Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the country at the Red Fort in New Delhi, as India marked 73 years of Independence. Modi paid his respects to the remains of India’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, before unfurling the flag and delivering the speech.
In his keynote speech, Modi highlighted the achievements of his government over the course of the past year, while insisting on his vision for an ‘atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India).
Independence celebrations across the country were marred by the coronavirus pandemic — as India inches towards 2.5 million cases and has the third-highest tally in the world.
In his speech, Modi appreciated the efforts of frontline workers, and glossed over the challenges the country faced in tackling the pandemic and natural disasters. Modi focused on the need for India to start exporting finished goods instead of raw materials, in order to boost small enterprises and local businesses.
“Before the pandemic, did we ever imagine that India would become a hub for manufacturing N95 masks, PPE kits and ventilators? But we did it,” said Modi.
Only 250 guests attended the ceremony at the Red Fort and were seated 2 meters apart from each other. Attendees underwent thermal screening before entering the venue.
Apart from the guests, 500 cadets of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) also attended the event. Modi delivered his speech without a face mask.
“We have asked invitees who have experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 over the past two weeks to stay away,” a spokesman of the Delhi Police had said before the event.
Medical booths and ambulances were stationed at the venue, while police and army personnel participating in the guard of honor event underwent a mandatory self-quarantine of 14 days.
At the ceremony, Indian soldiers held a parade while maintaining social distance. They wore face masks that matched the color of their uniforms — khaki, olive green, blue and white to showcase the three components of the Indian military: the army, air force, and navy.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind had addressed the country a day before the independence day celebrations. In a televised speech, the president acknowledged the contribution of healthcare workers during the fight against the coronavirus.
Kovind also paid tribute to the 20 soldiers killed in the June clashes with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley. He accused China of carrying out its “expansionist” activities “cleverly”, without revealing further details.
In his keynote speech, Modi said that respect for India’s sovereignty was ‘supreme’. He said that those who challenged India’s sovereignty had been given “a befitting reply in their own language”.
Modi outlined his plans to boost solar power in the territory of Ladakh and make it carbon neutral – at a time when China is believed to have taken over some parts of the territory.
Modi also called the revocation of Article 370, that granted special status to the state of Jammu Kashmir, an achievement and pledged to hold assembly elections there once the “delimitation exercise” was complete.
Apart from internal and external security issues, Modi announced the launch of a National Digital Health Mission under which all Indians will receive health IDs, and a plan to increase the marriageable age of women. He also unveiled an ambitious $1.3 trillion plan to boost infrastructure.
Modi said that three coronavirus vaccines were in different stages of trial in India and large scale would begin after nod from scientists.