NEW DELHI Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took aim at 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-ruled Kashmir.
Modi also pitched a vision of national unity and progress in his third annual address from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Old 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 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.”
As Modi spoke, gunmen attacked a police station in Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, killing an officer and wounding 10 police and paramilitary troops. Two militants were killed in the ensuing shootout, police said.
The army also said it had foiled an infiltration attempt from Pakistan into North Kashmir, killing three militants.
Kashmir has witnessed violent protests since a July 8 encounter in which the security forces eliminated a commander of Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. Until Monday, at least 54 people had 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.
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.
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 percent 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 India was moving from “swaraj”, or self rule in Hindi, to “surajya” – good governance.
“One society, one dream, one resolution, one destiny – we proceed in this direction,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar- Writing by Douglas Busvine- Editing by Nick Macfie)