When the prime minister says he’s making an announcement, Indians start expecting the unexpected. It all started with the sudden announcement to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on 8 November 2016
Be it policy decisions or governing strategies, surprises are perhaps the most defining characteristic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s time in office.
From the decision to demonetise Indian currency to abrogating Article 370, the prime minister has often taken the public by surprise with his pronouncements
Let’s take a look at eight such instances:
Surprise visit to Pakistan in 2016
Weeks after having an unscheduled meeting with then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif at climate change talks at Paris in 2015, Modi threw a curveball few were expecting: a visit to Pakistan (the first by an Indian premier in over 10 years no less).
That the visit coincided with the 66th birthday of Sharif and the 91st birthday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee – who visited Pakistan as prime minister in 2004 and who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Islamabad – came as little surprise to close watchers of politics.
“That’s like a statesman,” then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted. “One should have such relations with the neighbours,” she added.
Demonetisation in 2016
On 8 November, 2016, as the attention of the world was affixed on the 2016 presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly appeared on the screens across the country to announce the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from public use in a bid to clamp down on black money, corruption and terror funding.
Modi, addressing the nation, said: “Time and again, I have seen that when the average citizen has to choose between accepting dishonesty and bearing inconvenience, they always choose to put up with inconvenience. They will not support dishonesty.
Once again, let me invite you to make your contribution to this grand sacrifice for cleansing our country, just as you cleaned up your surroundings during Diwali,” he added.
Modi’s sudden announcement completely stole the thunder from the US elections with politicos, celebrities and the public taking to Twitter to express their views and fiercely debate the decision.
Article 370 abrogation in 2019
The Narendra Modi government had returned to power in sensational style in 2019.
Fresh off a mandate from the voters and less than 90 days after taking power, the government in August 2019 turned its attention to a controversial and long-debated issue: the special status of Kashmir.
The bold move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – was announced by home minister Amit Shah in the Rajya Sabha but bore the trademark fingerprints of the prime minister.
Addressing the country, Modi vow said that Jammu and Kashmir won’t be a Union Territory for a long time and hinted at a return of statehood once “good governance” returns.
“I want to make it clear, your reprsentative will be elected by you, your representative will come from amongst you. I have complete faith, under this new system, we all will be able to free Jammu and Kashmir of terrorism and separatism,” Modi said in his address.
“Ladakh has the potential to become the biggest centre of spiritual tourism, adventure tourism and ecotourism. It can also become a major centre of solar power generation. Now there will be a proper use of its potential,” he added.
Balakot airstrike in 2019
A day after the 2019 Pulwama attack by the Islamabad-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed the lives of 42 CRPF jawans, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the ‘blood of the people is boiling and vowed a ‘strong response’.
Two weeks later, on 26 February, 2019, came news of the Indian Air Force’s strike on a JeM base in Balakot.
Witnesses at the site said up to 35 bodies were transported ambulance hours after the attack including 12 men who were said to have been sleeping in a single temporary shack, and several individuals who had earlier served in Pakistan’s military.
As India Today reported, Modi gave no indication to those who met him that he had taken such a momentous decision in the hours leading up to the assault.
He stayed up all night getting information about the mission and only when he called a cabinet security meet did his team realise what had kept the prime minister awake all night, as per the report.
India eventually acknowledged it had carried out the strikes hours after the mission was completed with much jubilation on social media.
Mission Shakti announcement in 2019
On 27 March, 2019, the prime minister put out a tweet which left many wondering what he had up his sleeve.
मेरे प्यारे देशवासियों,
आज सवेरे लगभग 11.45 – 12.00 बजे मैं एक महत्वपूर्ण संदेश लेकर आप के बीच आऊँगा।
I would be addressing the nation at around 11:45 AM – 12.00 noon with an important message.
Do watch the address on television, radio or social media.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2019
Another demonetisation perhaps? Or perhaps the announcement of some other action taken against terror outfits? Not this time.
The prime minister announced that the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Indian government carried out Mission Shakti, India’s first, successful anti-satellite missile experiment with a completely indigenous technology. The proof of concept technology was launched from the A P J Abdul Kalam Island launch complex in Odisha, Modi added.
The prime minister hailed India’s entry into an exclusive club of space-faring nations comprising US, Russia and China.
COVID-19 lockdown in 2020
When it came to the coronavirus pandemic, India, much like the world, had yet to get a grip on what it was dealing with in March 2020.
With just 500 cases and the death toll at 12 in India, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March, 2020, announced a 21-day lockdown to break the chain of infection.
Explaining that the pandemic was a massive challenge for even countries considered to have strong health infrastructure as the US and Italy, Modi said, “In such a situation we have learnt from the experience of the countries that have managed to get some control over the surge in cases, and these show that a lockdown for a sustained period of time is the only way to break the chain of infection.”
“Draw a Laxman Rekha outside your house door and do not step outside of it. Stay where you are. This will be the decisive battle against coronavirus,” Modi advised in a somber speech.
“If we are not able to adhere to this lockdown sincerely for 21 days, believe me, India will go back 21 years. Several families will be destroyed. India is at a stage of the pandemic where our actions will decide our future,” he added.
Net zero announcement at climate meet in November 2021
The prime minister’s statement at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26 that India “will achieve net zero emissions by 2070” took everyone by surprise and made headlines across the world.
Modi in his speech made the following commitments:
- To raise the non-fossil fuel based energy capacity of the country to 500 GW by 2030
- India will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030
- India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now to 2030
- By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45 percent
- By 2070, India will achieve the target of net zero emissions
The prime minister’s pledge, India’s first major commitment to the idea, was hailed by world leaders and activists.
Farm laws rollback in November 2021
For almost a year, cultivators sat in protest against the Centre’s three controversial farm laws in Delhi and across the country. Both sides seemed utterly intractable.
Then, on 19 November, 2019, the prime minister surprised the country by announcing the repeal of the farm laws.
The prime minister, making the announcement on Gurpurab, when Sikhism founder Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary is celebrated, urged farmers to return to their homes and vowed to ‘start afresh’.
#WATCH | We have decided to repeal all 3 farm laws, will begin the procedure at the Parliament session that begins this month. I urge farmers to return home to their families and let’s start afresh: PM Narendra Modi pic.twitter.com/0irwGpna2N
— ANI (@ANI) November 19, 2021
“A majority of farmers are small scale farmers. And to help them, we took on a multi-faceted approach from seed technology, crop insurance schemes. We brought in the three farm bills for the benefit of small farmers, many farmers across the nation have welcomed it. I am thankful to them,” the prime minister said.
The prime minister said that the BJP-led Centre has not been able to convince farmers, and stressed that a section of them continued opposing even when the government tried to educate and inform them.
“We tried our best to explain to farmers. We were even ready to modify the laws, suspend them too. The matter reached the Supreme Court as well,” he added.
What the prime minister has in store for the public remains anyone’s guess.
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