India’s 65th celebrations of Independence marked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi, with corruption topping his focus on one side and social activist Anna Hazare embarking on fast unto death on the other.
But the prime minister could not skip the major issue before the nation, that is corruption and Anna Hazare’s agitation to end it, though he said it is sub judice.
Admitting the need to end corruption, Mr Singh said no government has a “magic wand” to do it overnight and stressed the need to tackle it from many fronts and also sought the help of all political parties to achieve it.
Though the prime minister did not refer to Hazare’s move to fast unto death in New Delhi to bring a Lokpal Bill that would be inclusive of the office of the Prime Minister, which the government is resisting. “I am aware of the differences of opinion on some aspects of the bill. Those who don’t agree with this bill can put forward their views to Parliament, political parties and even the press. However, I also believe they should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts-unto-death,” he said.
He also said judiciary should not be brought under the purview of Lokpal to ensure its independence from the executive. “It is with this aim that we have introduced the Judicial Accountability Bill in Parliament. I am confident this bill will be passed soon,” he reminded the detractors of the Bill in his 40-minute speech.
He has admitted that many funds meant for the welfare end up in the pockets of government officials.
Otherwise, the prime minister kept his speech confined to domestic issues. Hardly any reference has been made of the impending global economic crisis except a mention of its impact on the country’s high inflation. The Prime Minister said, “our government fully understands its responsibility to control rise in prices”.
On education front, the Prime Minister said the government “will establish a new Education Commission to suggest improvements in education at all levels”. He also said health will be given high priority in the 12th Five Year Plan. “Malnutrition in women and children is a matter of concern for all of us,” he said.
He reminded that the declining sex ratio requires a change in approach towards girls and women.
The event held in tight security at the 17th century architectural marvel Red Fort, did not miss the need for focus on security and terrorism which has kept the nation on tenterhooks for over three decades.
The Prime Minister said the nation should not lower guard against terrorism but admitted that it was a long battle to be fought jointly by the central government, state governments and the citizens.
On industry, he said, “our entrepreneurs and business men should not feel constrained in their activities” and urged the political parties to stay away “from tactics that create suspicion or apprehension among those connected with industry, business and investment.