Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationwide Teacher’s Day address that had generated much controversy even before its telecast, today appeared to be much more than a homily targeted at school children on how to respect their teachers. The close to two-hour speech and interaction gave an insight into Modi’s work ethic, his views on politics as a career, his settling into the role of a Prime Minister, the future plans of his government for Digital India, for prioritising girl child education, on employment generation, on skill development, on climate change and for reiterating his stress on cleanliness.
Infact, the speech which coincided with the new government’s 100 days in office was a platform to answer critics who had attacked Modi on several fronts including his suitability to be the Prime Minister. Political parties in the Opposition had even questioned whether the “mandatory” 5th September speech was an attempt to “reach out to future voters” as children from classes VI to XII had been directed to hear the speech by the HRD ministry.
In between all this, he managed to also tickle the funny bone of students narrating anecdotes of his mischievous pranks as a child.
In his address to students, while he emphasised the need to restore the lost glory to the teaching profession and teachers, he said it was vital to probe why young people did not opt to be teachers. Comparing India with Japan which he recently visited he said there was need to emulate the Japanese form of rigorous discipline and humility. Technology and scientific temperament were two other cruciual implements in his vison for education.
Much in the manner of his Independence Day address where he exhorted MPs to adopt villages; to effectively address the problem of lack of quality teachers he urged eminent people in the country to take out time to teach students for atleast one period in the entire week.
Donning the role of a ‘headmaster’ he advised students to “Work hard, play hard and sweat a lot at least four times a day. Don’t be glued to books all day.”
And then answering his detractors he described himself as a “taskmaster.” “Yes, I am a taskmaster and it is not that I don’t work hard myself.” Adding, how he told bureaucrats from the ramparts of the Red Fort, “If you work, 12 hours I will work 13. I demand work on fixed deadlines.”
In answer to a query from a school girl in remote Bastar, Modi made it a point to praise the chief minister Raman Singh of the BJP ruled state for his achievements in promoting girl child education.
Modi rued that if earlier governments had paid attention to building toilets, the dropout rate for girls would not be so high. Right now the dropout rate for girls in India in the 7-17 age group is 33.7, that is one in every three girls.
Answering questions put to him by children through video conferencing, Modi categorically stated that “I don’t consider politics a profession. It is a form of service which stems from a deep sense of belonging.”
Modi who till date has not had a detailed press conference with the media at home, seemed to be responding to the volley of criticism that had come his way in the first three months as PM. He has been attacked by critics and media alike for building a “personality cult” and centralising tendencies. Almost in response, “I never thought (that I would become PM or famous in the world). I didn’t even run for class monitor back in school.”
For a speech that was derided even before its telecast he stated simply “Meeting you (young people) recharges my batteries.”
And if there was any doubt that Narendra Modi was looking at a decade in office, then the humorous answer to a school boy from Imphal who asked him how to prepare to be PM. “Prepare for the 2024 elections” he told him with a smile “and call me for your swearing in ceremony.”