New Delhi: In his seventh address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to cloak nationalism with hope at a time that can only be described as bleak.
With criticism coming in from several quarters over the government’s alleged mishandling of the health crisis, the prime minister focused on the challenges posed by COVID-19 and announced the launch of the National Digital Health Mission saying it would reduce problems in healthcare through technology, by providing every Indian with a ‘health identity’ in which all tests, disease details, reports and visit to doctors will be recorded.
During his 86-minute speech, the prime minister also spoke about developments at the border and without naming either Pakistan or China, said India has shown the world it is “capable of tackling” terrorism and expansionism.
“From LoC to LAC – the forces have replied in the language used by the aggressor and the world has seen in Ladakh what our soldiers and the country can do,” he said.
“Be it terrorism or expansionism,” Modi said, “India is combating them successfully.” He also pointed to the support India enjoys globally, saying that out of 192 members of United Nations, 184 had supported India when it came to non-permanent membership of the Security Council.
‘Extended neighbourhood bonds’
Noting that one-fourth of the world population resides in South Asia, Modi said, leaders of the region therefore have a great responsibility for peace and development of the region. “Today a neighbour is not only one with whom we share our boundaries, but also those with whom our hearts match. India has formed “extended neighbourhood bonds with all its neighbours.”
Addressing the nation from the Red Fort. https://t.co/uHu73fOF17
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 15, 2020
Modi also spoke about how India has recently stopped import of 100 types of defence equipment as part of its self-reliance model and how as part of its geo-strategy, India would also be developing some of its 1,300 islands.
NCC to be expanded in border districts
Noting that there were 173 districts in border or coastal areas, Modi said the National Cadet Corps will be expanded for youth of these areas.
“We will prepare nearly 100,000 NCC cadets in border area and around a third of them will be girls. Training will be imparted by Army, Air Force and Navy depending on the location. This will provide trained manpower to the forces whereas youth will acquire skills to join forces,” he elaborated.
‘Cyber security police, road project’
The prime minister also spoke about the challenge being posed from cyberspace to the “social fabric, economy and infrastructure” of the country and declared that a new cyber security police would be brought in the country soon.
He also announced the creation of a new four-lane coastal road project along the coastline of the country, and the expansion of the optical fibre network to all six lakh villages and also Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.
He also spoke about a Committee report on marriage age for girls and indicated that there may be an announcement on this soon.
Modi spoke about the COVID-19 situation and sought to highlight how, despite it being a major challenge, the country has not allowed it to overwhelm it.
As for the development of a vaccine, he said, “Our scientists are deeply involved in research and three vaccines are in different stages of testing. When we will get the green flag, we will ramp up production and we have already planned how to take these vaccines to all Indians.”
He said on Independence Day this year, along with the police forces and soldiers, the country is also saluting its ‘corona warriors’ who have over the past few months battled the virus.
The prime minister then linked India’s response to the virus to its pledge to develop the catchphrase introduced by him, ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or ‘self-reliant India’.
“It is not a word but a ‘mantra’ for all now,” he insisted. “The world is inter-connected and inter-dependent, and so it is the demand of time that India’s contribution to world growth increases. For that it would have to become self-reliant and more resourceful.”
He stressed the need for India to become a producer of finished products. “For how long will we continue to supply raw material to the world and import finished products. So we will have to become self reliant,” he said, noting how India, that was once an importer of wheat, is now a net exporter of grains.
In this regard he also spoke about reforms in the agricultural sector saying these are aimed at ridding farmers of economic debt. “Farmers could not sell where they wanted to at their own prices – we have ended that. They can now sell in any corner of the country or world. To augment their income, we want to reduce input cost and we are working to double their income. The replacement of diesel pumps with solar pumps is a step in the direction.”
He said the government also wants food processing and packaging to expand and Rs 1 lakh crore has reportedly been allocated for agricultural infrastructure during COVID-19. For promoting rural industry, he said the Farmer Producers Organisation will be roped in for economic management.
Modi also claimed that in one year of the scheme to supply fresh drinking water to every household, over two crore homes have been connected and these include Adivasis living in forests.
‘Hurdles being removed to allow middle-class to prosper’
Modi said India’s large middle class has shown how it can supposedly thrive in the absence of bureaucratic hurdles. “Be it cheap internet, reasonable air tickets under UDAN, expansion of highways, use of smart phones or making home loans cheaper, we have tried to enrich them. The government has also provided Rs 25,000 crore to complete the housing projects where their money had been stuck,” he added.
He said income tax and GST rates have been rationalised to and the government has ushered in reforms in small and medium scale enterprises and in grant to loans to benefit this class.
He said the country has shown its knack at innovation during COVID-19. “If there are lakhs of challenges, there are also crores of solutions in the country. We were not making N95, PPE and ventilators earlier, but we started making them,” he said.
‘Comprehensive, integrated infrastructure development’
Modi said, “When Vajpayee was PM, he started the Golden Quadrilateral project and today too the country is looking at that road development project with pride.” But, he said, “We cannot assume that road, railway, port and airports are separate – we need to have a comprehensive, integrated infrastructure development, a multi modal infrastructure – for the next century.”
To ensure uniform growth, the Prime Minister said 110 below-average districts have been identified for providing better education, health and employment opportunities.
He also spoke about how after three decades India has come out with a National Education Policy. “It will connect our students to the roots, but also enable them become ‘global citizens’. The National Research Foundation will be an important component of this since innovation needs to be promoted,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir to have elections after delimitation exercise
The Prime Minister said fresh elections will be held in Jammu and Kashmir, from where Article 370 was removed last year, after the delimitation exercise is completed. “One year ago we got freedom from Article 370. This was a major year for getting basic rights to women and Dalits there, and to the refugees,” he said.
Noting that “the strength of a democracy lies in the elected units”, he said, “it is a matter of pride that elected representatives – panch and sarpanches – are taking the state forward. The delimitation exercise is going on. Then there will be elections and the state will get elected representatives and a chief minister. The Centre is committed to it.”
Ladakh, Leh and Kargil to become ‘carbon neutral development models’
As for Ladakh, he said, the government has “fulfilled Ladakh’s aspirations” and is setting up a central university, hotel management courses and a 7500 MW solar park project there. “Like Sikkim has developed as an “organic state”, so too we feel Ladakh, Leh and Kargil can become carbon neutral development models.”
Modi said India is now among the top five renewable energy producing countries in the world and has shown that it is capable of preserving environment while ensuring growth. He said 100 cities have also been identified for reducing pollution.
Modi also spoke about launching an Asiatic Lion Project for saving the lion population and a Project Dolphin in rivers and sea for strengthening bio-diversity and promoting tourism.
He also touched upon the construction of Ram temple, whose foundation stone he laid in Ayodhya a few days back, and said the atmosphere of peace that has prevailed thereafter “showed hope for a better future.”