INDIAN prime minister Narendra Modi delivered an Independence Day speech on Thursday (15) in New Delhi as part of the country’s 73rd independence day celebrations that spotlighted a decision to remove the special rights of the Himalayan region of Kashmir among the bold moves of his second term.
Modi talked about his aim to turn India into a $5-trillion economy within five years, by spurring wealth creation, boosting exports and tourism, and spending Rs 100 trillion on infrastructure.
But he did not touch on sagging demand that has hit parts of the economy in recent months, especially the auto sector.
Modi said special constitutional status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir had encouraged corruption and nepotism while creating injustice for women, children, and minority communities in India’s only majority-Muslim region.
“Today every Indian can proudly say ‘One Nation, One Constitution’,” Modi, speaking from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, said of the decision.
Critics of the policy say it will bring a backlash from Kashmiri Muslims who had valued the previous ban on non-residents buying property in the state and benefited from the reservation of state government jobs for residents.
Since the August 2 decision, the region has been under a clampdown, with internet and phone links cut off by authorities, movement restricted by police roadblocks, and more than 500 local leaders and activists detained.
Wearing a flowing bright saffron-coloured turban, Modi, who won a landslide election victory in May, also highlighted his government’s ban on some Muslim communities’ practice of allowing a husband to instantly divorce his wife.
Perhaps the most controversial announcement in Modi’s speech was the creation of a new post of chief of defence staff, to ensure better coordination between India’s army, navy, and air force, along the lines of Western military forces.
Defence experts have long called for such a post, recommended by a government panel in 1999 after India came close to war with Pakistan.
“Our forces are India’s pride,” Modi said.
“To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision … India will have a chief of defence staff.”
However, he did not address the weakening economy and calls by the industry for a swift package of government measures to stimulate demand.
India’s growth rate has fallen to 5.8 per cent for the three months ended March 2019, its lowest in 17 quarters, while research group CMIE estimates the jobless rate rose to 7.51 per cent in July from 5.66 per cent a year earlier.
Modi said he would invest Rs 100 trillion in infrastructure over the next five years and a further Rs 3.6 trillion to improve water infrastructure and pipe clean water to every home.