India celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence from British rule with Prime Minister Narendra Modi laying out an ambitious goal to make the country a developed nation in 25 years.
In an address to the nation Monday from the ramparts of the 17th century Mughal-era Red Fort in the Indian capital, New Delhi, Modi said, “It’s a big resolution, and we should work toward it with all our might.”
Tight security was mounted for the event with thousands of policemen guarding the historic site as Modi wearing a turban speckled with the white, orange and green colors of the Indian flag gave an 80-minute speech.
Pointing to the fact that the traditional 21-gun-salute on the occasion was for the first time given by domestically manufactured howitzers, Modi said the nation must aim to become self-reliant.
In a country where patriarchal attitudes are still deeply entrenched and which has one of the world’s lowest participation of women in the work force, the Indian leader urged the country to empower women, saying their contribution would be critical to take India ahead.
Modi said the world was also looking toward the country to help resolve global issues.
On Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated India for its national day calling the two countries “indispensable partners.”
In a statement, he said he was confident that in the years ahead the two democracies will continue to stand together to defend the rules-based order; foster greater peace, prosperity and security for our people; advance a free and open Indo-Pacific; and together address the challenges we face around the world.
In India in recent days, the debate on the milestone anniversary has centered on the progress the country has made in the last 75 years and the challenges it still faces. India is presently ranked as a lower-middle income developing country by the World Bank.
Observers say India has made significant strides in reducing poverty since becoming independent, created a huge middle class and is now counted as Asia’s third largest economy. Its growth has been propelled on the back of a services sector powered by highly educated professionals. While it faced food shortages for several decades, it is now a food surplus nation.
In a column in the Times of India newspaper, one of India’s well-known economists, Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, noted that it is a matter of pride that “after a slow start India has risen from being the biggest beggar for foreign aid” to becoming the fastest growing major economy.
However, India’s biggest challenge is growing unemployment as the country struggles to create enough jobs for its huge young population and in lifting millions still mired in poverty.
In his address on Monday, Modi called India the “mother of democracy.” He said that “the country has proved that it has a precious ability and faced many challenges during its journey of 75 years."
But in the world’s largest democracy of 1.4 billion people, opposition parties and critics have accused his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of undermining democracy. They say freedom of speech is under threat, accuse the government of targeting opponents and say that religious minorities feel increasingly insecure amid a rising tide of Hindu nationalism. The BJP strongly denies such allegations.
“Although there may be some pressure on democratic institutions, the rising participation of people in elections and growing political awareness among citizens will ensure that India’s democracy stays robust,” said Rasheed Kidwai, a political analyst in New Delhi.
Millions of homes across the country marked the Independence Day celebrations by unfurling the national flag following a mass campaign by the government urging every household to fly the flag for three days.