New Delhi: India’s 76th Independence Day saw two of its prime ministers — the present and his predecessor — talk about the country’s unity, its youth, and the duty of its citizens. But in two vastly different tones.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his official address from Delhi’s Red Fort, spoke about the commitment to national unity as one of the “pledges” (prans) citizens need to take in order to usher in India’s “Amrut Kaal”.
His predecessor Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, warned that the country’s “hard-won freedom” must not be robbed by “authoritarian arrogance” that undermined its unity.
“While every Indian will proudly salute the flag as it flies high, the Tricolour must also remind us of the composite culture which makes us a uniquely great democracy in the world,” Singh, who was India’s PM from 2004 to 2014, said in a signed article in The Hindu published Monday.
He further wrote that citizens and the “captains of Indian industry” must not sit as mute spectators when “divisive politics are posing a threat to the economy”.
The Congress leader also raised the issue of unemployment among the youth in his article, stating that “job-less growth” is not a “safe bet” for any economy.
PM Modi had also mentioned India’s young population in his speech, saying that the youth will be a great asset as the country aims to become a developed nation in the next 25 years.
“I urge the youth to dedicate the next 25 years of their lives for the nation’s development. We will work towards the development of the entire humanity,” PM Modi said.
On science and polity
Both Modi and Singh also spoke about the use of science in Indian society and polity.
Raising a pitch for more scientific innovations, Modi tweaked a slogan coined by former Congress PM Lal Bahadur Shastri. He added “Jai Vigyan” (hail science) and “Jai Anusandhan” (hail innovation) to Shastri’s call of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”.
“A new world is emerging. India will play a key role in this. The coming decade will prove to be techade for human kind. This decade of technology is India’s techade. We have proved ourselves in the field of technology,” said the PM, talking about innovations in sectors like digital payments and the country’s impending transition to 5G.
On the other hand, Singh, also talking about the next 25 years, said that it would be “unfortunate” if the country’s scientific institutions are “undermined through the induction of suboptimal leadership, whose given mandate is to pursue cultural revivalism at the cost of academic integrity”.
“India has a proud scientific tradition since ancient times, but that should not become the camouflage for pseudo-science that brings discredit to our scientific community,” Singh wrote.
The similarity in themes make the contrast in opinions of both prime ministers intriguing, even though neither would have known what the other was saying before they penned their thoughts.
‘Preserve hard won gains of freedom’
Singh also recalled experiencing happiness at India winning freedom while at the same time having to go through the horrors of Partition.
“I hoped that India would grow strong as a nation without ever again having to experience such discord. Today, I’m proud of what India has achieved and optimistic about the future of this great nation. However, I’m also worried about the sectarian slogans and communal slurs that are vitiating social harmony and dividing the people,” he wrote.
“Alongside, there is also a weakening of institutions that must safeguard democratic freedoms, uphold norms of good governance and shield electoral politics from the onslaught of money power and co-opted state agencies,” he added.
Like PM Modi asked citizens to uphold their fundamental duties to the nation as one of their pledges for a developed India, former PM Singh asked people to “preserve the hard-won gains of freedom”.
“Let each one of us reflect on that duty as we raise and salute the flag,” Singh concluded.