PM appeals for peace in Kashmir, ticks off Pak
In his last Independence Day speech of his term, PM Manomhan Singh covered a range of issues ranging from trouble in J&K, economy, terrorism, relations with Pakistan and the UPA's achievements. See special.Updated: Aug 15, 2008 14:04 IST
The turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir was a "matter of concern", and people and political parties must eschew divisive politics to find a lasting solution to the state's problems, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in New Delhi on Friday.
In his Independence Day address to the nation from the imposing Red Fort, the prime minister also warned that the July suicide attack at the Indian embassy in Kabul had cast a shadow on New Delhi's efforts to build good relations with Islamabad.
His 42-minute speech, heard at the rain-washed venue by thousands and by millions across the country, was the last in his present term as the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. He covered a range of issues ranging from economy and terrorism to relations with Pakistan and the UPA's achievements.
Speaking slowly in Hindi in his usual sedate manner, the prime minister devoted some time to the mass as well as violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir over the Amarnath shrine land allotment row that has bitterly divided the country's only Muslim-majority state on communal lines.
"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 said.
"I appeal to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to cooperate in establishing peace in the state. It is my conviction that issues can be resolved through dialogue and peaceful means.
"In this hour of crisis, divisive politics will lead us nowhere. I appeal 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."
He said the cave shrine of Amarnath, located in the Kashmir Valley, was a "shining example" of India's secular tradition "where Hindu pilgrims have been looked after for years by their Muslim brothers".
Mercifully, to the relief of event managers and security agencies, it only drizzled slightly although the sky remained grey and threatening. The administration had arranged thousands of umbrellas and parasols for the guests and the hundreds of schoolchildren assembled hours earlier to sing the national anthem.
Manmohan Singh condemned the recent terror attacks in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and other places as acts of "barbarism". He vowed to strengthen the intelligence agencies and police forces to deal with the problem of terrorism.
The prime minister spoke about the July 7 suicide bombing on the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed over 50 people including four Indians and said they had "cast a shadow over our efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan and to bring a lasting and honourable peace in our region.
"I have personally conveyed my concern and disappointment to the government of Pakistan," he said, referring to his meeting Aug 2 in Colombo with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani.
"If this issue of terrorism is not 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."
But he quickly sought to draw a line between the Pakistani government and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which New Delhi, Kabul and Washington have blamed for the devastating attack on the Indian mission.
"The terrorists and those who support them are enemies of the people of India and Pakistan, of friendship between the two countries and of peace in the region and the world. We must defeat them," he said, using strong words to convey his feelings.
Manmohan Singh said India was today viewed with respect as one of the world's fastest growing economies. People of Indian Origin were engaged in diverse activities around the world and their capabilities were recognized the world over.
"The world today expects India to regain its due place in the comity of nations. This is a moment of opportunity for us," he said to cheers from the audience, made up mainly of an estimated 3,000 enthusiastic schoolchildren dressed in the colours of the Indian tricolour.
He said a major challenge before his government was to control inflation while ensuring that India's high economic boom, with a target of 10 percent growth, was not compromised.
"For the first time in our history, we have had four years of nearly 9 percent economic growth. India is among the world's fastest growing economies. But there are new challenges that we face. We have the challenge of inflation."
Describing as "imported" the reasons for the spiralling food and commodity prices, the prime minister said steps had been taken to ease pressures on the average citizen.
Inflation now stands at a 14-year high of 12.44 percent.
"While making these efforts we should avoid doing anything that hurts growth," he said. "Our economy must grow at the rate of at least 10 percent every year to get rid of poverty and generate employment for all."
The prime minister said the nation had an obligation to future generations and said political parties cannot think from year to year and from one election to another.
"We have to think about the welfare, well-being of our children, grandchildren, their grandchildren and future generations."
The prime minister also listed some of the major achievements of his government and said the debt waiver for farmers, the job guarantee scheme, more credit for farm sector and infrastructure upgrade were no mean achievements.
He referred to the India-US civilian nuclear deal and said it would not only end the country's nuclear isolation but also chart "new pathways to accelerate industrialization of our country".
"It will open up new opportunities for trade in dual-use high technologies and nuclear materials and equipment, opening up new pathways to accelerate industrialization of our country. It will enable us to provide electricity to meet the needs of our farmers, our artisans, our traders and our industry."