By Chaarvi Modi
Image Attribute: India's PM Narendra Modi addressing the Nation on the occasion of 70th Independence Day. Source: PIB, Government of India
As India celebrates its 70th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his third annual address at the Red Fort in New Delhi on the morning of August 15th. Addressing a rapt audience, the Prime Minister delivered among one of his longest speeches and addressed the nation for over an hour on the occasion.
His much looked-forward to speech on the landmark occasion highlighted a plethora of major achievements of his government in the past two years. This included employment generation, joining forces with the Reserve Bank of India to strive to control inflation rates around 4% (+/-2%) by 2021, electrification of 10,000 villages, annual healthcare for families below the poverty line, the progress of the common man, social equity, and empowerment of farmers. This was incorporated in his speech more to directly tackle his critics who have accused him in the past of favoring rich corporate houses.
“There is no bigger independence than independence from poverty,” the Prime Minister said. He also slightly touched upon the passing of the watershed Goods and Services Tax Bill (GST) – so far the biggest achievement of his government which could also be instrumental for him to win a second term in 2019 General Elections. “Perform, reform, transform” was a slogan picked out to describe his famous model of governance. Two years ago, it was this very high functioning development model of governance while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat state, which brought him to power by popular vote in a landslide victory.
His speech, while it tactfully avoided hurling any major attacks on the opposition, speaking on recent national controversial issues, or covering the international facet of his governance, did not ignore the opportunity to raise the issues pertaining to Pakistan.
Modi mentioned that India is a nation that does not tolerate terrorism. "What kind of life is this, inspired by terrorism? What kind of government setup is it that is inspired by terrorism?" said Modi. "The world will know about it and that's sufficient for me."
"In the past few days," he said, "Several people from Baluchistan, Gilgit, from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me. It is the honor of 1.25 billion people of India. I thank those people from Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan occupied Kashmir.” This statement is the first ever coming from an Indian Prime Minister on Pakistan’s longest civil war that has resulted in the death and alleged abduction of local leaders by Pakistani security forces of a large number of unaccounted individuals.
Ironically, India’s neighbor values the right of self-determination for the people of the Kashmir Valley, but not for its own people of Baluchistan. The conflict over the resource-rich region continues to brew as the Pakistani government refuses to act on it, nor does it acknowledge the infringement of human rights carried out by Pakistani forces in the region.
Modi’s statement on the issue is likely to garner international focus on the bloody conflict- something that has lacked in the past due to the immense threat faced by journalists trying to report from the region. His statements have earned him wide support from activists of the Baloch movement, who unlike Islamabad, do not view the comments as interference.
On the other hand, they have for years been trying to raise awareness of their movement from foreign governments- an advance that the Pakistani forces have repeatedly crushed. However, it is essential to remember that his remarks could now provide Islamabad a strong reason to increase military deployment, arrests, and murder of the Baloch.
Interestingly, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dedicated Pakistan’s 70th independence to achieving independence for the Kashmir administered by India. He held India responsible for the ongoing violence in Kashmir on his August 14th speech on the occasion of Pakistan’s independence anniversary. "This Independence Day is memorable as the spirit of independence in occupied Kashmir is at its peak nowadays. The new generation of Kashmiris has raised the flag of freedom with a new vigor," Sharif said.
Modi’s speech served as a diplomatic rebuttal and a reminder to Pakistan of their own doings in the south-western province that has been demanding a more autonomous state since decades now. The leaders of these two South Asian neighbors started off on a good note when Modi was brought to power, however, recent violence that erupted in Kashmir post the death of separatist leader Burhan Wani on July 8 has created heavy tension in the relationship.
Amusingly, the Pakistani government claims that the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India's external intelligence agency have been providing strategic as well as tactical support to the separationist leaders in Baluchistan. A week ago in a Taliban-led suicide attack at Quetta's Civil Hospital, the Pakistani government claimed, albeit with no evidence, that India was behind the bombing.
If India decides to take up the Baluchistan conflict seriously ahead, it could change the India-Pakistan game in the coming years. But India cannot keep using the Baluchistan card an embarrassment to Pakistan and must focus on the most contemporary relationship shared between the neighbors. PM Modi ended his speech on a very positive note with the following words:
"One society, one dream, one resolution, one destiny ─ we proceed in this direction," he concluded.
About the Author:
Chaarvi Modi (TR RID: K-7465-2016) is a merit scholar, researcher, and freelance writer in International Relations from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University. She has earlier been associated with organizations like Gateway House, Society for the Study of Peace & Conflict, The Diplomatist, Foreign Policy Research Journal, Diplomacy & Beyond, etc.