In his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort, Modi said the rising population was a cause for worry and posed new challenges for the present and the future. He said citizens with small families needed to be held up as role models as their decision was an expression of patriotism and love for the nation.
Modi’s reference to “population explosion” came as a surprise as it was after a long interval that a PM gave the issue any prominence. It also marked a break from the pattern over the past 10-15 years where the bulging numbers were seen as an asset, with the term “demographic dividend” deployed to underline the benefits they could bring.
The other big theme in the PM’s speech was predictably the decision to do away with Jammu & Kashmir’s special status and to create two Union territories of J&K and Ladakh. The dream of “one nation, one Constitution” had been realised and those who oppose the decision should explain why they did not make Article 370 permanent when they were in office, he said.
Talking about population control, Modi focused on the disadvantages of unrestrained numbers. “If the population is not educated, not healthy, then neither the home nor the country can be happy. If the population is educated, empowered and skilled and has adequate means available to achieve the right ambience to fulfil their wishes and needs, then I think the country can fulfil these things,” the Prime Minister said.
He suggested that the problem had been dodged so far with an eye on political advantage. “The time has now come that we should take (such) challenges head on,” he said.
Modi was all praise for citizens who have chosen to restrict the size of their families. “In our society, there is a section which is very well aware of the consequences of uncontrolled population growth. They deserve our accolades and respect. This is an expression of their love for the nation. Before having a baby, they take a well-considered decision whether they will be able to take care of their child’s needs,” the PM said.
Further emphasising his point, he said, “Not only do they (small households) contribute to the welfare of their family but also to the good of the nation. People who have played this huge role need to be honoured, and by setting them as examples we need to inspire the segment of society still not thinking on these lines. We need to worry about population explosion.”
Modi said the Centre and states should come up with different schemes.
The PM dwelt at length on the decision to revoke J&K’s special status and bifurcate it, and underlined that two-thirds support in both Houses of Parliament reflected that the move enjoyed wide support and was a task waiting to be done as old approaches to resolving issues had failed.
“Today, I can say with pride that every Indian can say we are one nation, one Constitution. And this one dream of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel has been realised,” the PM said. He took a swipe at Congress and said, “The country asks them: if Article 370 or 35A were so necessary, then despite such a majority, why didn’t you make it permanent? Why did you leave it as temporary? This means that even you know what happened was not right, but you did not have the courage to rectify it or the political will,” he said.
Referring to the creation of two UTs, he said, “The new system in place is for direct benefit of the people on the ground. Now everyone living in Jammu & Kashmir can directly question the Centre.” He said the discriminatory provisions of Article 35A, which flow from Article 370, restricted the rights of women and deprived Dalits and tribals of political reservation.
Modi referred to reading down of Article 370 and passage of the legislation to ban triple talaq as reflecting the government’s resolve neither to keep problems pending nor to nurture them. “If we can raise our voice against the practice of Sati, we thought why can’t we raise our voice against triple talaq.” he said.
The PM used his sixth straight speech from Red Fort, and his first after re-election, to promise a stepped-up pace of development. “India does not want to wait too long for incremental progress. A high jump is needed, our thought process has to be expanded,” he said while speaking of the government’s plan to invest Rs 100 lakh crore in infrastructure-building. “People’s trust in us has given us new strength. The 2019 mandate shows hopelessness has given way to hope,” he said.
Modi also stressed the government’s focus on “ease of living” beyond “ease of doing business” and said the objective was to ensure that the administration would intrude as little as possible in people’s lives.
As part of his theme that India can now up its game in the community of nations, the PM said measures against corruption would continue unabated, adding there was no room for slackness as graft was like a disease that returned at the first opportunity.