India at 61: seize the moment, says PM (National Roundup)

August 15th, 2008 - 7:36 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 15 (IANS) India Friday observed 61 years of its independence with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking his countrymen to seize the “moment of opportunity” in making it a great nation with Jammu and Kashmir remaining calm but tense and subdued celebrations elsewhere a sombre reminder of the recent terror bombings in several parts of the country. “India is today viewed with respect as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. People of Indian Origin are engaged in diverse activities around the world and their capabilities are recognized the world over,” the prime minister said in his address to the nation from the historic Red Fort, the fifth and last speech of his tenure as his ruling coalition prepares to face elections next year.

“The world today expects India to regain its due place in the comity of nations. This is a moment of opportunity for us,” he declared.

In his 42-minute speech, delivered in Hindi with security agents holding raincoats and umbrellas at the ready with threatening rain clouds overhead, Manmohan Singh termed the situation in Jammu and Kashmir “a cause for concern” and urged the people and political parties in the troubled state to cooperate in restoring peace.

“The recent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir are a cause for concern. In this hour of crisis, 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,” Manmohan Singh said.

He noted that the Amarnath shrine, 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”.

To the relief of event managers and security agencies, it only drizzled slightly during the prime minister’s speech although the sky remained grey and threatening. The administration had kept ready thousands of umbrellas 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”.

He also spoke optimistically about the future, pointing to the quantum leap the country would take once the India-US nuclear deal is made operational.

The deal 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.”

Governors and chief ministers presided over official functions in all state capitals, unfurling the national tricolour and taking the salute at ceremonial parades of the police and other security forces. Schoolchildren everywhere presented colourful song and dance routines.

In Kashmir, the Valley was calm as Governor N.N. Vohra urged the people to rise above religious and regional divides to solve the Amarnath land allocation dispute.

Vohra’s speech at the heavily guarded Bakhshi Stadium - where there were no schoolchildren and no local residents - in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar was dotted with references to the land row though he did not name it explicitly.

Using words like recent “disturbances”, “events” and “developments”, Vohra said the onus of recreating “a peaceful environment lies on the people of all the three regions (Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu) and on all of us”.

In Jammu, the Mubarak Mandi, the seat of the government during Dogra rule in the state, Friday became the centre of Independence Day celebrations in the city, with tens of thousands converging there to mark the occasion.

Amid cheers and chants of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Bamb Bamb Bhole”, thousands of residents gathered with the national tricolour, waving the flags as the celebrations began - quiet in contrast to the ceremonies in the Muslim-majority valley.

West Bengal celebrated Independence Day with great enthusiasm, with Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hoisting the tricolour in Kolkata. He also garlanded the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at the secretariat.

But there was a jarring note in the state as at least 30 students were injured when a newly-built school building in a village collapsed during Independence Day celebrations.

The incident took place in Nayabazar High School at Panchanandapur in Malda district, about 360 km from state capital Kolkata.

“Fifteen of the 30 students were seriously injured and admitted to a local hospital,” police said.

The day was celebrated amid gaiety and patriotic fervour in India’s IT capital Bangalore despite an overcast sky and windy conditions.

About 8,000 people watched as Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa unfurled the tricolour at the Manekshaw Parade Ground in the heart of the city. The flag hoisting was followed by the playing of the national anthem and a colourful march past by central and state security forces.

In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy led the celebrations by unfurling the national flag at the main official function at Parade Grounds in Secunderabad.

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