August 16, 2015 / 8:09 AM / 2 years ago

India's Modi disappoints supporters with low-key speech

Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks to inspect a guard of honour upon his arrival at the historic Red Fort during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi. August 15, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reforms agenda got blocked in parliament, people in his camp were hoping the famed orator will use a key Independence Day speech to renew confidence in his leadership.

They were disappointed.

Modi’s 90-minute-long speech, made from the ramparts of New Delhi’s Red Fort on Saturday, focused on measures his “Team India” had rolled out to include millions of poor Indians in the banking and insurance systems, policies for workers and farmers and successes in the fights against inflation and corruption.

But it lacked the kind of energy and vision that helped propel him to office. He even relied on notes, something he had never needed to do before.

“We expected him to hit back at the opposition and blame the opposition for the slower-than-expected reform pace, but he failed to do so,” said a minister in Modi’s government.

Nalin Kohli, spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the prime minister used the speech to report his government’s progress.

“It the duty of the government to inform its citizens and the prime minister did the right thing by sharing updates,” Kohli said.

A bureaucrat who is a part of Modi’s inner circle said Modi was upset about failing to further his reforms agenda and decided to “keep his head down” and focus on improving performance.

Politicians and analysts expected Modi to launch a more forceful defense. He has kept silent for months, even as the opposition Congress party has stepped up its attacks and scandals have touched members of his cabinet.

A rousing speech would have also helped his party in a tough election in a few weeks in the impoverished state of Bihar, where the opposition is seeking to paint Modi as a pro-business politician whose policies hurt the poor.

“Modi’s speech was not exciting by his own standards,” said Sanjay Kumar, director for the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “It lacked coherence and his trademark confidence.”

Last year, when Modi delivered his first Independence Day speech, he was brimming with enthusiasm, impatient to launch reforms to boost growth and resolve many social and economic problems.

For the bulk of his speech this year, Modi read out statistics to highlight the challenges he faced and rattle out achievements of 15 months in office, such as opening new bank accounts for the poor and building toilets.

Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst in New Delhi, said people expected Independence Day speeches to offer more.

“Anyone who heard Modi’s speech last year believed that he will bring some key fundamental changes and break new ground,” she said. “It just did not feel that you were listening to the same Modi.”

Editing by Paritosh Bansal nd Nick Macfie

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