New Delhi: 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 on the 72nd Independence Day, 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 the time in presenting the report card of his government and also touched on a host of burning issues including the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, crime against women, legislation on instant triple talaq and state of the farm sector.
Accused by the opposition of running a pro-business and pro-rich dispensation, Modi dwelt at length about his government's initiatives to improve the lives of the poor and the backward sections of the society and claimed that five crore people have been lifted out of poverty in the last two years.
Showcasing achievements of his government, Modi said negative reports about India, delayed reforms, fragile economy and red tape were the terms often used for the country under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) while it is being looked at as multi-trillion dollar economy offering red carpet welcome to investors.
"India was earlier a sleeping elephant which has woken up now and started running," said Modi, who was wearing a saffron and red Rajasthani-style turban.
On Kashmir, the prime ministers said, "We will move forward by embracing people and not by bullet and abuse (Goli and Gaali)."
Hitting out at the 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.
Quoting Tamil nationalist icon Subramania Bharti, Modi said in Tamil, "India will show the path to the world in ridding it of problems."
Among the dignitaries present at the Red Fort included BJP president Amit Shah and his wife who was sitting next to Congress chief 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.
One of the big announcements Modi made was rollout 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 a recent judgement by a fast-track court in Madhya Pradesh to hang a rape convict. 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 the 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.
Modi also vowed not to spare corrupt and black money hoarders, saying efforts of his government have freed corridors of power from brokers, enhanced the number of taxpayers and saved Rs 90,000 crore by eliminating bogus beneficiaries of many schemes.
Modi also thanked honest taxpayers for their contribution in the development of the country, which is now the world's sixth largest economy.
Listing measures that have brought the untaxed in the tax net, he said the number of income taxpayers has increased to 6.75 crore from 3.5-4 crore before 2014.
Modi said the government is committed to a law banning the practice of instant triple talaq and blamed "some people", an apparent reference to opposition parties, for stalling its passage in parliament.
He recited a poem to describe how his government was changing India's destiny and that it was capable of taking tough and courageous decisions in the interests of the country. He said he was impatient to see India marching ahead of other countries in development.
Modi ended his speech with a call for housing, power, cooking gas, sanitation, health, connectivity and water for all and said his government is working with this mantra.