Don’t look down on wealth creators, says PM Modi in Independence Day speech

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Published: August 16, 2019 12:22:15 AM

Holds meet with FM on slowdown amid buzz on tax relief, says India to have chief of defence staff, pushes for population control

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort in New Delhi on Thursday (Express Photo: Neeraj Priyadarshi)Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort in New Delhi on Thursday (Express Photo: Neeraj Priyadarshi)

Prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday cautioned against undue vilification of “wealth creators” and stressed their indispensability in nation-building and welfare of the poor, as he sought to revive India Inc’s animal spirit to reverse an economic slowdown.

Delivering his first Independence Day speech since returning to power, Modi said: “We should not view wealth creators with suspicion, nor should we look down upon them. If there is no wealth creation, there won’t be wealth distribution… For me, those who create wealth are also the wealth of this nation.”

Later in the day, Modi huddled with finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and top bureaucrats of the Prime Minister’s Office and the finance ministry, as the government scrambled for solutions to fix economic woes amid buzz that some kind of a tax relief or a partial breather from the super-rich surcharge that has spooked the foreign portfolio investors may be in the offing. However, given that the government is stretched for finances, the scope for fiscal stimulus is only limited. Nevertheless, some sector-specific relief measures are expected soon. Thursday’s meeting was also about gauging the magnitude of the slowdown and its long-term impact, said a source.

The PM’s statement on wealth creators seems like an attempt to reassure corporate India at a time when several complaints of overreach by taxmen have roiled India Inc. The government has also shied away from some key reforms, such as the privatisation of stressed state-run banks, purportedly for fears of the Opposition’s ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ jibe.

Economic growth already plunged to a five-year low of 5.8% in the March quarter, and private consumption, many analysts believe, has only worsened after that.

The auto sector, for instance, is facing arguably its worst crisis in around two decades. Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das earlier this month said the slowdown was more cyclical than structural.

Announcing a key military reform, Modi said India will now have a chief of the defence staff who will ensure synergy among the three services and offer effective leadership to them. He said a massive Rs 100 lakh crore will be spent on infrastructure, which will help achieve the target of almost doubling the size of the economy to $5 trillion in the next five years.

In his nearly 95-minute speech from the Red Fort, the PM also pitched the abrogation of Article 370 as a move towards ‘one nation, one Constitution’, arguing that a new approach was required as the provisions granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir failed to deliver in 70 years and that all possible efforts would be made to develop the region. “If it (Article 370) was so essential and life-changing, if you had the conviction, then for 70 years, why did it remain temporary, why did you not use your large mandates to make it permanent?”

Modi questioned the critics of the government’s move. “One nation, one Constitution has become a reality and our nation is proud of it,” he said.

He promised to provide piped drinking water to every household and unveiled the ‘Jal Jivan’ mission under which his government will spend Rs 3.5 lakh crore to make this announcement a reality. He also addressed a slew of other issues, including tackling cross-border terrorism, corruption, poverty, ensuring ease of living, banning single-use plastic, curbing use of fertilisers and water conservation.

The Prime Minister said the BJP government had worked for the fulfillment of the common man’s needs and aspirations. “But time changes. If the 2014-19 period was about fulfilling people’s needs, the time after 2019 (polls) is about meeting their aspirations and dreams. We have prepared a blueprint keeping in mind how India should be in the 21st century… and are taking steps towards it.”

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