In his address to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, President Ram Nath Kovind not only listed the achievements of the Narendra Modi government but also virtually set the ruling party’s agenda for the forthcoming general election.
Dubbing the pre-Modi period as an era of darkness, Kovind presented the incumbent regime as a one committed to the nation. “Prior to the 2014 general election, the country was passing through a phase of uncertainty. After the elections, my government assumed charge and vowed to build a new India. A new India with no place for imperfect, corrupt, and inertia-ridden systems.”
Nation building began right away. “From day one, the mission of my government based on transparency was to improve the lives of our citizens, to eradicate their difficulties owing to poor governance, and to make sure that the benefit of public services reach the lowest strata of the society,” he said.
In tune with the ruling party’s electoral philosophy of peddling welfare measures, the President stressed upon the benefits and the beneficiaries: “The targets of my Government were determined by countless and helpless faces such as: that poor mother who cooked in a smoke filled kitchen; that helpless sister who was compelled to postpone her own treatment due to financial worries despite serious illness; that daughter who had to wait the whole day until the cover of darkness for going to the toilet; that child who was compelled to wait for day light to study because there was no electricity; that farmer who was caught in the anxiety of repaying his loan while watching his crops damaged by hail storm; that youth who was unable to earn his livelihood because no bank would lend to him. These very thoughts have shaped the schemes of my government. These ideals of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s Antyodaya have been the touchstone of my government’s work.”
This was accompanied with nationalist rhetoric, the other prominent element of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s poll strategy: “In the last four and a half years, my government has infused new hope and confidence among the people of the country, enhanced the country’s image, and has effectively brought in social and economic change.”
Then the President went on to list the welfare schemes. Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, more than nine crore toilets have been constructed, he said. The government has provided more than six crore cooking gas connections to women under the Ujjwala Yojana. He didn’t forget to mention that “even after decades of efforts, there were only 12 crore gas connections in the country in 2014.”
Further, he said, “under the world’s biggest health care scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Abhiyan, 50 crore poor are eligible for availing treatment up to Rs 5 lakh per year per family in case of a serious illness. In a short period of four months, more than 10 lakh poor have already availed free treatment from hospitals under this scheme.” There is also the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana, to reduce “the burden of out-of-pocket expenses on medical care for the poor and the middle class.”
The President also mentioned government insurance schemes which have been provided to “21 crore poor brothers and sisters,” the National Nutrition Mission, new AIIMS, and Mission Indradhanush to provide immunization facilities to children and pregnant women living in remote and tribal areas.
The portion on economy began after elaboration of welfarist measures, and that too with the government’s favorite Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, “the maximum benefit has been availed by women. Out of the 15 crore Mudra loans provided so far throughout the country, 73 percent have been disbursed to women entrepreneurs.”
After complimenting “our annadata farmers,” Kovind listed government supported to agriculture: the historic decision of fixing the minimum support price or MSP of 22 crops at one and a half times higher than the production cost of the crop”; crop insurance; completion of 99 incomplete old irrigation projects.
The President also elaborated upon “strict action against corruption and black money.” He defended demonetization, calling it “a defining moment in the government’s war on corruption and black money. This decision struck at the very root of the parallel economy thriving on black money; and the money outside the formal system was brought within the ambit of nation’s economy.”
He also discussed such important economic issues as GST implementation, growth, infrastructure development, the increased tax base, and Digital India.
In a nutshell, it was the President’s speech was intended to showcase the Modi government in soft focus.