Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday delivered a strong message to China and Pakistan against challenging India's sovereignty in his Independence Day speech, emphasised on making the country self-reliant and announced several initiatives like national digital health mission and mass production of COVID-19 vaccine once it is approved by scientists.
In his seventh consecutive address from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prime minister stressed on 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' and presented a broad outline for spurring India's economic growth, asserting that the coronavirus pandemic cannot halt the country's march towards self-reliance.
Modi also underscored his government's commitment to holding assembly polls in centrally-administered Jammu and Kashmir after the ongoing delimitation exercise is over and stated that a new era of development has begun in the union territory after Article 370 was scrapped a year ago.
Dressed in his customary 'kurta pyjama' and safa, the prime minister used the occasion to put across a stern message to China and Pakistan without naming them, and asserted that India is fighting terrorism and expansionism with determination.
"From LoC (Line of Control) to LAC (Line of Actual Control), anyone who casts an eye on the sovereignty of the country, the armed forces have responded in the language they understand," Modi said in his 86-minute speech at the ceremony held observing all COVID-19 protocols amid the presence of a large number of dignitaries including foreign diplomats.
His comments came in the midst of India's bitter border row with China along the LAC in eastern Ladakh. The tension escalated manifold after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details.
"The world saw in Ladakh what our brave soldiers, the country can do for this resolve (to maintain our sovereignty). From the Red Fort, I salute all those brave soldiers who have staked their lives for the motherland," Modi added.
On foreign policy issues, Modi said that today neighbours are not only those with whom India shares its geographical boundaries but also those with whom "our hearts meet". He said that India was making all efforts to deepen ties with all countries in the extended neighbourhood.
Making a mention of the ground-breaking ceremony for the Ram temple in Ayodhya 10 days back, Modi said the centuries-old issue has been resolved peacefully. "The restraint and wise manner in which people of the country have behaved is unprecedented and will inspire us in the future," he said.
While announcing the launch of the national digital health mission from Saturday, Modi said citizens will be issued a health card that will have all their medical information, adding the project will revolutionise healthcare in India.
"Every Indian will be given a health ID, which will work as each Indian's health account," Modi said, adding that it would ease problems faced by citizens in getting healthcare access.
"Every test, disease and diagnosis, and medical reports along with medicines will be stored in every citizen's health ID. These health issues will be resolved through this National Digital Health Mission," Modi said while announcing the scheme.
Modi also said the country has prepared a roadmap to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine reaches everyone in the shortest possible time. He said three vaccine candidates are in different stages of trials in the country.
"Three vaccines are in various stages of testing. When scientists will give us the green signal, there will be produced on a mass scale and all preparations have been made for it," Modi said.
The prime minister made a raft of announcements saying a Rs 110 lakh crore pipeline of national infrastructure projects is being created to boost the economy and create jobs and that all six lakh villages will be connected with optical fibres in 1,000 days.
Modi dwelt extensively on his 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' campaign as he gave a call for reducing imports and pushing exports of finished products in place raw material, saying the country will have to move forward with the mantra of 'Make in India' as well as 'Make for World'. 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' is no longer merely a word but has become a mantra and captured people's imagination, he said.
Modi also listed out a number of reform measures undertaken by his government which resulted in a record Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country last year.
The prime minister said India's policies, processes and products should be the best in the world and only then the idea of "Shrestha Bharat" (best India) will be realised.
While talking about the need for overall economic growth and making the country self-reliant, Modi, at the same time, said humanity must retain a central role in this process.
The prime minister began his address by paying tributes to freedom fighters and security forces while also remembering Aurobindo Ghose, a freedom fighter and spiritual philosopher whose birth anniversary falls today.
Hailing 'corona warriors', including doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and sanitation workers who have been continuously fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the country will achieve victory over coronavirus with the resolve of its over 130 crore citizens.
In the midst of coronavirus pandemic, Indians have resolved to become self-reliant, the prime minister said, adding this is not a word but a mantra for all people.
Speaking of self-reliant India, he said many concerns are raised about it and acknowledged the challenges ahead, but asserted that there are "crores of solutions" offered by the country's citizens to "lakhs of challenges".
Vocal for local should be the mantra of India, he said. He said his government has freed farmers of their constraints, and they can now trade their products freely on their terms.
India's freedom struggle, he said, became a challenge to forces of expansionism while attempts were made for hundreds of years by various rulers to root out India's culture and traditions