Since 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the mandate to rule India after 30 years, Independence Day speeches have assumed a new charm.
The mornings of BJP supporters as well as detractors begin with catching the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on television sets and mobile screens across the country. But his speeches aren’t the usual stuff that leaders churn out on such occasions. Those who are following India’s global trajectory would agree that these speeches are laced with talking points, cues and signposts of what to expect in the subsequent decades. It was from the same platform of Red Fort on India’s Independence Day in 2021 that PM Modi laid out the vision for ‘Amritkaal’.
For the uninitiated, Amritkaal refers to the 25-year period in the run-up to 2047, when India will celebrate its 100th anniversary of independence from the British. According to PM Modi, this period is crucial for India because its achievements in this tenure will pave the way for the country to become a major power in the new global order. In the recent years, making India a major power by 2047 has become a goal for the country’s economic as well as foreign policy.
PM Modi once again reiterated this vision from the podium while delivering his 10th Independence Day speech from the Red Fort today. This was PM Modi’s last speech of the second tenure before he faces the elections in 2024. Naturally, his speech was expected to be an exercise in politicking and he didn’t disappoint one bit. In his usual style, he named corruption, dynastic politics and appeasement as the enemies of India’s development. It was no co-incidence that all three are characteristics of the Congress’s school of governance. But to judge his speech as just a political exercise would be unfair. He used the speech to make points about India’s rise. As a geopolitical watcher and someone who is interested in India’s foreign policy, Modi’s reference to India’s image in a new world order and his ideas about country’s civilisational resurgence were unmissable.
While drawing attention to India’s demographic dividend, its status as home to one of the youngest populations in the world, its position as the fifth largest economy all set to become the third largest and its rising export basket, PM Modi spoke about how the foundations being laid in the past decade right up to 2047 have the potential to lift India from a position of irrelevance to an international system-shaping ability in the future.
For him, India’s past was tragic. India has a 1,000-year-old history of invasions, but the next 1,000 years are going to be about its resurgence and civilisational awakening.
Civilisational awakening is a theme that PM Modi has often invoked, right from his campaigns to his almost 10-year tenure as the PM. He is the first PM to be born in free India and it also shows in his imagination of India as a civilisational state. Unlike the previous leaders who looked at nation building in the European style, following in the footsteps of the colonial masters who had just left, the idea of India as a civilisational state solves multiple dilemmas of getting many identities under one common idea of India.
India’s 5,000-year old civilisation presents a template and home for each identity. It provides a glue for various religions, languages and ideologies to co-exist. PM Modi also uses the same template to secure good relations with multiple power centres across the world. Today, India’s diplomacy is characterised by its civilisational outreach to both Iran and Israel alike.
While making the case for India to reclaim its civilisational greatness, PM Modi also alluded to the changing global order and India’s role in it. His comparison of the post Covid-19 world order to the end of the Second World War was also interesting. The end of the Second World War had led to creation of key global institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Despite all the talk of a liberal international order, the Bretton Woods consensus was mostly scripted by the West. India, as a newly independent country, hardly had a say in the post-war architecture, but with its rise, the injustice meted out to India has become visible.
Still, India is not a revisionist state. Its vision of the global order is harmonious and it can be a key partner of the West in the face of China’s rise. However, as often repeated by PM Modi and his ministers at various world fora, India needs to be admitted as a full-fledged member of this club. No points for guessing that it totally includes the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent seat. Interestingly, despite power play and a proactive engagement with power politics, PM Modi has positioned India as the voice of the global south. His words today at Red Fort, calling India the ‘Vishwamitra’ or ‘Friend of the World’, were exemplary. It is a powerful gesture to allay the world’s anxieties regarding India’s rise. India’s civilisational history is a testament that it will be the most welcoming and accepting power centre.
As PM Modi enters the campaign mode, his last I-Day speech serves as a reminder to all Indians that a stable government is a result of a clear mandate. Politics aside, India’s vital stats are pointing towards a future full of great promises. India has democracy, demography and demand which has made the world take a closer look at its capabilities. The ideal way to leverage it is to choose our leaders carefully to rise as a nation.
The author is a PhD from the Department of International Relations, South Asian University. She writes on India’s foreign policy. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.