The situation in Kashmir remains far from normal amid a security clampdown and communication restrictions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will deliver on Thursday his sixth straight Independence Day speech and is expected to touch on a host of issues, ranging from his government’s landmark decision on Jammu and Kashmir to the state of economy, in what will be also be his first address after coming back to power with a huge mandate. Modi has used August 15 addresses to announce his government’s showpiece programmes like ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Ayushman Bharat’ and India’s first manned space mission, and to present a report card on its performance to highlight how the country has grown on his watch. The BJP’s remarkable win in the recent general election followed by its success in getting Parliament’s nod to its contentious but core agenda of revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370, has already set the tempo of his speech, party leaders believe.
In his address to the nation last week, he had assured people of the Valley development and peace, as he sought to assuage concerns following his government’s decision to scrap the state’s special status and dividing it into two Union Territories. The situation in Kashmir remains far from normal amid a security clampdown and communication restrictions. This will be Modi’s sixth August 15 speech, a number equal to the addresses from the ramparts of the Red Fort by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first and only other prime minister from the BJP.
Vajpayee had given six straight speeches between 1998-2003. With a dispirited opposition unable to pose any serious challenge to the BJP’s hegemony and Modi’s return to power with a majority even bigger than his landslide win in 2014, many believe he may use the occasion to announce reforms or make concessions to different sections of the society.
There is also a view that Modi may seek to address concerns over the economic slowdown. He has often invoked India’s rich cultural and spiritual traditions to rally people’s support for some of his pet projects — from cleanliness to ending female foeticide, but this time it may be the turn of water conservation, an issue he has prioritised in his second term. Some BJP leaders noted that an element of surprise has often marked the prime minister’s addresses and this Independence Day speech may not be different.