In his last Independence Day speech before Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today presented a picture of rising India under his government, contrasting it with what he termed as "policy paralysis" under the UPA, as he announced the launch date of his signature healthcare scheme covering 50 crore Indians.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort, his fifth speech after the NDA came to power in 2014, Modi also announced permanent commissioning of women in the armed forces and a plan to send Indian astronauts into space by 2022.
"When 125 crore people move towards achieving a goal, there is nothing that cannot happen. In 2014, the people of the country did not just stop at forming the government. They moved together towards nation-building and are continuing to do so," he said.
In the nearly 80-minute speech, Modi devoted much of his speech in presenting the report card of his government, highlighting that the country made fast progress in sectors like economy, defence and social justice.
Hitting out at Congress regimes, Modi said if the country moved forward at the same pace as in 2013, the last year of the UPA government, it would have taken decades to accomplish what has been achieved in the last four years.
"We can take tough decisions because nation's interest is first for us, not party's," said Modi, who was wearing a saffron and red Rajasthani-style turban.
Quoting Tamil nationalist icon Subramania Bharti, Modi said in Tamil, "India will show the path to the world in ridding it of its problems."
Among the dignitaries present at the Red Fort included BJP president Amit Shah, his wife who was sitting next to Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Former prime ministers Manmohan Singh, H D Deve Gowda also attended the celebrations along with cabinet ministers, chiefs of the three services, top echelon of judiciary, civil servants as well as thousands of school children.
It was his last Independence Day speech of his term which comes to an end in May 2019. Lok Sabha elections have to be held before then.
One of the big announcements Modi made was roll-out of the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Scheme, described as the world's largest healthcare measure, on September 25, the birth anniversary of BJP ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay. He said the scheme will initially cover nearly 50 crore people from 10 crore families.
He also announced permanent commissioning of women in the armed forces like men.
"Women officers inducted into the short service commission(SSC) will get opportunity for permanent commission like their male counterparts," the prime minister said.
He did not elaborate whether it will be applicable to women in combat roles or in non-combat fields such as IT, military police, engineering etc.
Referring to recent incidents of rape, the prime minister said the law is supreme, and asserted that the society must be free from this "demonic" mindset. He hailed recent judgements by fast-track courts to hang rape convicts. He made no specific mention of recent cases of lynching -- another hot button topic being debated in the country.
Modi also highlighted his government's efforts to protect interests of Dalits and backward classes -- the two communities being wooed by the ruling BJP ahead of the crucial elections-- and said the recent parliament session was totally dedicated to social justice.
The prime minister said by 2022, India will send a "son or daughter" to the space with the national flag in hand.
On Kashmir, the prime ministers said "we will move forward by embracing people and not by bullet and abuse (Goli and Gaali)."