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His 'Tryst with Destiny' moment

On August 15, 2013, Narendra Modi made a speech at Lalan College in Bhuj, drawing derision from his opponents, especially the Congress party. The speech followed the prime minister’s address to the nation from the Red Fort and was covered extensively by the media. Modi termed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech as lacklustre. No one could find fault with that. Not even Sonia Gandhi will say that the former prime minister was a stirring orator. Not one of Dr Singh’s ten consecutive speeches from the Red Fort was inspiring.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pretty much bears the entire burden of expectations on his shoulders alone. He derives his power from the people who voted for him. But, when he speaks from the Red Fort, four days from today, this man of humble origins will be speaking to 1.2 billion Indians. Pic/PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pretty much bears the entire burden of expectations on his shoulders alone. He derives his power from the people who voted for him. But, when he speaks from the Red Fort, four days from today, this man of humble origins will be speaking to 1.2 billion Indians. Pic/PTI

Much hard work goes into collating data for a prime minister’s Independence Day speech. Hundreds of government officials work long hours in different ministries, listing achievements, suggesting goals and programmes that the prime minister can put forth in his speech. The prime minister’s team then works out parameters for the speech. It is a tradition that has come down from the first speech made by Jawaharlal Nehru after unfurling the national flag at the Red Fort on August 16, 1947. It is scarcely known that Nehru unfurled the flag on August 15, 1947, at Princes Park near India Gate, not at the Red Fort. On August 16, Nehru unfurled the flag at Red Fort and he was to do it 17 times in his lifetime. However, it was on August 14, just before midnight, that Nehru made the famous “tryst with destiny” speech to the Constituent Assembly, which rated as one of the finest speeches made at the birth of a nation.

When Narendra Modi makes his speech four days from today, he will speak to the nation from the historic Red Fort, laying out his vision for the future. He challenged the Congress leadership just a year ago, and has provided strong leadership to a party that defeated the oldest political party in the country.

Modi’s Red Fort speech will be grandiose, despite the fact he has erred on the side of caution in his almost 100 days in office. There have hardly been any big bang schemes to bring out instant ‘achche din’ like cup-o-noodles. Many economists have frowned on his budgets — no big bang reforms, they say. The bureaucracy is recalibrating, unaccustomed to being responsive, on call all the time, and accountable to the prime minister himself. The media is smarting at doors shut, no leaks, no two-way communication, disappointed that the hyper-communicative PM candidate has become the silent workhorse who will not speak, blog or tweet on their demand.

Eyes and ears are thus open to what the PM will say on August 15. He will lay out the road map for the year, how he plans to, and has started creating, jobs, curb price rise, work on roads, rail and ports, and to grease the wheels of the Indian economy. There will be rhetoric, a lot of it. There will be drama, alliteration and allegory. Mr Modi is a master at public speaking. But, there will be many looking out for substance, too. He must be aware that even his most ardent supporters are impatient. The massive mandate is also a huge responsibility. The tech-savvy Internet generation is mercurial. An example is the way supporters swung away from AAP, which was touted as the ‘next big thing’. All it took was a series of wrong moves by the party leadership in a few months and their support base crumbled. It is very difficult to win back the confidence of people who feel let down, even cheated.

Mr Modi pretty much bears the entire burden of expectations on his shoulders alone. He derives his power from the people who voted for him. But, when he speaks from the Red Fort, this man of humble origins will be speaking to 1.2 billion Indians.

The mantra of skill, speed and scale is what he refers to often, while speaking of India of the future. Not too distant future. He is focussed on deliverables and execution of projects, not mere ideation. The speech will go beyond the alloted 20 minutes, as almost all prime ministers have exceeded that limit. There won’t be abstruse macro-economics jargon in the speech, it will be about getting things done. The Ganga Clean-Up plan, skill development and job creation programmes, trade pacts with neighbouring countries, agriculture-based targets, pro-poor schemes, food and healthcare, and growth.

He will mix humility and ambition in his speech… a man genuinely happy to be the prime minister. There will be no awkwardness here like his predecessor, who always seemed uncomfortable at the spotlight. Mr Modi loves it. He basks in it. It is going to be a speech to watch and hear.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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