Going by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address on Independence Day, it does not seem as though he is willing to allow the COVID-19 crisis, or the standoff with China, to delay or derail his reforms and big-ticket programmes. He certainly is not allowing the ‘sensitivities’ of the perpetually offended to obstruct his moves. (The ever eloquent Shashi Tharoor has even expressed his outrage at PM Modi’s growing beard!) Those who have benefited from the many schemes launched in the past six years will be the ones more likely to take seriously the slew of plans and programmes announced on Saturday.
Of particular importance for all citizens of the country will be the expansion of the already significant and considerably successful Ayushman Bharat scheme. The steps taken and those envisaged can be expected to bring about that most elusive goal of most governments around the world – Universal Health Care. By announcing the pilot launch of the National Digital Health Mission in six UTs, under which every person will get a unique health ID, the focus will shift to a very important aspect – preventive health care. Awareness of health status and nipping problems in the bud will not only save a lot of lives and increase longevity, but also decrease overall expenditure on medical services. (Uttarakhand has already a quite effective universal health insurance of up to Rs 5 lakhs per year under the Atal Ayushman Scheme, the impact of which will be positively felt in the years to come on quality of life and the general economy. The Prime Minister’s fresh initiative should strengthen it further.)
The announcement of the Rs 100 lakh crore investment in 7000 infrastructure projects is another indication of the determination to move beyond the present constraints that prevent economic growth. With this, he is giving further shape to his concept of ‘Make in India’, which has been criticised by some as a return to the socialist model of the Nehru-Indira era. It’s as much about self-reliance as raising quality so that it also becomes ‘Make for the World’.
The country can also take heart from Modi’s mention of progress on COVID-19 vaccine trials as well as the plan on its distribution. This is just an indication of the fact that the present government does not lose sight of future goals even when caught in very immediate trench warfare, be it against a virus or the Chinese. If the PM was not openly belligerent against the latter, it was not as critics have suggested due to temerity, but obviously because those negotiating presently on behalf of India would not like political grandstanding to sabotage their efforts. Basically, statecraft has acquired a subtlety in India that its ideologically constricted practitioners of the past fail to understand, today.