Monday, October 26, 2020

Prime Minister Modi’s 15th August speeches: Setting the agenda for the year ahead, putting a premium on credibility

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Prime Minister Modi's 15th August speeches: Setting the agenda for the year ahead, putting a premium on credibility

— Consider reading the article Prime Minister Modi’s 15th August speeches: Setting the agenda for the year ahead, putting a premium on credibility on OpIndia website —

This year, on August 15th, Prime Minister Modi will be speaking to all of us from the ramparts of the Red Fort for the seventh consecutive year. India would have completed 73 years of independence and the Prime Minister’s speech would be heard with anticipation and excitement. Over the last seven Independence Day addresses, the Prime Minister has leveraged his skilful oratory, transformational thinking, large scale vision and his own life experiences to announce large social benefit programs and deliver critical social messages. Right from the first speech in 2014, the Prime Minister has only strengthened his credentials as a visionary, statesman and as someone who strives ahead of the partisan and the momentary.

The Prime Minister’s speeches have followed an inspirational template: set the agenda for implementing a big idea that was earlier perceived as impossible, suggest crucial reforms and present a report card of the achievements over the past year to the people. From initiating monumental reforms in the socio-economic space to undertaking bold actions for the defence and security of the country, the PM clearly sends out a message from the ramparts of the Red Fort that he is a fearless and bold reformer.

The oft-asked question is how the Prime Minister is able to do this. To answer this, two successful implementations are worth discussing. When the BJP took over the reins of government in 2014, there were approximately 24.3 crore savings bank accounts in India. When the Prime Minister announced the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), to improve financial inclusion, he was mocked at by those who did not understand the importance of financial inclusion and access to banking instruments such as credit for the poor and underprivileged.

Today, in just a span of six years, more than 40 crore new beneficiary bank accounts have been opened with deposits in excess of INR 1.30 lakh crore. Similarly, when the government came to power in 2014, the sanitation coverage in India stood at a paltry 38%. But it was only in 2014 with the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, that it has proved to be an effective instrument in addressing the issue of open defecation. As of October 2019, all the states and UTs have been declared defecation free, with 100% sanitation coverage.

Both these initiatives on Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Swacch Bharat were first announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort during the Prime Minister’s 2014 Independence Day speech. The Prime Minister has been able to achieve financial inclusion and total sanitation while other governments in the past have struggled.

For any government program to succeed – there are two critical factors that are required 1) Enthusiasm from the bureaucracy to implement the program and 2) Enthusiasm from beneficiaries to avail of the government program or scheme. So how is it that when these are the same, i.e. bureaucracy and beneficiaries, that the Prime Minister was able to succeed where others struggled.   

In my view, this boils down to the credibility of the leader. The Prime Minister’s credibility has made it possible for the bureaucracy to work unhindered towards a common goal while the common citizen’s trust in the Prime Minister has ensured that there is a significant pull from them to avail of these benefits. 

One way to clearly appreciate the Prime Minister’s achievements is to contrast PM Modi’s speeches with his predecessor. In a 2005 Independence Day speech, there was a commitment to start a national campaign for cleanliness – so that our cities, towns, villages, roads, streets and homes are neat and clean. The speech went on to quote Gandhiji and recognized the need to stop the pollution of our rivers and atmosphere. Exactly, a year later, in 2006, the Independence Day speech promised sanitation and drinking water.

The total sanitation campaign of the predecessor government was termed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). If the intentions were the same then why is it that Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) as envisioned by PM Modi succeed, while the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) failed? A big clue is provided in the CAG reports where government programs are audited. ACAG report that covered the progress of the NBA from 2009 to 2014, noted critical issues relating to the planning of Nirmal Bharat. 

An analysis of the Rs 10,000 crore allocated for the scheme revealed large-scale diversion, wastages, irregularities and violation of the scheme guidelines by engaging contractors and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). The report also noted that more than 30% of individual household latrines were non-functional for reasons like poor quality of construction, incomplete structure, non-maintenance etc. 

Such widespread misuse and diversion of funds demoralise both the bureaucracy and the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries who are entitled for such a program lose interest as they no longer feel the system is fair to them. Once they feel that genuine beneficiaries are no longer able to avail benefits their enthusiasm towards the program wanes.

Word of mouth and informal conversations further deepen distrust amongst the cohorts. Similarly, the bureaucracy will dither in implementing programs with adverse comments from the CAG as they will not want to be punished for the rent-seeking actions and corrupt practices of others.  

The successful delivery of a program starts at the top and the Prime Minister is able to provide dynamic leadership and credibility at the apex. He is further able to channelise enthusiasm in the bureaucracy while winning the trust of the common citizen for whom the programs are designed.

The Prime Minister has been able to stitch this wonderful coalition and the successes and clear outcomes of his Independence Day speeches bear testimony to that. As a result, the Narendra Modi government is undeniably pro-poor in contrast with the previous regime that only wanted to be seen as pro-poor.

(Shri G Kishan Reddy is the Minister of State for Home Affairs, and is a Member of Parliament from Secunderabad constituency)

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