Strong, self-reliant India stands for greater good of world: PM Modi
The PM outlined the contours of this new self-reliant India across all spheres — education, health, agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, trade, defence, foreign policy, environment, digital connectivity; for all segments of society — the poor, the middle class, women, young, entrepreneurs, labour; and in all regions — from Kashmir to the North-east, from urban to rural areas.
A strong, confident and “aatmanirbhar” (self-reliant) India is essential not just for itself, but for the sake of larger global good, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday in the course of a wide-ranging speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort to mark India’s 74th Independence Day.
His 86-minute long speech also focused on the two other issues most Indians are worried about now -- the coronavirus pandemic (where Modi said his government has a plan ready to distribute a vaccine once it is found) and China (where, without naming the country, he referred to the country’s resolve to defend its sovereignty). And like some of previous speeches on Independence Day, this one too had a target -- connecting each of India’s roughly 600,000 villages through optic fibre cable within 1,000 days.
But self-reliance, the corner stone of the NDA government’s policy response to the coronavirus disease, was theme of the speech. The PM outlined the contours of this new self-reliant India across all spheres — education, health, agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, trade, defence, foreign policy, environment, digital connectivity; for all segments of society — the poor, the middle class, women, young, entrepreneurs, labour; and in all regions — from Kashmir to the North-east, from urban to rural areas.
In the backdrop of Chinese aggression at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and his past references to Chinese behaviour as “expansionist”, the PM also framed India’s freedom struggle as one against an “expansionist mindset”, which had devastated the world. In what could be seen as an attempt to weave the past and the present, the PM said history was witness to how India had posed a challenge to this expansionism, resisting all attempts to crush its spirit.
The PM also reiterated India’s united resolve to defend its sovereignty. He paid tributes to security personnel who lost their lives and said those who had sought to challenge India at either the LAC or Line of Control got a response in the language they understood. Modi promised a new cyber security policy, a more self-reliant defence framework, continued upgrade of border infrastructure, an expansion of the National Cadet Corps to include young men and women from both border and coastal areas, and emphasised the importance of India’s ties with both the immediate and extended neighbourhood.
In his address, the PM acknowledged the impact of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic on society, economy and everyday life. He praised citizens for battling it and spoke of India’s successful efforts to increase testing, and produce and even export masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators; declared that the country has a plan for the rapid production and dissemination of the vaccine once it is ready; and announced a national digital health mission where every Indian will have a health identity card.
Focusing specifically on digital connectivity, the PM mentioned how from just five dozen gram panchayats being connected before 2014, 150,000 panchayats were now connected with optical fibre cable, and another 100,000 would soon be connected. In the changed circumstances, given the accelerated push towards digital after the pandemic, the PM said, that all of India’s over 600,000 villages would now be connected with optical fibre cable within 1,000 days.
Among contentious domestic issues, the PM spoke of Kashmir — of what he saw as achievements of the past year, praised elected local representatives and committed to elections after the process of delimitation — and Ayodhya, where he appreciated the peaceful resolution of the issue and restraint showed by citizens.
The PM’s speech — his seventh consecutive address from the Red Fort — was criticised by the Opposition. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in a statement on Saturday, said the government is “standing contrary to the country’s democratic structure, constitutional values and established traditions”.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee too said people must do all it takes to preserve the basic principles on which the country was founded. “We salute all those who sacrificed their lives to make the dream of a ‘free nation’ come true. Our freedom was hard-earned, and we must do all it takes to preserve the basic principles on which this country was founded,” she tweeted.
On infrastructure, PM Modi referred to the ₹110 lakh crore investment announced for the National Infrastructure Pipeline Project and said that 7,000 projects had already been identified. “In a crisis, investing in infrastructure boost employment and benefits many new sectors.”
On agriculture, the PM said that farmers have now been freed of all restrictions with the changes in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee mechanism. “If you make clothes or soap, you can sell it anywhere. But a farmer could not sell his produce anywhere, it was within a restricted framework. He can, now, breathe an air of freedom and sell his produce anywhere at the best price.”
On manufacturing and trade, the PM spoke of India’s tremendous natural and human resources, and underlined the need to add value to it. “How long will we keep selling raw materials and buying finished products? How long will this game continue?”, he asked. It was time to reduce imports, enhance India’s own products, go vocal for local, innovate, and not just “make in India” but “make for the world”, the PM said.
On environment, the PM spoke of making the new union territory of Ladakh a carbon-neutral zone, with a 7500 MW solar power plant. The PM also spoke, in detail, about battling pollution — a key environmental and public health crisis -- and announced an holistic, integrated, participatory and technology-based approach to tackle pollution in 100 selected cities of the country.
On education, the PM referred to the new National Education Policy as a framework that would make Indian students both rooted in their own setting as well as equipped to become global citizens. In particular, he highlighted the importance of the National Research Foundation and the role of research and innovation for progress.
Besides thematic issues, the PM also underlined the role of various demographic segments, and steps being taken to boost their quality of life, employment prospects and incomes.
On labour, the PM said it was the source of progress and it flowers when obstacles are removed. In this regard, he outlined steps taken to improve lives of citizens — through bank accounts where money is transferred directly, construction of houses and toilets, provision of regular electricity, the availability of health insurance through Ayushman Bharat. “Everyone who is poor, without any discrimination, can benefit from these measures.” The PM said during the pandemic, these instruments had played a key role in enabling the welfare programmes of the government.
On migrant workers in particular — who had to bear tremendous hardship during the pandemic — the PM spoke of the government’s Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana for migrant workers who had returned home; their skilling; and the government’s plans to construct housing for them in cities where they work away from their homes to ensure they can remain productive without any worries.
On the middle class, which he categorised as India’s strength, the PM said that once it gets the right opportunities, it can do “miracles” and professionals from the middle class have made a place for themselves in the world. “The middle class wants liberation from government restrictions. It wants an open field.” He spoke of how the government’s steps — through low cost air connectivity, highways and information ways, cheaper home loans, a fund for stalled real estate projects to ensure middle class home buyers get their homes, reduction of taxes, bringing cooperative banks under the regulatory umbrella of the Reserve Bank of India to protect savings, reforms in micro, small and medium enterprises — will help the middle class.
On women, the PM said the country was committed to providing them equal opportunities. He spoke of how women today were working both in coal mines, below ground level, and flying fighter planes in the sky; the “freedom” Muslim women have got due to the triple talaq legislation; the enhanced maternity leave and benefits to pregnant women; the provision of direct income assistance in the bank accounts of women; and the provision of over 50 million sanitary napkins for women, at just ~1 each, through Jan Aushadi centres.
Besides substantive policy themes and demographic segments, the third pillar of the PM’s speech rested on balanced regional development. In this, he referred to the government’s initiatives in eastern India in particular, the development pathway in Kashmir, and the focus on 110 aspirational districts where socioeconomic indicators have been below the national average and which have received priority in recent years.