NEW DELHI, Aug 15, (Agencies): India is strong enough to defend its borders against any threat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an Independence Day speech as the nation faces a frontier showdown with China and aggravated tensions with Pakistan. “Security is our top priority,” Modi told thousands packed into the landmark Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday as India marked the 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule. “Be it the sea or the borders, cyber or space — in all spheres, India is capable and we are strong enough to overcome those who try to act against our country,” the Hindu nationalist leader declared. Modi, who wore a Rajasthani turban with a long flowing orange train, toned down his comments from three previous Independence Day speeches and did not mention the targets of his warning. But his remarks came as a dispute between India and China over a strategic Himalayan plateau enters a third month on Wednesday. Hundreds of soldiers are reported to be facing off against each other at Doklam.
The giant neighbours share a long history of mistrust and went to war in 1962 over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China’s state-controlled media has repeatedly warned that a conflict could break out over Doklam. India has urged a diplomatic solution to the standoff. The dispute started on June 16 when Chinese troops started to build a road on territory that it disputes with Bhutan.
India troops moved in to stop the construction as India is a close ally of Bhutan. India is also mired in conflict in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, where it has disputed sovereignty with Pakistan since their bitter split in 1947. India accuses Pakistan of sending “terrorists” across the border to fight security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Modi, who said he spoke with US President Donald Trump on the eve of the speech, said: “The concern for national security is a natural one in an independent India. “Our security forces have always shown their capabilities whenever on duty. Whether it is terrorism or infiltrators, our security personnel have always been ready for sacrifice.” India carried out what it called “surgical strikes” in Pakistan in September last year after insurgents attacked an army base on the Indian side of the Kashmir border, killing 18 soldiers. “When the surgical strike was carried out, the world came to know about the power that India possesses,” Modi said in his speech.
He added that “bullets and abuses” cannot bring peace in Kashmir — where there are an estimated 500,000 Indian troops — but also accused Kashmiri separatists of “scheming”. The prime minister did not mention the 1947 partition that saw the creation of Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. At least one million people died in the chaotic aftermath of the split and 15 million were uprooted in the brutal mass migration.
Modi urged India to reject religious violence, after a series of attacks against minorities sparked debate about whether a surge of Hindu nationalism is undermining the country’s secular ideals. Modi has spoken out against attacks by right-wing Hindus, many of whom back his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against minority Muslims and lower-caste Hindus accused of killing cows, considered holy by the majority Hindus. But the setting of his denunciation of violence on Tuesday was significant. “We will not tolerate violence in the name of faith,” Modi said before a teeming crowd at the fort and a huge television audience.
Modi also pledged in his Independence Day speech to wipe out corruption and usher in good governance, urging people to help him build a prosperous and united “New India.” “We may have grown up in despair, but now we have to move ahead with confidence,” he said as he addressed the nation from the Red Fort, a sprawling 17th century fortress in the heart of New Delhi. Modi hailed his government efforts in recent months to cut graft, including the surprise decision to withdraw large currency notes and an overhaul of taxes on goods and services that he said had brought billions of dollars of unaccounted money into the mainstream economy