought about by “good governance” over the “same employees”.

In addition to improving ease of doing business, Modi also claimed to have made great strides in the Energy sector. Under renewable energy sources, wind and solar energy in particular have been worked on by his administration. Energy security has been a key area in the foreign economic policy of the Modi administration. In his August 15th speech, Mr. Modi spoke about India and Qatar’s gas agreement. He also mentioned the Chabahar Port project, which India and Iran are currently collaborating on.

This year was the first time that an Indian prime minister referenced Balochistan (along with Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in an Independence Day speech. The August 15th speech as well as his August 12th speech at the All Party Kashmir Meet blamed Pakistan for “reward[ing] terrorism”. However, simply blaming external actors for the unrest in Kashmir will not resolve the deep-rooted issues that plague the region.  

26 months after taking over as India’s PM, the Independence Day speech referenced a number of issues that are critical to India’s economic growth, development and future security, however much progress is left to be made.