Mr. Memon Mathew, Mr. Jacob Mathew, Mr. Jayant Jacob Mathew, Mr. Prakash Javdekar and Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Dear guests, Namaskaram,
I am extremely happy to be addressing the Malayala Manorama New Conclave 2019. I salute the holy soil of Kerala and its unique culture. It is the land of spiritual and social enlightenment, giving India great sons and daughters like Adi Shankara, Mahatma Ayyankali, Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamigal Pandit Karuppan, Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Saint Alphonso and other greats. Kerala is also special for me, personally. I have had numerous opportunities to visit Kerala. One of the first things I did after the people blessed me yet again with a big responsibility is visiting the Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple.
My addressing the Malayala Manorama New conclave has generated great curiosity. Usually, it is believed that public figures prefer to be on forums whose thought process matches with the person’s own world view. Because there is a lot of comfort in being among such people. Of course, I also cherish being among such surroundings but at the same time, I believe there must be a constant and continuous dialogue between individuals and organisations irrespective of one’s thought process.
We need not have to agree on everything but there must be enough civility in public life for differing streams to be able to hear each other’s point of view. Here I am, at a forum where perhaps I do not have many whose thought process is similar to mine but there are enough thinking people whose constructive criticism is something I greatly look forward to.
I am aware that Malayala Manorama has been a part of the Malayali mind space for over a century now. It has made the citizens of Kerala more aware, through its reportage. It has also played a part in supporting India’s freedom movement. Many youngsters, especially those appearing for competitive examinations would have read your yearbook! Thus, you are also well-known across generations. I salute all the editors, reporters and staff who have been a part of this great journey.
The organisers of this conclave have picked a very interesting theme- New India. Critics will ask you- are you also speaking the language of Modi Ji now? I hope you have your answers ready for that! But, since you have picked a theme so close to my heart, let me take this opportunity to share with you what I think is the spirit of New India.
I have always said – we may move or not, we may be open to change or not India is changing fast and this change is happening for the good. At the core of the New India spirit are individual aspirations, collective endeavors. and a spirit of ownership for national progress. New India is about participative democracy, a citizen-centric government and pro-active citizenry. New India is the era of Responsive people and responsive government.
Distinguished guests, for many years, a culture was perpetrated in which aspiration became a bad word. Doors opened depending on your contacts. Success depended on whether or not you belonged to an Old Boy’s club. Big cities, select big institutions and big families – this is all that mattered. The economic culture of License Raj and Permit Raj struck at the heart of individual ambitions. But, today things are changing for the better. We see a spirit of New India in the vibrant start-up eco-system. Thousands of talented youngsters are creating fantastic platforms, show-casing their spirit of enterprise. We also see this spirit on the sports field.
India is now excelling in new arenas where we were hardly present earlier. Be it start-ups or sports, who is powering this vibrancy? It is courageous youngsters from small towns and villages most people would not even have heard of. They do not belong to established families or have big bank balances. What they have in plenty is dedication and aspiration. They are converting that aspiration into excellence and making India proud. This for me is the New India Spirit. This is an India where the surnames of the youth do not matter. What matters is their ability to make their own name. This is an India where corruption is never an option, whoever the person is. Only competence is the norm.
New India is not about the voice of a select few. It is about the voice of each and every of the 130 crore Indians. And, for media platforms, it is vital to hear this voice of the people. Today we are seeing that every citizen wants to do something or the other for the nation. Every citizen either wants to contribute or give up something for the nation. Take for example the most recent step to reduce single use plastic. This is not only Narendra Modi’s idea or effort. The people of India have taken it upon themselves to make India free of single use plastic at a time when we mark Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary. These are extra-ordinary times and we should not leave any opportunity that enables us to transform our nation.
As a Government, we have done everything possible to further individual ambitions and collective efforts for India’s betterment. Steps to improve ‘Ease of Living’, be it keeping prices under control, building 1.25 crore homes in five years, electrifying all villages, providing water to every household, improving health as well as education infrastructure are aimed towards creating the right enabling environment for our youth. The scale and extent to which this government has worked is mind boggling. We have reached the very last mile, at phenomenal speed and with unparalleled scale. 36 crore bank accounts have been opened, 20 crore loans given to small enterprise, over 8 crore gas connections ensured smoke free kitchens, pace of road construction has doubled.
These are just some examples. However, what makes me happiest, and which according to me is the essence of New India, is how the people of India have risen above self interest and looked at societal interest. Why else would the poorest of the poor deposit over Rupees One Lakh Crore
in Jan Dhan accounts despite these being zero balance accounts? Why else would our middle class give up their own gas subsidy? Why else would the elderly give up their railway concession on just one request?
Maybe this is a manifestation of what was spoken a century ago by Gandhi Ji in the form of the doctrine of trusteeship. Today, there is a sincere desire not only to be a spectator of India’s transformation but also to play their own part in it. No wonder even the number of tax-payers have risen. The people have decided that they want to take India ahead!
You would be seeing changes that were earlier deemed as totally impossible. In a state like Haryana, it was not thinkable that recruitment for government jobs could be done transparently. But, go to any village of Haryana and people are talking about the transparent manner in which recruitments took place. Now, it is common to see people using Wi-Fi facilities in railway stations.
Who would have ever thought this would be a reality. Earlier, platforms were associated with goods and passengers. But now, in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, students go to stations after school or college, use the free Wi-Fi and excel. The system is the same, the people are the same yet, massive changes have taken place on the ground.
How the spirit has changed in India can be summed up using just two words. Five years ago, people would ask- will we? Will we ever be free from dirt? Will we ever remove policy paralysis? Will we ever eliminate corruption? Today people say- we will! We will be a Swachh Bharat. We will be a nation free from corruption. We will make good governance a mass movement. The word ‘will’, which earlier denoted a pessimistic question now reflects the optimistic spirit of a youthful nation.
I want to share with you an example of how our Government is working holistically to create a New India. You all know that our government has created over 1.5 crore homes for the poor at a rapid pace. This is a huge improvement over the previous government. A lot of people ask me that schemes and funds did exist previously also, then what did you do differently? They have the right to ask the question.
First of all, we were conscious of the fact that we were not creating houses, but were building homes. Thus we needed to move away from the concept of merely constructing four walls. Our approach was deliver more facilities, deliver more value, deliver in less time and deliver at no extra cost.
The homes that our government built did not take a rigid architecture approach. We built homes according to local requirements and wishes of the people. To deliver all basic facilities, we achieved convergence of various government schemes. So the homes would have electricity, gas connection, toilet and all such necessities.
To deliver more value, we heard the needs of the people and not only increased the area of the homes but also increased the construction amount. We also involved local artisans and labour in this process, including women. To deliver in less time and at no extra cost, we made technology an important component of this process. Photos of construction at various stages would get uploaded online giving a clear picture to the administration. Direct transfer of the money resulted in no leakage and complete satisfaction. Now if you think back, this could not have been successful with any one of these interventions. Neither technology alone would have solved the problems nor convergence of schemes alone would have solved problems. Solutions at scale are possible when all interventions come together to deliver holistic results. This has been the hallmark of our government.
Our vision for New India includes not only caring for those living in the nation but also outside. Our diaspora is our pride, contributing to India’s economic growth. Whenever any Indian overseas has faced a problem, we have been at the forefront of solving it. When Indian nurses were captured in different parts of West Asia, no stone was left unturned to bring them back home. Most of these nurses belonged to South India. The same spirit was seen when Father Tom, another son of Kerala, was captured. Many people came back from Yemen.
I have been to several West Asian nations and high on my agenda is spending time with the Indians. I just came back from a visit to Bahrain. This is a nation that is a valued friend, home to so many Indians, but never has an Indian Prime Minister visited there. This honour was left for me! One of the highlights was the compassionate decision of the Royal Family to pardon 250 Indians serving sentences there. Similar pardons have been granted by Oman and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia increased India’s Haj quota.
Friends, in my recent visit to UAE, the RuPay card was launched there and Bahrain will also have the RuPay card soon. Apart from the push to digital transactions, this will benefit the lakhs of people working in the Gulf who also send remittances back home. Today I am proud when I hear that India’s relations with the Gulf are better than ever before. Needless to say, it is common citizens who will gain the most thanks to this.
Friends, we are seeing a spirit of the New India in the media Today, India has the most diverse and growing media. The number of newspapers, magazines, TV channels, websites are constantly rising. At this point, may I also highlight the positive role played by the media in various movements be it Swachh Bharat, eliminating single use plastic, water conservation, Fit India and more. They have made these movements their own, and mobilised people to achieve remarkable causes.
Friends, for ages, language has always been a very powerful vehicle for the most popular ideas traveling across time and distance. India is perhaps the only country in the world with so many languages. In a way it is a force multiplier. But language also been exploited by selfish interests to create artificial walls in the country to divide. Today, I have a humble suggestion. Can we not use the power of language to unite India?
Can media play the role of a bridge to and bring people speaking different languages closer. This is not as difficult as it seems. We can simply start with publishing one word in 10-12 different languages spoken across the country. In a year, a person can learn over 300 new words in different languages. Once a person learns another Indian language, he will come to know the common threads and truly appreciate the oneness in Indian culture. This can also give rise to groups of people interested to learn different languages. Imagine a group in Haryana learning Malayalam and a group in Karnataka learning Bengali! All big distances were covered only after taking the first step, can we take the first step?
The great sages who walked on this land, our founding fathers, those who took part in the freedom struggle had great dreams. In the 21st century, it is our duty to fulfil them and build the India that would make them proud.
I am confident that we can achieve this, and a lot more together in the times to come.
Once again, my best wishes to the Malayala Manorama group and I thank you all for inviting me.