India marks historic 75th Independence Day anniversary
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) inspects a guard of honor before addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort during the celebrations to mark country’s Independence Day in New Delhi on August 15. — AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country must become a developed nation in a speech Monday marking the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. But the Modi administration has overseen massive crackdowns on civil liberties, including discrimination against India’s Muslim minority, raising fears for the future of the world’s largest democracy.

Speaking from the 17th century Red Fort, the former residence of Mughal emperors in Delhi, Prime Minister Modi said India must turn into a developed nation before it marks a centenary of independence from colonial Britain.

"We must turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, in our lifetime," said the 71-year-old Modi, wearing a turban in the colors of the Indian flag, in his 75-minute-speech in Hindi.

"It's a big resolution, and we should work towards it with all our might."

Modi said millions of people across the country were commemorating the 75th anniversary of independence by hoisting national flags at their homes and businesses for three days as part of a government campaign “of awakening the spirit of patriotism in every heart.”

Critics of his Hindu nationalist government however accuse Modi of turning his back on the ideals of secularism, tolerance and respect for civil liberties advocated by the nation’s founding fathers and enshrined in the Indian constitution.

Since he came to power in 2014, Modi has overseen violent crackdowns against the opposition, widespread discrimination against India’s Muslim community and arrests of journalists and writers critical of his government’s track record.

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The main opposition Congress party on Monday accused the Modi government of leaving opposition parties out of celebrations.

“There were special functions in Parliament’s historic Central Hall to mark the 25th, 50th and 60th anniversary of India’s independence,” said Jairam Ramesh, an India National Congress party spokesperson. “Sadly, nothing like that has been organized for the 75th anniversary, which has been reduced to an occasion to glorify the Sarvagyaani,” he said, using a term meaning "a person who knows all” in reference to Modi.

Advances in science, technology

Towards midnight on August 14, 1947, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru began his historic “Tryst With Destiny” speech proclaiming, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

The speech turned the hopes of millions into reality. India was a free, independent country as a new future beckoned.

Seventy-five years on, India is a vastly changed country. The nation of 1.4 billion people is a beacon of democratic stability in the region. India is the world's sixth-largest economy and is expected to grow at over seven percent in the current fiscal year ending in March 2023 – the fastest among major economies.

With a highly skilled workforce, India is also one of the leading countries in the fields of information technology, pharmacy, space science and civil nuclear energy.

But when it comes to religion, independent India's founders strove to ensure that all Indians could practice their faith with a clear separation between state and religion.

However many Indians, particularly among India's roughly 200 million Muslims, fear that these ideals are under attack by Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many of whose supporters espouse Hindu hegemony.

Counterweight to China’s influence

In his speech on Monday, Modi said the world's view of India was changing and it was looking toward the country to help resolve global issues.

Modi said India would be guided by the ideals of self-reliance and the spirit of international partnership to attain excellence in science and technology, set up industries, and attain food and energy security.

He said billions of dollars in investment were flowing into the country turning it into a manufacturing hub.

Many experts say India's economy could expand to become the world's third-largest by 2050 after the US and China, although per capita income, currently around $2,100, may remain low compared to many countries.

Countries such as the US already see India as a future challenger to China's dominating influence in Asia and beyond. US President Joe Biden on Sunday congratulated India for its national day and said the United States and India were "indispensable partners" that would continue to work together to address global challenges in the years ahead.

India's neighbor Pakistan, which was part of British India and became independent at the same time, celebrated its independence day on Sunday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)