In his address to Parliament, President Ram Nath Kovind praised demonetisation, surgical strikes & Rafale, and made many comparisons between pre- & post-2014.
New Delhi: Ram Nath Kovind delivered his presidential speech to the joint session of Parliament Thursday, but it sounded more prime ministerial, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
The tone and tenor of President Kovind’s Budget address was political in nature — while lauding the Modi government’s achievements, he took a dig at past governments for failing to deliver — something that BJP leaders are known to do.
Although the President’s address is cleared by the union cabinet, constitutional experts said that coming from the Head of State, such speeches generally do not and should not denigrate past governments.
The BJP-led NDA government will present the last budget of its term Friday, and Kovind listed all the achievements of the Modi government since 2014, talking about how it touched every section of the population. He, however, did not present any clear cut prescription on the way forward.
Demonetisation, surgical strikes and Rafale
Presenting the government’s report card, President Kovind gave a thumbs-up to some of the decisions of the Modi government — including demonetisation, the surgical strikes and the acquisition of Rafale fighter jets — which have come under mounting criticism from opposition parties.
Kovind called demonetisation a “defining moment” in the government’s war on corruption and black money.
Similarly, the 2016 surgical strike was praised as India showing “its new policy and strategy”.
The President also referred to the acquisition of Rafale jets, and talked about how the purchase of new defence equipment helps in boosting the morale of the forces and increasing the country’s military self-reliance.
Comparisons to pre-2014 era
Throughout his hour-long address, President Kovind kept comparing the Modi government that came to power in 2014 to the previous Congress-led UPA government, and how the latter had not only failed to win the trust of people but could not do enough to improve their lot.
Kovind compared various sectors — from housing to building toilets, bolstering the economy to curbing black money, improving the lot of persons with disabilities to improving digital connectivity — to drive home the point that the Modi government has delivered on all fronts.
For instance, referring to the Ujjwala Yojana, Kovind said: “Even after decades of efforts, there were only 12 crore gas connections in the country in 2014. In a short period of the last four-and-a-half years, 13 crore families have been provided gas connections.”
On another flagship scheme of the Modi government — the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana — the President said: “In the last four-and-a-half years, one crore and thirty lakh homes have been constructed under the rural housing schemes of the government, whereas in the five years preceding 2014, only 25 lakh houses had been constructed.”
The President also took a dig at the banking facilities in the country prior to 2014, and how the Modi government’s financial inclusion programme — Jan Dhan Yojana — has proved to be a game-changer.
“We are all aware of the dismal state of banking facilities for the poor that existed even 45 years after the nationalisation of banks. The Jan Dhan Yojana of my government is an excellent example of how to lay the foundation of major economic transformation,” he said.
The President said that though many social welfare programmes existed for the past several decades, they had failed to produce the desired impact.
“Prior to the 2014 general election, the country was passing through a phase of uncertainty. After the elections, my government assumed charge and vowed to build a new India… From day one, the mission of my government based on transparency was to improve the lives of our citizens, to eradicate their difficulties owing to poor governance,” Kovind said.
The Congress was quick to react to President Kovind’s address. Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, said: “What the President said today reflected what Modi has been saying outside.”
Vivek Agnihotri, former secretary general of the Rajya Sabha, told ThePrint that the political tone of the presidential address was “unusual”.
“More so, because its coming right ahead of the elections. But again, what he wants to say is up to the discretion of the President,” he said.
However, Subhash C. Kashyap, former Lok Sabha secretary general, said: “Everybody knows that the President’s speech is prepared by the government and approved by the cabinet. If it’s prepared by the government, then in an election year, it’s bound to be political. What is unusual about it? As President, he is entitled to glorify the achievements of the government.”
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