I have watched the flag hoisting at Delhi’s Red Fort by India’s Prime Ministers and listened to their speeches from its ramparts on the Independence Day of every year for the last 65 years, and I have personally attended the function on 12 occasions, including the most memorable and thrilling address by Jawaharlal Nehru after the very first general election.
Based on that experience, I have no hesitation in saying that there has not been a more inane, insipid, inert and soul-less example of words strung together to little purpose than the latest speech by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
It reads like the annual day report of the headmaster of a school, although Baba Ramdev has been charitable enough to give it a slightly higher status saying that it reminded him of “the Planning Commission’s report”.
Even Deve Gowda’s speech in 1996 drew praise from V. P. Singh and was said to have “conquered several hearts”.
The people look upon their Prime Minister as one who is sensitive enough to understand their aspirations and concerns.
The ones weighing the most heavily on the people’s minds this year are the disturbed conditions in Assam, the retaliatory violence in Mumbai, the mounting tide of corruption and the rising prices.
Imagine how he could have electrified the nation if he came to them straightaway and outlined the Government’s approach in intelligible and empathetic terms.
But all that the Prime Minister had to say was that the incidents were “very unfortunate” and that “our government will make every effort to understand the reasons behind the violence and work hard with the state governments to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in any part of the country.”
Can there be a phraseology more disquieting than the Government making “every effort to understand the reasons behind the violence”?
Haven’t the reasons been there for all to see ever since self-serving politicians began building up and nurturing vote banks of illegal immigrants in the past 50 years or so?
Manmohan Singh has nary a word on the violence unleashed in Mumbai in the aftermath of Assam.
Again, the whole nation is in a state of anger and outrage over the daily torture of corruption to which the aam aadmi is subjected, the surging scandals beclouding the Government’s credibility, with the integrity of several Ministers having been called into question, and the consequent unrest among the people in the form of movements such as those of Anna Haazare and Baba Ramdev.
Hear the PM’s drab words on this: “The Lok Sabha has cleared the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill. We hope that all political parties will help us in passing this Bill in the Rajya Sabha…. We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption.”
The Wall Street Journal has made a word count and come up with the finding that just five per cent of his speech focused on corruption compared to 26 per cent when he spoke from the Red Fort last year.
Just see how the President Pranab Mukherjee deals with these issues: “Anger against the bitter pandemic of corruption is legitimate, as is the protest against this plague that is eroding the capability and potential of our nation…The people have a right to express their discontent…When authority becomes authoritarian, democracy suffers; but when protest becomes endemic, we are flirting with chaos. Democracy is a shared process. We all win or lose together… Sometimes (Parliament’s) rhythm sounds a bit atonal; but in a democracy there is always judgment day, an election….
“It is particularly painful for me to witness the violence in Assam. Our minorities need solace, understanding and protection from aggression…Concrete attempts have been made to heal the wounds of Assam…We should revisit them, and adapt them to present conditions in the spirit of justice and national interest…”
I think the Prime Minister would do well to borrow the services of the speech writer of the President. Both in his acceptance speech in Parliament after his election as President, and his address to the nation on August 15 this year, Mukherjee excelled himself in soaringly evocative language.
Manmohan Singh would have made a tremendous impact by simply substituting his Red Fort speech by Pranab Mukherjee’s Independence Day address!