Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday addressed the nation from the Red Fort while marking the 71st Independence Day celebrations. His third Independence Day speech as prime minister became a topic of intense social media conversation for several reasons.
Having made a record of delivering the longest Independence Day speech last year, Modi delivered his shortest speech this year lasting for just 56 minutes.
Gorakhpur children massacre
Contrary to expectation, Modi refused to mention Gorakhpur children massacre in his speech. Very early in his speech Modi made a passing references to ravaging floods affecting several parts of India and ‘deaths of children.’ He did not mention Gorakhpur while making a reference to the tragedy killing scores of children.
Modi said, “Several parts of India are witnessing natural calamity. The other day, our innocent children died in a hospital. The sensitivity of 125 correct people is with them.”
Later on in his speech, unrelated to Gorakhpur massacre, he, however, ironically said, “We have to leave this ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude. We have to think of ‘Badal Sakta Hai’- this attitude will help us as a nation.”
Modi has been facing huge criticism on social media for not having spoken on the tragedy of Gorakhpur prompting many to conclude that his silence was due to the fact that the children’s deaths highlighted the BJP government’s administrative failure.
Modi had also not tweeted anything since 11 August from his personal Twitter account until the evening of 14 August making it one of the longest sabbaticals for him from the microblogging site.
No Modi speech these days is complete without expression of bravado on black money. That’s primarily because this was a key poll promise he made to voters in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He has faced considerable criticism for not delivering his promise to have Rs 15 lakh transferred to every Indian’s bank account, the prime minister is , nonetheless, making every effort to compensate with other controversial claims.
Vowing to continue the crackdown on black money, Modi on Tuesday said that over Rs 1.75 lakh crore had been deposited in banks post note-ban and more than 18 lakh people with disproportionate income were under government scrutiny.
Journalist Sreenivasan Jain took to Twitter to counter Modi’s claims on nearly Rs 2 lakh crore worth undeclared income having entered the banking system post demonetisation.
In a series of tweets, Jain wrote, “Accoding to NDTV’s Oineetom Ojah, neither RBI/Finance Ministry say they’ve supplied these figures. So where has PM got them from? Above (unofficial) report estimates unusual cash deposits post-demo: Rs 1.6 – 1.7 lakh crore. Could this be PM’s source? We don’t know.”
Accoding to NDTV’s Oineetom Ojah, neither RBI/Finance Ministry say they’ve supplied these figures. So where has PM got them from? 6/n
— Sreenivasan Jain (@SreenivasanJain) August 15, 2017
Modi also said that demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes last November had helped bring over Rs 3 lakh crore of unaccounted wealth into the banking system.
Another social media user, James Wilson, posted an ‘exhibit’ from a Rajya Sabha proceedings countering this claim of Modi.
He posted a reply by the junior finance minister, Santosh Kumar Gangwar, given to Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Agrwal, in Rajya Sabha on 1 August.
In response to Agrwal’s question on the quantum of black money recovered in the aftermath of Modi’s note-ban announcement, Gangwar had said that ‘there was no official estimation of quantum of black money in India.’ He, however, listed several exercises of his government resulting in the unearthing of black money. Figures stated by him took the total black money recovered since the note ban was only Rs 18,529 crore.
My Exhibit is here for you…Rajya Sabha unstarred QN No.1835 dated 1st August 2017 by Shri Naresh Agrawal pic.twitter.com/URys10A2Hu
— James Wilson (@jamewils) August 15, 2017
Wilson did not stop here. He compared the unearthing of Rs 18,529 crore black money to what the government had achieved in 2013-14, when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. Citing a CAG report of that period, he wrote, “Is this Rs.18529 crores is so HUGE?. Answer lies in CAG Report No. 2 of 2017 on Direct Taxes. That unassuming MMS (Manmohan Singh) catch Rs.90391 in 2013-14. (sic)”
While staying with demonetisation, whose real purpose is yet to be understood by people in India, Modi said in his speech, “The result of this (demonetisation) has been that this year, the new tax payers (filing returns) has more than doubled to 56 lakh. Last year this was 22 lakh. This is the result of fight against black money.”
This came in sharp contrast to what Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian said on 1 August. While speaking at the Economic Survey 2016-17, Subramanian said that about 5.4 lakh, less than one tenth of what Modi said, new tax payers had been added post demonetisation period.
So, did Modi lie from the Red Fort while making claims on his government’s achievement on black money or he simply did not understand the numbers related to economy? These questions will no doubt continue to dominate the conversations on social media and, more crucially, in Indian politics.