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Central & South Asia

India's Modi vows to modernise governance

Prime minister also addresses violence against women and unveils financial initiative in first Independence Day speech.

Last updated: 15 Aug 2014 10:01
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Modi emphasised the need for better governance but announced no sweeping market reforms [AP]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced dismay at the government infighting he found on assuming office in May and vowed to fire up the bureaucracy to deliver results.

During his first Independence Day speech  on Friday, Modi emphasised the need for better governance but announced none of the sweeping market reforms that many who handed him India's biggest election mandate in three decades have been awaiting.

He did, however, unveil an initiative to improve access to financial services for the two-fifths of Indians who lack a bank account and are often at the mercy of moneylenders who charge extortionate interest.

Modi also announced that he would replace the Central Planning Commission that for decades guided the country's socialist-style economy with a more modern institution.

"I saw that even in one government there were dozens of governments. It was as if each had their own fiefdoms," the 63-year-old prime minister said, touching on a key concern for many Indians, who have come to revile the layers of bureaucracy and rampant corruption.

"The government is not an assembled entity but an organic entity. I have tried to break down these walls," Modi, who spoke for more than an hour from the ramparts of the 17th-century Red Fort, from where Mughal kings ruled Delhi for two centuries, said.

'Make in India'

Modi had promised in his election campaign to revive economic growth that has fallen below 5 percent, choking off job opportunities for the one million people who enter the workforce every month, and dangled the prospect of new roads, factories, power lines, high-speed trains and even 100 new cities.

101 East: Modi the Messiah?

So far, there has been little movement on any of these tasks, which will require an overhaul of land acquisition laws, faster environmental clearances and an end to red tape.

In his speech, Modi spoke of the need to strengthen the manufacturing sector and appealed repeatedly to investors: "Come, make in India".

He also spoke about violence against women, saying his head hung in shame to see incidents of rape and sexual assault continuing unabated since the world was stunned by the gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi in 2012.

He said that while the law will take its course, Indian society must itself be raising sons in the best possible manner.

"After all, a person who is raping is somebody's son. As parents have we asked our sons where he is going? We need to take responsibility to bring our sons who have deviated from the right path, to bring them back," he said.

Modi also urged an end to caste and communal violence, which he said was "stalling the growth of the nation", drawing a critical response from his political opponents who have accused his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of inciting social tensions for electoral gain.

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