Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 5 News List

India honors Independence Day

FAULT LINES The prime minister spoke about challenges the country faces, as poverty, conflict with rival Pakistan and ethnic animosity still lingers

AP , NEW DELHI

Indian President Pratibha Patil, second right, salutes with Chief of Army Staff General J.J. Singh, left, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta, second left, and Indian Air Force Chief of staff Chief Marshall F. H. Major, right, at the memorial at India Gate in New Delhi yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

India celebrated the 60th anniversary of its independence from British rule yesterday in a triumphant mood, with many here feeling the country is finally taking its rightful place as a major global player.

"I assure you that for each one of you, and for our country, the best is yet to come," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the nation in his traditional Independence Day speech.

But with many of India's 1.1 billion people being left behind by the country's lightning economic growth, Singh warned: "We must not be overconfident."

The fault lines that have so long divided India were also apparent yesterday with security tight across the country, especially in places where insurgencies are simmering, such as Kashmir, where mobile phone service was shut down in a bid to prevent the usual Independence Day violence.

Singh, however, focused on the challenges faced by a country where children are more likely to be malnourished than in Africa and that is home to about a third of the people in the world living on less than US$1 a day.

"India cannot become a nation with islands of high growth and vast areas untouched by development, where the benefits of growth accrue only to a few," he told a crowd of thousands of dignitaries and schoolchildren dressed in the orange, white and green of the Indian flag.

Singh spoke from behind a bulletproof screen atop the ramparts of the historic Red Fort, the massive 17th-century sandstone structure built by the Mogul emperors who ruled much of modern-day India before the British arrived.

His speech touched on a range of domestic issues -- from plans to invest 250 billion rupees (US$6.25 billion) in agriculture, which provides a livelihood for two-thirds of Indians, to improving schools in the country where a third of the people remain illiterate.

"Gandhi's dream of a free India will only be fully realized when we banish poverty from our midst," Singh said, referring to independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.

He also pledged to press ahead with industrialization and build "first-rate infrastructure" -- moves that in the past year have led to repeated clashes between police and farmers who don't want their land plowed under to make way for factories.

Conspicuously absent from his speech was any talk of neighboring Pakistan -- India's longtime rival.

India and Pakistan gained independence when the departing British split the subcontinent in 1947 -- and saw it quickly overshadowed by one of the most violent upheavals of the 20th century.

Some 10 million people moved across borders in one of history's largest mass migrations as the princely states sewn together in 200 years of British rule were divided into Muslim Pakistan, which celebrated its independence on Tuesday, and Hindu-majority India. Up to 1 million were killed in the accompanying sectarian violence.

In the six decades since, the South Asian rivals have fought three wars and engaged in tit-for-tat nuclear tests.

While relations have improved since the start of a peace process in 2004, mutual animosity still lingers across the subcontinent, a territory stretching more than 3,000km from Pakistan's mountainous north to India's steamy southern tip.

Besides its rivalry with Pakistan, India also faces dozens of insurgencies by separatist rebels claiming to represent one of the country's myriad ethnic groups.

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