India is moving in the right direction but Indians need to work harder for at least a decade to eradicate poverty and provide education and healthcare to the millions on the other side of the divide, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the nation’s 60th Independence Day.
Independent India was not the only one turning 60 on Wednesday, the last of the pre-independence generation was doing so too. They would step down from the workforce this month-end, leaving only children of Independent India to drive the country to realise the nation’s dreams. <b1>
In his 40-minute speech, the prime minister did not refer to the controversial Indo-US nuclear deal — or to Pakistan. An official later hinted that Singh, who had moved across from the other side of Punjab into India during Partition, clearly intended to look at India and her future, free from the ghosts of the past.
“We are a nation of young people. Once unleashed, the energy of our youth will drive India onto a new growth path. I assure you that for each one of you…the best is yet to come,” he promised the country’s youth.
Singh laid special focus on secondary and higher education, called malnutrition a "national shame" and described the welfare of farmers as the core of all concerns. But he made it clear that industrialisation held the key to generating employment opportunities for India's growing young population.
Singh did look back too, to be able to move forward faster. "We have been slow in taking some steps; we have dithered and stumbled at times… We have moved forward in the many battles against poverty, ignorance and disease. But can we say we have won the war," he asked.
The prime minister unveiled schemes and plans to pump money into agriculture, education, healthcare and social security for India's most vulnerable. But the emphasis was on consolidating the steps already taken; through Bharat Nirman, universalising secondary education to absorb the millions of additional students coming out of primary schools and helping set up 6,000 good quality schools in each block and pushing up the capacity and quality of the higher education system to make India's young employable by sectors outside agriculture. One initiative in this regard was quadrupling the capacity of vocational institutes to take one crore students annually.
Singh emphasised that industrialisation is critical for progress and promised to pursue policies to promote rapid industrialisation.
Acknowledging that the transition from an agrarian society to an industrial economy was difficult, Singh said it was the government's duty to see that people who lost land to industrialisation did not lose livelihoods. The PM promised that the national policy for rehabilitation and resettlement would fulfil this societal obligation towards people displaced by industrialisation.
The prime minister also asked people and their leaders not to fritter away time on pointless personal differences. "I urge all political parties to resist the temptation to divide people along narrow, sectarian lines. Our strength is in our unity, despite our diversity. It is what gave us our Independence," he concluded.