Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on the occasion of Independence Day on Friday. (Express photo)
Inclusion. Right from the absence of the mandatory bullet-proof shield which removed an important psychological boundary between the prime minister and the people to the statement about how the government would run on the basis of a consensus, not its majority, Narendra Modis maiden address at the Red Fort was all about inclusion. While there will be many who argue the praise for the Opposition was borne out of necessity, given the embarrassment over the insurance Bill, there was enough in the speech to suggest this wasnt mere tokenism. So, while Modi reiterated his theme about the PM-CM partnership that was vital if India was to move ahead, Rajasthan has shown just how this worksit amended certain vital labour laws while the Centre hasnt and its Bhamashah financial inclusion programme openly talks of all government dole being channelised electronically, once again while the Centre is yet to openly announce this. The Pradhanmantri Jan Dhan Yojana will foster inclusion by opening two bank accounts per unbanked familyjust a little over 40% of Indias villages have even banking correspondent networksbut it will remain on paper unless there is a regular flow of funds into the accounts, and that will happen only when the Rs 3 lakh crore the government spends annually on subsidies starts flowing through these bank accounts since that is what will create an incentive for banks to open and service these accounts. Going by the prime ministers speech, the government has decided to drop, for now, the Rs 5,000 overdraft facility per account which would have exposed banks to huge NPA risksthats a good thing.
If the talk of mobile governancefrom getting cash transfers to birth/death certificates electronically is one form of inclusion, the ultimate inclusion that Modi promised was to give a big fillip to both skilling and getting manufacturing back on track. It is only through more jobs and higher salaries that true inclusion can come about. While the Budget made a beginning in getting electronics manufacturing back on track by correcting the inverted duty structure, Modis ability to deliver on this promise depends on how soon red tape can be removed. Certain beginnings have been madedoubling the number of workers at which the Factories Act become operational, for instance, will halve the number of units who toil under the inspector raj of the Factories Act.
The prime minister did well to address the issue of how the Planning Commission had to be revamped completely to keep in mind a new Indias needs, but it was worrying that he never took some points to their logical conclusion. While talking about how we were abusing scientific progress by using medical advances for female foeticide (a valid point), you would have thought Modi would have addressed the issue of GM crops, in the news since RSS pressure has put it on hold even though it is vital to agricultures progressModis agriculture progress in Gujarat had a strong GM component to it. Similarly, talking about how India can no longer afford to remain isolated in the world is all very well, but how does it explain the WTO stand India has just taken Given Modis oratory skills, and performance yesterday, a regular prime ministerial press conference is a good idea.