People of Balochistan, Kashmir thanked me: Modi on India's Independence Day

Published August 15, 2016
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort on the Indian Independence Day in New Delhi. ─AP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort on the Indian Independence Day in New Delhi. ─AP

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took aim at what he called supporters of “terrorism” in his Independence Day speech on Monday, ratcheting up criticism of Pakistan while avoiding direct mention of month-long protests in Indian-held Kashmir.

Modi also pitched a vision of national unity and progress in his third annual address from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi that, at 94 minutes, was the longest delivered by the 65-year-old leader.

Yet it was a broadside against Pakistan that left the strongest impression in a speech that otherwise skirted foreign affairs and focused on his government's own achievements.

“What kind of life is this, inspired by terrorism? What kind of government setup is it that is inspired by terrorism?” asked Modi, who delivered the open-air address amid a security lockdown in the Indian capital.

“The world will know about it and that's sufficient for me.”

The Indian PM went aggressively further in a diatribe against Pakistan.

"People of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) have thanked me a lot in past few days, I am grateful to them," said Modi in his Monday address.

Modi also said that Indians "also cried" when children in Peshawar were killed in the APS attack in December 2014.

"This is our nature, but look at the other side. They glorify terrorists."

As Modi spoke, two gunmen attacked a police station in Indian-held Kashmir, wounding six reservists. The army also claimed it had foiled an attempt to infiltrate two 'militants' from Pakistan into north Kashmir, killing both.

Kashmir has witnessed violent protests since a July 8 encounter in which the security forces eliminated a commander of militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. At least 54 people have been killed and thousands hurt in clashes with the security forces.

Modi met national party leaders on Friday to seek ways to end the worst unrest in Kashmir since 2010.

Report card

In keeping with earlier speeches, Modi delivered a report card on efforts to improve the lot of ordinary Indians, reeling off achievements in rural electrification, financial inclusion and health provision.

He strongly backed the fight against inflation, endorsing a 4 per cent target, within a range of 2 percentage points either way, agreed with Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan.

He barely mentioned his government's latest ─ and arguably most significant ─ reform achievement: the passage of a key amendment that clears the way for the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST) next year.

He said only that the GST would “give strength” to the economy, while thanking opposition parties that, after a drawn-out battle, had come on board to pass the amendment unanimously through both houses of parliament.

The GST would unite India's $2 trillion economy and 1.3 billion people into a single market for the first time and, its backers say, boost economic growth and job creation that Modi needs to win a second term at the 2019 general election.

The tradition of delivering the annual address from the steps of the 17th-century Red Fort from where Mughal kings ruled Delhi for two centuries dates back to Jawaharlal Nehru's historic “tryst with destiny” speech of 1947.

Modi, despite a barnstorming campaign that carried him to the biggest electoral landslide in three decades in 2014, has so far failed to touch the rhetorical heights achieved by India's first prime minister.

But, sporting a red, pink and yellow turban, he did indulge in some trademark wordplay to say that India was moving from “swaraj”, or self rule in Hindi, to “suraj”, or good governance.

"One society, one dream, one resolution, one destiny ─ we proceed in this direction," he said.

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