As India turns 73, Modi delivers his sixth straight Independence Day speech

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address tonight has had people speculating and awaiting his response to the coronavirus crisis. File photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to deliver his sixth straight Independence Day speech on Thursday (August 15) 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 the economy.

This will also be his first August 15 address after coming back to power with a huge mandate. Modi has used the annual event to announce his government’s showpiece programmes like Swachh Bharat, Ayushman Bharat, and India’s first manned space mission, and also 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 the 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.

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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 states special status and splitting it into two Union territories. On the Independence Day eve, Jammu and Kashmir Additional Director General Munir Khan said the situation in the state is under control.

“Restrictions imposed in Jammu have been completely removed, while they will continue in some places of Kashmir for some time,” he said. 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 for 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 peoples 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 prioritized in his second term. Some BJP leaders noted that an element of surprise has often marked the prime minister’s addresses and his speech at the 72nd anniversary of India’s Independence may not be different.

Different themes have stood out in Modi’s speeches on the occasion. In 2014, he gave a call for Swachh Bharat and appealed for shunning communalism and casteism to focus on development. He made a strong pro-poor and pro-farmer and pro-youth pitch the next year.

In 2016, he created waves by mentioning Balochistan, a Pakistani region where Baloch nationalists have been fighting the government forces. He gave a call for embracing people of Kashmir in 2017. The defence ministry said on Wednesday that 3,500 girl students from 41 government schools in Delhi, 5,000 boy spectators and 700 NCC cadets of 17 schools will display strength in unity by the formation of words “Naya Bharat” at the venue of Modi’s speech.

The guard of honour contingent for the Prime Minister will consist of one officer and 24 men each from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Delhi Police. It will be positioned directly in front of the National Flag across the moat below the ramparts, it added. After inspecting the guard of honour, Modi will proceed to the ramparts of the Red Fort where Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, his deputy Shripad Naik, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh will greet him. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) Delhi area will conduct the prime minister to the dais to unfurl the national flag, the ministry said.

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