Question your sons to curb rape / Self made in India / Offering hope without hype

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"After all, a person raping is someone’s son."

Against the backdrop of rising cases of rape, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said such incidents make “our heads hang in shame” and asked parents to take responsibility for their son’s actions and put the same restrictions on them as they put on their daughters.

"Today, when we hear about incidents of rape, our heads hang in shame. People give different arguments. Some blame it on psychological problem. Every parent who has a 10 year old girl at home, ask them where are they going, when will they come back and tell them to call back home after reaching their place.

“But have you ever asked as to where is your son going, why are they going and who are your friends. After all the person committing the crime are the sons of someone,” he said in his Independence Day speech.

Every mother and father should keep a tab on their sons and hold them accountable much like the way they put restrictions on girls, he said.

“Let every parent decide to put the same restrictions on their sons as they put on their daughters,” he said.

He said while the law will take its course and be strict on such crime, parents should be equally responsible to check such incidents. The Prime Minister also voiced concern over cases of female foeticide, stressing that they be stopped and warned doctors against becoming a partner in such crimes.

Noting that girls are equal partners in the development of the nation, the Prime Minister said such cases are a reflection of the rot that has crept in society in the 21st century.

“Today sex ratio is 940 girls to 1000 boys. Who is creating this imbalance. Not God. I want to appeal to the doctors not to kill the unborn girl child for money,” he said.

The Prime Minister said he has often seen families prefer boys in the hope that they will look after them when they are old. “But I have also seen families, where the single girl devotes her life to serve parents, staying away from marriage. I appeal to mothers and daughters, don’t kill girls in the hope of a boy,” he said.

In this regard, he hailed the performance of girls in the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, saying out of 64 medallists, 29 were girls.

Self made in India

Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech was a commanding oratorical performance. It embodied a peculiar kind of democratic sensibility, but not one that we are used to, and can therefore easily miss. Historical comparisons are fraught, but Modi’s democratic sensibility, seems closest of all people, to De Gaulle. De Gaulle was described by one biographer, Jonathan Fenby, as a republican monarch. This phrase was not meant to suggest an oxymoron or hypocrisy. It was meant to rather capture something distinctive about the nature of De Gaulle’s democratic engagement: his unique ability to both wield authority and yet personify the people. Modi’s engagement has a similar quality. It is deeply democratic in the sense that it rested on the conviction that authority does not come from any source other than people. Modi’s was the first Independence Day speech that did not lean upon the authority or pedigree of anything else, but the people. It does not invoke a pantheon, a pedigree or even a party. Modi carries the imprimatur of authority because it was animated by a confident sense that he embodied the nation whose first servant he had declared himself to be. It has the confidence only self made men can have. It is democratic in the sense of being direct: its extempore quality refusing a script as itself being an intolerable form of mediation between the people and its leaders. It called for democratic consensus, a marching in lock step where the people are together. And in times recently marked by a paralytic rancour, this message resonates.

“We were together during freedom struggle and we won, it is the need of the hour to fight poverty in a similar way,” said PM Modi. (Source: Express photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

“We were together during freedom struggle and we won, it is the need of the hour to fight poverty in a similar way,” said PM Modi. (Source: Express photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

The strength of this form of democratic sensibility is that it allows unpalatable truths to be told with a rare conviction. In almost any other leader so far, talk of toilets or cleanliness, either carried the faint odour of a paternalistic elitism, or a grim reminder that we all want clean so long as someone else is doing it for us: cleanliness was something you escaped into, not a general condition for the country you desired. Privileged politicians exposed their elitism on their issue; less privileged ones wanted to escape the whole matter. If nothing else, Modi’s singular achievement has been politically and administratively mainstreaming this issue. It has been to tell an unpalatable truth with rare political directness, conviction and lack of embarrassment: you cannot be a great country if you cannot take care of your filth and your shit. The practical goals set in this area, the synergies being enlisted between the political, the state and the corporate sector, were the most convincing part of the speech. If this is followed through, it is actually big bang reform in a deep sense.

The oratory was at its finest on these social issues. The clear message was that our big problems are not market failure or state failure. They are rather social failure. And that is just right. The admonition to parents who restrict their daughters but seemingly give unbridled license to sons was in this spirit, as was the constant reminder that India falls embarrassingly short of a healthy modernity. But only someone who effortlessly personifies the people can make that a central message.

“Earlier, we were considered a country of snake charmers, but our IT professionals changed the country’s image,” said PM Modi. (Source: Express photo by Renuka Puri)

“Earlier, we were considered a country of snake charmers, but our IT professionals changed the country’s image,” said PM Modi. (Source: Express photo by Renuka Puri)

The speech was remarkable for its lack of defensiveness and negativity. Our relations with neighbours are being created on a new foundation: the joint fight against poverty. It is the same theme: rancour keeps us poor. It might be easy to dismiss the speech as being short on major policy announcements. Financial inclusion is a work in progress; as is broad banding. Free insurance, was an inevitable reminder of a democratic commitment to the poor. The only moment he seemed genuinely at sea was in describing what might replace the Planning Commission. The “sansad adarsh gram” scheme sounds like a cross between a centrally sponsored scheme and MPLAD in disguise: institutionally dubious. On the economy, the sense of aspiration was palpable. “No defect” manufacturing is a much better aspiration than the self justifying homilies to jugaad we are used to. But Independence Day Speeches are not meant for policy wonks, and the Prime Minister rightly kept away from that.

A republican monarchy can enlist energies in a unique way. But it also has its drawbacks. The first is that when you imagine the people marching in lock step, how do you account for disagreement? Is the invocation of consensus and unity an ideological mystification? Is criticism, something to which he referred, understood as genuine, or simply to be dismissed as obstructionist rancour? Citizens will rightly point to Modi that the gap between his dream and its institutional incarnation is wide. He clearly has understood how communalism can wreck the country that we need to rise above the “us versus them” binaries. How does a communalism free India translate in the killing fields of UP or the hallowed chambers of Parliament, where the Prime Minister’s colleagues have certainly added fuel to fire? Strong affirmative action for Dalits is required. But how does a new caste paradigm emerge, when the BJP government three days ago endorsed reservations for the Jat community? The idea of “no effect” manufacturing that has no deleterious impact on the environment is terrific. But how do we explain the fact that the Ministry of Environment seems to be gutting what meagre environmental protections we have?

“We should be able to export more than we import and be a manufacturing hub,” PM Narendra Modi said. (Source: Express photo by Renuka Puri)

Modi’s unprecedented democratic strength has an energy, vigour and elements of a vision. But the capillaries of institutional power that will nourish this vision are still absent. He has grasped that a measure of discipline in government is one aspect of this institutional regeneration. His commitment to renewing government in the opening lines was admirable. But this disciplinarian aspect is at most, only a small aspect of what is required. Indeed, the emphasis on discipline can sometimes render problems invisible. One historian, Hall, wrote of De Gaulle, “ His cabinet meetings, by all accounts, were not discussions, but rather series of ministerial reports, the various discussants being treated like school children being graded by their disciplinarian teacher.” This proved to be a weakness as well. Democracy is about getting the right balance between consensus and difference; it is not about producing a regimented unity.

When you incarnate the people in you, it gives tremendous power and confidence. But it can also sometimes render invisible the mediating institutions that have an effect on them. The words uttered on August 15, are a welcome departure. But their effects will be secured by institutions built in their image. De Gaulle, thought that what would make France new was simply the fact that he was new. Modi should not make the same mistake.

Offering hope without hype

Small things can make for big changes. In his first Independence Day address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid almost as much emphasis on a dirt-free India as on a Digital India. Instead of offering big-ticket reforms at one stroke, he promised changes in governance, a sharper and swifter government in the place of a bureaucratic establishment pulling in different directions. The philosophy underpinning his speech seemed to be that small steps taken quickly and taken across the country could have a greater impact than big schemes implemented slowly and patchily. “Just imagine, if 125 crore countrymen take a step forward, the country will move 125 crore steps forward,” he said, while offering to work harder than everyone else as India’s “prime servant”. Within one year, the Prime Minister intended to ensure separate toilets for girls and boys in all schools in the country. While talking of his dream of a Digital India, and of Information Technology uniting the country and the people, he articulated the need to make India’s villages and towns free of dirt. With good governance and development as his buzzwords for progress, he promised to make his government an organic unit for fulfilling the aspirations of the people. If there was one big scheme, it was the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, aimed at financial inclusion that would link the poor of the country with a bank account, and provide them a debit card and insurance cover worth Rs.1 lakh. This was part of Mr. Modi’s efforts to make technology work for the poor. If Jan Dhan Yojana was the big new scheme, the big reform was the dismantling of the Planning Commission, seen as a remnant of the Nehruvian, socialist model of governance. The change is intended to be drastic: the new institution that would replace the Planning Commission would have a new body, a new soul and a new outlook.

However, despite this push for change, Mr. Modi did not belittle the achievements of his predecessors, and he sought to recognise the contribution of all previous prime ministers and past governments to the growth of the country since Independence. Also, Mr. Modi seemed keen to move forward on the basis of consensus rather than on functioning on the basis of his party’s majority in Parliament. Even for those who feared his divisive agenda, Mr. Modi had some words of reassurance: he pointedly referred to the “poison” of casteism and communalism, which, he said, was a hindrance to progress. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, Mr. Modi certainly appeared more inclusive than he was on his campaign. If his speech, shorn of hype but full of hope, is any indication, Mr. Modi looks ready to make the transition from a skilled political orator to an able administrator.

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