Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2018. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2018. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singh

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his fifth and last Independence Day speech of his current term from the Red Fort in the capital New Delhi on Wednesday.

After claiming his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win the next general elections, Modi announced a number of future policies running up to 2022, including a national healthcare scheme and India’s first manned space mission.

The prime minister’s national healthcare scheme, called Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyaan, or the Prime Minister’s Public Health Mission), will be a national healthcare scheme that will effect “50 crore [50 million] Indians.”

Modi said the scheme will be launched on September 25 this year. “It’s time we make sure that the poor of India can access superior but affordable healthcare,” he said. Under his scheme, Tier 2 and Tier 1 cities will get big hospitals.

Indians in space

Modi also announced Gaganyaan, a manned space program to be launched by 2022. “On the 75th year of independence, a son or daughter of India will go to space with our tri-colored flag. We will become the fourth country in the world to be sending a human into space,” he said.

However, observers were quick to point out that an Indian had already been in space in April 1984. Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian cosmonaut in space as part of a joint initiative between India and the former Soviet union.

The prime minister started his speech by paying his respects to the martyrs of India’s struggle for independence from the British.

Then, before laying out the achievements of his government in their last term, he took a dig at the former Congress led-coalition government, saying if they had done things at the same pace as they were working in 2013, very little would have been achieved.

‘Reform, perform and transform’

“Take toilets for example. If we continued with the 2013 pace, it would have taken us decades to build all the toilets,” he said. Modi was referring to his flagship Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, program that aimed to build 20 million toilets in much of the country that lacked modern sanitary systems.

He said that from being a “fragile five” country, India had become the sixth largest economy in the world. It was now a land of “reform, perform and transform,” he announced. He added that India was being heard on the world stage on crucial issues and had joined prestigious decision-making forums that had previously not accessible.

The international reputation India had built had resulted in Indians being welcomed to any foreign country, Modi claimed. “The power of the Indian passport has increased. If an Indian is in trouble abroad, he knows the nation is behind him,” he said.

Moving on to the economic achievements of his government – the mainstay of the BJP’s election campaign in 2014 – he said India went from being a “high-risk economy” to one that is now praised for its growth.

“Among the 13 crore [130 million] Mudra loans, four crore [40 million] were taken by young people who were first-time loan takers trying to become businessmen and create self-sustainability. This is the new India,” he said.

The Mudra scheme was launched by the government to fund non-corporate and non-farm sector income generating activities of micro and small enterprises seeking loans of less than one million rupees.

However, the country’s agricultural sector is suffering from climate change, low yields and huge farm debts, but those issues were not addressed by the prime minister. He said the focus was to bring technological innovation to the agricultural sector.

“My dream is to double farmers’ incomes by 75 years of Indian Independence [2022]. We want value addition from seeds to marketplace,” he said.

Rapes and gender-based violence

The prime minister added that he was happy the cabinet now included the highest number of women since independence. However, the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve 33% of the seats for women in the lower house of Parliament and state legislative assemblies, has not been passed in two decades.

Modi also tried to address the rising number of rape cases and gender-based violence and the delays in justice for the victims, which have been big issues for Indian women.

“We have to free our country from the terrible mentality of rape. In Madhya Pradesh, rapists got the death penalty within five days. We have to make people more aware of these,” he said.

He also tried to tackle what many say are discriminatory issues against women in India’s military. He announced that women army officers commissioned for short service will get the opportunity for a permanent commission, similar to their male counterparts.

This has been a long-pending demand by women in the army as the majority of them are short-service commissioned officers and have a maximum tenure of 14 years. Women are also not allowed in combat roles in the army.

Moving on to the conflict-ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir, where many want independence from India, Modi said the approach there should not be with “bullets and abuse.”

“We want to embrace the patriotic people of Kashmir,” he said. There has been a 64% rise in terror incidents over two years under the BJP and People’s Democratic Party’s coalition government in the state, IndiaSpend reported.