India celebrates its 71st Independence Day today, and the prime minister’s Modi speech at the Red Fort will be the highlight of the celebrations in the capital. Historically, prime ministers have used the annual address to outline their government’s major policy decisions and pay tribute to the sacrifices of brave men and women from the past and present who have contributed to nation building. In his last three addresses, PM Modi has laid out agendas for his government’s socio-economic policies as well as reiterated his opposition to casteist and communal violence that has reared up its ugly head time and again.
This year’s speech is not expected to deviate very far from this course, but there will be some important pointers that the prime minister is likely to bring up. Demonetisation and GST will be the most important in the economic policy area, as they are the two biggest changes in the last year. While the BJP has tasted plenty of electoral success with the majority of constituents supporting the noteban, economists are still divided about the effect it had on economic growth. Similarly, the Goods and Service Tax(GST) is the single biggest piece of tax reform legislation that came into force this July and the PM will certainly take the opportunity to address the nation of its fallout and calm any apprehensions in some parts of the trading community. On the defence front, the PM is also expected to talk about the current state of the modernisation program of the Indian army, especially against the background of India’s military standoff with China in the Doklam area.
The PM’s speech is also expected cover issues like global warming, an issue that has come into focus after the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement that has prompted both India and China to take a lead in the climate change dialogue. The PM’s speech is also expected to cover the thorny issue of unemployment, something that the Modi government has struggled with over the last three years. The recent spate of firings in the private sector may also find a mention in the speech. We can also expect the Prime Minister to provide a status report on the Swachh Bharat project, the movement he started for cleaner public places in October 2014.