Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the country’s 74th Independence Day came with the credibility of six previous speeches in which all promises made by him have been kept. For example, in 2014, PM Modi promised a bank account for every Indian. Then, from 58% Indians in 2014, almost 400 million new accounts have opened now.
A billion plus scale financial inclusion has since been used along with Aadhaar (biometric countrywide data base) to affect the largest and most successful Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) policy in the world.
Now, during the recent coronavirus induced lockdown, while many developed countries struggled to give out some cash in the hands of the poor, India did it instantly within days of the lockdown utilizing the DBT regime.
In the 2015 speech, Modi made the promise of electrifying every village in India. That was done ahead of schedule and then every household was electrified too. In 2016, he set the new target to make every home in India smoke-free and to make available health insurance to every poor in India.
Since then, more than 80 million new households have been connected through LPG cylinders and the world’s largest health insurance scheme covering 500 million Indians has been launched.
It is the background of this credibility, that PM Modi made many game-changing promises in 2020’s speech. Few of these stand out. Like the promise to connect every village of India by high speed broadband fibre.
India already has more than 500 million mobile internet users and the next generation broadband connectivity is going to open massive opportunities for the next wave of digital market players in the largest democratic market in the world.
Then is the launch of national infrastructure mission with more than 7,000 projects already identified and an investment commitment of almost $1.5 trillion in the next four to five years. This will provide immense opportunities for both domestic as well as foreign infrastructure players, especially from friendly countries.
Finally, the unshackling of India’s agriculture sector and allowing of private enterprise to bloom without restrictions may turn out to be the most significant agricultural disruption in the world in the coming years.
Modi’s pivot on foreign policy was both refreshingly new as well as paradigm defining. He redefined the concept of neighbors to not just mean geographical neighbors but also included in the ambit the philosophy of extended neighborhood.
The new era of friendship that India and countries of West Asia, including UAE, have seen in recent years is only a precursor to the immense opportunities that exist in areas such as trade, cultural ties, investment opportunities and tourism that will now be even more open with this new paradigm.
The mention to LAC (line of actual control) in Modi’s speech was a direct reference to China, a first from the Red Fort. The import of the unambiguous assertion against expansionist forces would be unmistakably heard in all national capitals in the region.
Next is the expansive pitch for ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India). As Modi said, self-reliant India does not mean a closed India, but one which is more competitive, more open, where ease of doing business is even easier and where innovation will be at a premium.
As India demonstrated during the COVID crisis, when it became a country with zero production capacity in PPEs to an exporter to many regions within a matter of just weeks, a self-reliant India is not just a force of good for itself but for the entire region in Asia.
A few other events also took place which made 2020’s Independence Day a truly historic one. On 1 August, India celebrated the first anniversary of delivering gender justice of millions of Muslim women by banning instant ‘triple talaq’.
August 5 marked the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 and fully integrating Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Union, with all the rights and privileges flowing from Indian Constitution to all the people of the region.
As Modi mentioned in his speech there, the vexed issue was resolved peacefully through a fair judicial process and the entire country collectively came together to accept the word of the Indian Supreme Court as final.
In the first fifteen days of August 2020, India demonstrated that it now had the wherewithal to settle complex issues that had long defied a solution and also had the vision to chart out a bold new path of economic development that would bring prosperity to not just Indians but by implication to the entire region. In a sense, these few weeks represent the coming out of a New India, one which is ready to lead the economic revival in the post COVID world.