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Non-Congress PMs and their I-Day declarations

Morarji Desai (24 March 1977 to 18 July 1979), Janata Party
15 August 1977

Desai, a former Congressman, was the first PM of a non-Congress government to address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The Janata Party had won an election after the 19 months of the Emergency. He underscored that his was a government of the ‘janata’ or people, not of a dynasty or a despot. He said ministers and the official class had to change their lifestyles, that they should behave as servants of the people and not like seths (rich people) and serve people, not order them about.

“You can catch me by the ear when I make a mistake. But do not catch me alone, catch all the colleagues of mine if mistakes are committed. That is the kind of people’s power we want to build,” he said. Desai spoke about curbing rising prices, eradicating untouchability and addressing the rural-urban economic imbalance.

Desai described Indira Gandhi’s regime as an “era of atrocities”. He said his government would make efforts to correct the evils and mistakes of the recent past and promised to create a climate free of fear. Desai said the Janata Party would emerge stronger in the days to come and that none would be able to split it. He talked about the five constituents of the Janata Party having adopted Gandhian ideology as their guiding light and his government’s intent to strengthening village economy.

15 August 1978

In his second address from the Red Fort, Desai criticised the recent attacks on Dalits as a national shame. The speech avoided any reference to the unstable nature of his government. He referred to a violent demonstration outside his official residence by upper caste farmers against the decision of his government to give land grants to Dalits as shameful. He appealed to the people of India to unite to rid society of ills like untouchability. He said India’s relations with China weren’t friendly but his government had attempted to improve ties and that Beijing had responded positively.

Chaudhary Charan Singh ( 28 July 1979 to 14 January 1980), Janata Party
15 August 1979

His speech is remembered for having identified Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions as a major threat to India. Charan Singh, a farmer leader of UP, also called for reform of the labour laws of India if it were to have any hopes to become competitive in the world economy.

In his speech, Charan Singh said India might have to reverse its decision to not manufacture nuclear weapons if Pakistan went ahead with its intent to make a nuclear bomb. He also talked about how he didn’t want a mid-term election but was ready if such a necessity arises. But the speech largely focussed on India’s foreign relations. He said there was no other country but India against whom Pakistan’s threat to build a nuclear bomb was aimed at.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh (2 December 1989 to 10 November 1990), National Front
15 August 1990

His speech is best remembered for defending his government’s decision of barely a week back to implement the Mandal Commission report. The report, instituted by the Janata Party government in 1978 and which had remained largely forgotten during the intervening Congress-ruled years, provided for 27 per cent reservation in government jobs for socially and educationally backward classes or what have come to be known as Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The decision was to later meet with violent protests, including self -immolation, by upper caste students in north India. “If power in the hands of the rulers could be compared to a sword, it shall act against the exploiters,”  he said.

Chandra Shekhar (10 November 1990 to 21 June 1991), Janata Dal (S)
He is the only prime minister until now, apart from caretaker PM Gulzari Lal Nanda, who did not deliver a speech on Independence Day from the Red Fort.

H D Deve Gowda (1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997), United Front
15 August 1996

After Congress’ P V Narasimha Rao, who was also his immediate predecessor, Gowda was only the second PM of India who came from one of the southern states. Gowda, unlike Rao, wasn’t fluent in Hindi but wanted to keep up with the tradition of the PM delivering the Independence day speech in Hindi. Gowda’s speech is best remembered for his attempt at speaking in Hindi. According to contemporary reports, Gowda achieved the difficult task by practising the speech for several days and had difficult Hindi words written in his mother tongue Kannada.

Inder Kumar Gujral ( 21 April 1997 to 19 March 1998), United Front
15 August 1997

Gujral’s speech was on the  50th anniversary of Indian independence. He appealed to the people to launch a mass movement to combat corruption and boycott the corrupt. He announced the setting up of a special cell at the Prime Minister’s Office to deal with the problem of corruption in bureaucracy and politics. “Our war against corruption is honest. For this, we should build a mass movement, in which all Indians can take part to end corruption in politics, politicians and in public life,” Gujral said. He also said his government was committed to providing the latest technology to the armed forces of the nation.

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