Prime Minister Manmohan Singh marked the 60th anniversary of Independence on Wednesday with a pledge to focus in the coming years on crisis-hit agriculture, but insisted that industrialisation was critical for progress and employment.
Addressing the nation from the Red Fort here on a bright and clear day, Dr Singh sounded confident - despite a political crisis sparked by a spat with his Left allies -as he spoke in Hindi, touching upon an array of subjects, but focusing on education and agriculture.
In his crisp 35-minute address, heard by millions across India and abroad, the prime minister voiced his government’s determination to crush terrorism, without any reference to Pakistan, and said instead that New Delhi desired “the best of relations” with all its neighbours as well as other countries. He also urged political parties not to split up Indians on sectarian issues, asked people to keep the country clean and green and to use the Right to Information Act to check corruption, and promised social security to the poor over 65 years of age and those in the unorganised sector.
However, in recognition of a severe crisis that has enveloped agriculture, which has resulted in farmer suicides in thousands, Dr Singh devoted much of his time on the subject, promising a Rs 25,000-crore package to boost farm output.
“In the coming years, our main emphasis will be on agricultural development,” he said. “We will soon launch a special programme to invest Rs 25,000 crore in agriculture, to enhance the livelihood of our farmers and increase food production. We will also focus on the needs of our farmers in dry and droughtprone regions,” he said, adding food grain production is sure to get a boost when his government rolls out an ambitious agriculture development programme.
The prime minister also said the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that guarantees at least 100 working days in the countryside would now be extended to all parts of the country.
But the economist-turned-politician made it clear that there are limits to how much income agriculture alone can generate, given the large population dependent on farming and the small size of farms. “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 said.
“Therefore, it is essential that we create new employment opportunities outside of agriculture. There is no developed country today anywhere in the world that is not an industrial economy. Industrialisation is critical for progress. “If employment generation is the best weapon against poverty, industrialisation is the most effective means to create new job opportunities... We will pursue policies that will help in our rapid industrialisation.” he averred.
Seeking a “evolution in the field of modern education” Dr Singh announced the setting up of colleges in 370 districts, 6,000 new high quality schools - one in every block of the country - and 30 new central universities.
The government, he added, would also promote five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, seven new Indian Institutes of Management and 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology.
“It is my fervent desire that India becomes a fully educated, modern, progressive nation... We will make India a nation of educated people, of skilled people, of creative people,” he said.
Cheered occasionally by the audience, in particular the colourfully dressed schoolchildren, the prime minister vowed to crush extremism and terrorism and said those who profess hatred, communalism and violence have no place in the society.
“I assure all our neighbours that we in India want peace and the best of relations with all of them. I sincerely believe that in the prosperity and well-being of our neighbours lies the key to our own security and progress,” he added.
Amid a political crisis sparked by the Left’s refusal to back the civil nuclear deal with the US, he said while the country is moving forward in the right direction, “we have been slow in taking some steps; we have dithered at times, and stumbled some times. We have had success on some fronts and setbacks on some others,” he said and added, “But there is no doubt that we have been steadfast in our resolve.”
He said the Indian economy is growing “at historically unprecedented rates”, sought more creative process of urbanisation to overcome the many problems urban areas face, and advocated cleanliness drives in all areas.
The prime minister pledged to bring greater prosperity to the less developed regions such as the north-east and Jammu and Kashmir, and said his government has a vision to bring new investments to all three regions of Kashmir.