Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Comparing two Independence Day speeches: gas and solid

by Ratnakar Tripathy

PM Modi at Red Fort on Independence Day
The most remarkable thing about the historic speech of our PM Narendra Modi was that it came in a gaseous state. I tried my best to empathise, sympathise and whatever it takes to collect the solid precipitate but came back empty handed. It occurred to me that in a democracy we elect a leader not so much for his words of encouragement and inspiration as the tasks to be performed. PM Modi started by claiming that if he begins to list the achievements of his government it will take weeks. But nevertheless he spent all of ninety minutes dwelling on the so-called achievements with data gushing from the dais in a torrent. Let us sample some of the highlights - the PM claimed that under his regime the hospitals in the country have begun to serve the citizens through online facilities, a claim easy to check on for its utter hollowness. Next, the Indian Railways has been able to deliver 15,000 tickets to the passenger which is not a big deal anymore. Next, online refund of taxes and the general simplification of taxes. Next, 2 crore applications for passport have been dealt with. In brief the government is able to deliver the whole shebang and no less, on the basis of values like accountability, transparency and efficiently. There is more - starting new business has now become easy with registration time reduced to in 2-3 hours from the usual 6 months. It seems in July 2016 900 businesses got started, in case you care for this kind of fuzzy data. For 9000 posts in the central government arena, no interviews will be held saving precious governance time. Earlier only 70 kms of roads could get built per day, but now we are doing now 100 kms. He even spoke of controlling inflation and price rise as if people forget how much they paid for a kilo of toor dal yesterday!

Our PM also delivered a longish sermon on LED bulbs assuring us that the price of a bulb has been reduced from Rs 350 to 50 and tried to depict the shift to LEDs almost as an epochal transition in human history. But his spin staff had misinformed him about the village of Nagla Fatela near Hathras, UP where he claimed people were watching him deliver his Independence Day speech even as he spoke, thanks to the electrification drive by the central government – the very next day the villagers claimed that the picture in question circulated for the occasion was not theirs and electricity is yet to arrive in the village. Such is the power of propaganda as imagined by a government that works overtime to ensure the delivery of its doctored messages! But the fact is with so many channels of information available to us now lies have lost much of their earlier lifespan. So we had 90 minutes of high excitement and verbal excess when 45 may have done a better job. Not just the social media but the hard news channels reported sights of snoozing Politicians like  Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Ananth Kumar, as well as Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, which is a verdict on the quality of the historic speech.  

In contrast the Delhi CM Kejriwal had far less to say – he started by blaming the Centre for constantly impeding him and compared the Lt Governor of Delhi to the viceroy from the British times with a reference to the supposedly democratic reforms of 1935. He then reeled off data on the new hospitals and schools in Delhi with figures that are easy to confirm or contest. He then announced salary hikes of fifty per cent for the workers employed by the Delhi government and that’s it! Twenty seven minutes in all! Even if the Delhi citizenry fully aware of every move of his may have found the account boring or repetitive, it cannot be said to be unbearably long.  And none of it was white lie – Kejriwal has a habit of making surprise visits to sites to double-check. Modi may instead choose to double click and be content with tweets when action is required on the ground. Absolute faith in the power of propaganda is now dated and was made sense only in the pre-internet era when you could tell lies about a village or a city lane just a stone’s throw away. The difference between the two leaders is not simply that one acts and another only boasts but also that the former engineer from IIT, Kanpur known how helpless a leader is in the face of the internet. The age of dissembling in brief maybe fast coming to an end in the age of social media and Wikileaks!


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