Indian premier defends nuclear deal with US on Independence Day

Other News Materials 15 August 2008 10:48 (UTC +04:00)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day speech Friday, strongly defended his government's decision to pursue a civilian nuclear deal with the United States and talked of the need for political consensus to battle issues like terrorism, extremism and communalism, dpa reported.

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi after unfurling the national flag, Singh dwelled on a range of issues, including relations with Pakistan.

Security was tight in the capital, especially near the Red Fort, with snipers standing guard on tall buildings and a no-fly zone imposed overhead as the prime minister spoke.

His address was largely in the nature of an election speech, totting up the achievements of his 4-year-old government.

Singh's minority government, which narrowly survived a vote of confidence in Parliament a few weeks ago, is to complete its term in May.

"Our economy must grow at the rate of at least 10 per cent every year to get rid of poverty and generate employment for all," Singh said. "A basic requirement for sustained growth is availability of energy, particularly electricity. All over the world, there is growing realization of the importance of atomic energy to meet the challenge of energy security and climate change."

The recent blasts at the Indian embassy in Kabul cast a shadow on efforts to normalize relations with Pakistan, Singh said. "I have personally conveyed my concern and disappointment to the government of Pakistan," he added.

"If this issue of terrorism is not addressed, all the good intentions that we have for our two peoples to live in peace and harmony will be negated," he said. "... The terrorists and those who support them are enemies of the people of India and Pakistan."

But in large part, Singh talked about the issues of economic development and his government's focus on ending poverty and providing a "new deal for rural India" through incentives for farmers and investment in rural infrastructure.

The prime minister also called for an end to divisive politics, referring to the recent developments in northern Jammu and Kashmir state, where at least 40 people have died over the past month as Hindu and Muslim protestors clashed with security forces in a land row.

Describing terrorism, extremism, communalism and fundamentalism as major challenges to the unity and integrity of India, Singh said the recent terrorist attacks in major cities had underlined the need to strengthen intelligence agencies and police forces.

"We will examine the functioning of our intelligence agencies and police and security forces and take all possible steps to equip them to tackle this challenge," he said. "Whatever resources are required, will be provided. Whatever manpower is required will be provided."

But, he added, the foremost need to face these challenges was to confront them united: "This requires a politics of consensus, not confrontation. This requires dialogue among communities, not discord."

Scores of diplomats and dignitaries, including diplomats based in Delhi, were among the audience at the Red Fort.

Similar flag-hoisting ceremonies were held in state capitals across India and in schools, colleges and residential colonies.

India gained independence from British rule on August 15, 1947.