Modi raps Pakistan in national address

Prime Minister Modi giving his Independence Day address from the Red Fort in New Delhi yesterday. In a 94-minute speech, he blasted supporters of terrorism and highlighted what he said were his government's achievements in improving the lot of ordina
Prime Minister Modi giving his Independence Day address from the Red Fort in New Delhi yesterday. In a 94-minute speech, he blasted supporters of terrorism and highlighted what he said were his government's achievements in improving the lot of ordinary citizens.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Independence Day speech also offers vision of Indian unity and progress

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took aim at supporters of "terrorism" in his Independence Day speech, ratcheting up criticism of Pakistan while avoiding direct mention of month-long protests in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

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

Yet it was a broadside against Pakistan, the arch-rival also born out of independence from Britain and partition, 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 set-up is it that is inspired by terrorism?" asked Mr 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."

Kashmir has witnessed violent protests since a July 8 encounter in which security forces killed a commander of the Pakistan-based militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.

As of yesterday, at least 54 people had been killed and thousands hurt in clashes with security forces.

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

Both India and Pakistan rule Kashmir in part but claim it in full. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars since independence 69 years ago over the Muslim-majority region where the Line of Control, or de facto border, still runs roughly where the guns fell silent in 1948.

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 first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's historic "tryst with destiny" speech on the eve of Aug 15, 1947, when India celebrated its first Independence Day.

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

Noting that his government had built more than 20 million toilets and brought electricity to thousands of villages, Mr Modi vowed that his administration was on track to meet its pledge of providing power and toilets to every household across the world's second most-populous nation.

"Today I can say that in such short time, more than 20 million toilets have been built in India's villages and more than 70,000 are free of open defecation," Mr Modi said to loud applause.

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.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Modi raps Pakistan in national address'. Print Edition | Subscribe