In his maiden Parliament speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the social and economic development of minority communities did not amount to appeasing them but would be an element in restoring India’s place in the world. He was replying to the ‘motion of thanks’ to the President’s speech outlining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -led government’s road map.
Stressing the need to transform the world’s perception of the country, Modi pledged to redeem India’s image and enhance its stature. His government’s mantra: From ‘scam India’ to ‘skill India’.
The prime minister made a strong nationalistic pitch, saying all Indians must be imbued with the compulsive need to resurrect the country’s glory. Likening the nation to a human body, he said if one organ was weak or unhealthy, it could make the whole body ill. While addressing states’ representatives in the Rajya Sabha, Modi said his government would take all states as equal partners in the national paradigm of development.
He criticised the recent events in Pune, where an IT professional was killed in an alleged case of communal stir; and Badaun, where two young Dalit girls were raped and killed. He also spoke about the sudden release of water from a dam in Himachal Pradesh, where several students were drowned, and decried the loose comments made by leaders – mostly from his own party – about rape. “Do we necessarily have to speak? Can’t we just stay quiet occasionally” he asked.
Modi said his government might have the numbers but it would work on the principle of consensus. He conceded there might have been rivalry during the elections, but that was not what he or his party intended as a model for engagement with the Opposition. “I hope I will have the blessings of those more experienced than me in running this country. We will always be humble,” he said, looking at the treasury benches.
Modi made it clear the poor would continue to be his government’s priority and re-testified his intention to ensure broadband connectivity in all villages, besides houses, water and electricity around the clock by 2022.
He asked for real-time agricultural and other data, sought more research in agriculture, including increasing the protein content in pulses. Modi also made a pitch for organic agriculture – as practised in Sikkim – as a way for the future and said his government would be ready to learn from anyone with new ideas. The PM suggested trifurcation of the Food Corporation of India, called for transformation of villages and said education and skill development were the only way to end poverty and ignorance.
Barring a jibe at the Congress – “if you knew things were wrong, why didn’t you do anything about it” – Modi was restrained in his criticism of the previous regime. He avoided all contentious issues – subsidies, Article 370 and the model civil code.
Addressing the Rajya Sabha, Modi spoke about strengthening the “federal structure” of the country. “Only when we strengthen states will we be able to strengthen the country.” Elaborating on his theme of “cooperative federalism”, he said, as a former chief minister, he understood how “victimised” states felt when interacting with the Centre. He, therefore, wanted to develop “Team India”, one comprising the PM, his Cabinet and all state chief ministers, to harness the power of the states.
In the Upper House, Modi proposed steps to integrate the Northeastern states with the mainstream. If students from 30,000 colleges in the country were to visit the northeastern states, it would not just boost the tourism of the region but foster unity, he said, elaborating on his idea of “Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat”.
Rejecting the general notion of the “Gujarat model” being a uniform template, Modi said it was an attempt at adapting the unique best model practices of each state. He proposed to develop a unique development platform for “coastal states” and another for Himalayan states to thrash out local issues at the state level. Referring to the ideas proposed by the government in the President’s speech, Modi said: “Our coastal area can be a channel for global trade.”
Besides, Modi said ‘agro-climate zone’, where each state was mapped according to agriculture zones for different crops, should be developed.
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“Issue-centric and focused activity must be the way forward, not a centralised focus,” reiterated the PM. On “criminal members of Parliament”, Modi suggested that cases against MPs be decided within a year through early court hearings, in consultation with the Supreme Court.
“Bad governance is worse than diabetes,” said Modi, stressing the need for states to be policy-driven to minimise corruption. He proposed to harness the benefits of technology in eradicating corruption and bringing in transparency.
Repeating his message of “taking the Opposition along” in both Houses, Modi said: “There should be no politics over incidents like rape, naxalism and terrorism; we should sit and find solutions collectively.”