In his last Independence Day speech before the general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded voters of just how far India had come from the days of ‘policy paralysis’ under the UPA, from a time when the economy was considered one of the world’s Fragile Five, to now, when the International Monetary Fund says India is like an elephant that has started to run.
While celebrating the growth in the economy to what he said was “a multi-trillion dollar investment destination”, Modi contrasted the NDA’s achievements with those of the UPA. If toilets were to continue to be constructed at the pace they were in 2013, he said, it would take decades for all Indians to have access to a toilet, one decade more for full electrification and maybe 100 years more to give women in rural areas LPG cylinders to replace firewood.
And with the government unable to tie up all the loose ends in time, Modi said the `5-lakh free medical insurance for 10 crore families — under the Ayushman Bharat scheme — would be launched on the birth anniversary of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, September 25.
Once sceptical of reports by foreign institutes, Modi also referred to another study by an international agency that said 5 crore people had been lifted out of poverty in India over the last two years. Apart from juxtaposing this 5 crore number against the 10 crore would-be beneficiaries under Ayushman Bharat, Modi also spoke of how his government’s use of Aadhaar had helped weed out 6 crore fake names that used to get government subsidies.
He also quoted a World Health Organisation study as saying the government’s Swachh Bharat programme had resulted in avoiding the deaths of 3 lakh children due to diseases arising from poor sanitation facilities.
The prime minister spoke of how, while the UPA kept mulling policies, it was his government that actually managed to realise them. This applied as much, he said, to fixing minimum support prices at 1.5 times the cost to farmers as it did to the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) or one-rank-one-pension for the armed forces.
And while Modi didn’t defend demonetisation in the manner he did earlier, he talked of how his government’s policies had resulted in a sea change in India’s tax compliance. While the number of direct taxpayers had risen from 3-4 crore in 2013 to 6.75 crore today, the number of indirect taxpayers had risen from around 70 lakh — “in 70 years of independence” — to around 116 lakh after GST was announced. This has resulted in India’s tax-to-GDP rising from 10.1% in FY14 to a likely 12.2% in FY19.
Modi spoke of how, despite Parliament not passing the triple talaq Bill, he was determined to help alleviate the suffering of Muslim women on this account. He spoke of how India needed to take pride in the fact that there were three women Supreme Court judges and two of his senior-most Cabinet members were also women.