Voicing concern over violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday warned that dividing people in the name of religion could pose a threat to the unity of the country and asked all political parties to come together to resolve issues related to Amarnath land row through dialogue.
Addressing the nation on the occasion of 62nd Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he said divisive politics would lead the country nowhere and political parties should keep long term interests of Jammu and Kashmir in view.
With unabated violence in the state apparently weighing heavily on his mind, Singh underlined that issues related to the Amarnath shrine could be resolved in "an atmosphere of peace and goodwill".
"The recent incidents in the state of Jammu and Kashmir are a cause for concern. In this hour of crisis, divisive politics will lead us nowhere," he said in his last Independence Day speech during the UPA's tenure.
Emphasising that all issues related to the Amarnath land controversy can be resolved through dialogue and peaceful means, the Prime Minister said "dividing people in the name of religion can complicate these issues further which can also pose a threat to the unity and integrity of the country."
He appealed to all political parties to keep the "long-term interests of Jammu and Kashmir in view and come together to find a permanent solution to the problems of the state."
Singh highlighted that Amarnath shrine was a "shining example" of the country's secular tradition where Hindu pilgrims have been looked after for years by their Muslim brothers.
"Issues related to the sacred place, especially the issue of providing the best possible facilities to pilgrims, can only be resolved in an atmosphere of peace and goodwill," he said.
His comments came amid violence that has hit Jammu and Kashmir over controversy related to the transfer of about 100 acres of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board for the conduct of annual pilgrimage to the holy cave in the mountains in south Kashmir.
Singh said Jammu and Kashmir requires an era of peace to enable it to catch up with the more developed parts of the country.
He said his government has been taking various initiatives to promote peace and stability in the state and these will be taken forward.
The Prime Minister talked about similar measures for the North-East, saying that the government will have to pay special attention for development of the region.
"Our government has taken several initiatives to increase public investment in the North-East and in Jammu and Kashmir. We are investing in infrastructure and in education in these regions to encourage development and generate employment," Singh said.
Describing terrorism, extremism, communalism and fundamentalism as "major challenges to the unity and integrity of our country", he said the recent attacks in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and other parts of the country have shocked the nation.
Expressing firm determination of his government to deal with these challenges, he said the functioning of the intelligence agencies, police and security forces would be examined.
"We have to further strengthen our intelligence agencies and police forces to deal with the problem of terrorism," Singh said.
He mentioned last month's attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, saying it had cast a "shadow over efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan and to bring a lasting and honourable peace in our region".
Addressing the country from the heavily-guarded Red Fort, the Prime Minister said he had personally conveyed his "concern and disappointment" to Pakistan over the Kabul embassy attack.
Afghanistan and India have blamed Pakistan's ISI for the July 7 suicide attack in which four Indians, including a Brigadier-level defence attache and a senior IFS officer, were among nearly 60 people killed.
Singh made it clear that Pakistan would have to end cross-border terrorism, saying without the issue being addressed "all the good intentions that we have for our two peoples to live in peace and harmony will be negated.
"We will not be able to pursue the peace initiatives we want to take. The terrorists and those who support them are enemies of people of India and Pakistan, of friendship between the two countries and of peace in the region and the world. We must defeat them."
Singh said India was seeking a peaceful, stable and prosperous neighbourhood and its foreign policy is based on these principles. "We wish all our neighbours well."
The Prime Minister noted that his government had strengthened relations with major powers and other countries of the world and said these efforts would continue, keeping in view the country's interests.
Strongly defending his government's decision to pursue the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Prime Minister said the agreement would end India's nuclear isolation and open up new pathways for industrialisation of the country.
He said the deal would help in providing electricity to meet the needs of farmers, artisans, traders and industry.
"The nuclear agreement that we are negotiating with developed countries will end India's nuclear isolation. It will open up new opportunities for trade in dual-use technologies, opening up new pathways to accelerate industrialisation of our country," Singh said.
He highlighted the handicaps affecting India's atomic energy programme, saying the nation had inadequate uranium production and the quality of uranium resources was not comparable to those of other producers.
"Many countries have imposed sanctions on trade with India in nuclear materials, nuclear equipment and nuclear technology. As a result, our nuclear energy programme has suffered," he said.
Singh acknowledged the concern that the rising prices had caused among the people and expressed his government's determination to bring inflation under "reasonable control".
During his 45-minute address, he also talked about the various initiatives and programmes taken by his government over the last four years, particularly in the areas of agriculture, healthcare, education, employment, urban renewal, rural development and infrastructure.
He specifically referred to the acceptance of the 6th Pay Commission report for government employees, saying the UPA has gone beyond the recommendations in increasing emoluments.