Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday asked Maoists to talk to the government and warned that the peace process with Pakistan will not go far if it continues to support terrorism.
Delivering his seventh successive Independence Day address from the ramparts of the 17th century Red Fort - where the flag of free India was unfurled by the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on Aug 15, 1947 - Manmohan Singh also called for an end to violence in Jammu and Kashmir saying it was achieving no purpose.
"I once again appeal to Naxalites to abjure violence, come for talks with the government and join hands with us to accelerate social and economic development," he said in a 40-minute speech in Hindi that was heard by foreign diplomats, his ministers and officials and thousands of school children and ordinary people and was nationally telecast.
But he made it clear that his Congress-led government would deal firmly with violence, and called for close coordination between the central and state governments to meet the Maoist challenge, which he has called the country's biggest internal security threat.
The prime minister's carrot-and-stick approach follows a surge in Maoist violence that has seen hundreds of security personnel die, mostly in the sprawling forested Bastar region in the heart of India.
Manmohan Singh, who began his second five-year stint last year, made no reference to any country in his speech except Pakistan while underlining New Delhi's desire to live in peace with neighbouring countries.
"As far as Pakistan is concerned, we expect from them that they would not let their territory be used for acts of terrorism against India," he said, a month after talks between foreign ministers of the two countries in Islamabad collapsed amid acrimony.
"We have been emphasizing this in all our discussions with the Pakistan government. If this is not done, we cannot progress far in our dialogue with Pakistan."
An army of security personnel protected the Red Fort and its environs. Sharpshooters were posted on buildings in the city's old quarters while military helicopters and anti-aircraft guns were deployed discreetly.
Speaking amid unending violence in the Kashmir Valley, Manmohan Singh deeply regretted the deaths of over 55 civilians, mainly young men, since June.
"The years of violence (in Jammu and Kashmir) should now end," he said. "Such violence would not benefit anyone."
Describing Jammu and Kashmir, whose ownership is disputed by Pakistan, as an integral part of India, he said that within this framework "we are ready to move forward in any talks which would increase the partnership of the common man in governance and also enhance their welfare".
He made no reference to calls for autonomy in Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. He appealed to people in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast to "adopt democratic means" to make their point.
Describing himself as the "first servant of India", Manmohan Singh said his government was building "a new India in which every citizen would have a stake".
"Today, India stands among the fastest growing economies," he said. "As the world's largest democracy, we have become an example for many other countries to emulate."
Regretting the rising cost of food, the prime minister said the government was confident of succeeding in its efforts to check inflation.
Known to be candid, Manmohan Singh made no efforts to hide the country's weak points.
"A large part of our population still suffers from persistent poverty, hunger and disease." He said the need of the hour was to implement welfare programmes effectively while eliminating corruption.
Admitting that Indian roads, ports and airports were not of world standards, he said the private sector had to be mobilized to better them as the government would not be able to raise the required resources.
He also called for cleanliness and good sanitation in villages, towns and cities. "The truth is that our country lags behind in this area."
Lamenting that India was divided in the name of religion, state, caste and language, he called upon Indians to become modern and progressive in their outlook.
He vowed to protect the minorities and improve the quality of education and health. He said the successful organization of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October "would be another signal to the world that India is rapidly marching ahead with confidence".