India celebrates 60th anniversary

Prime minister announces plan to tackle poverty in independence day speech.

    Manmohan Singh addressed the nation from the
    17th century Red Fort in New Dehli [AFP]

    "We have moved forward in the many battles against poverty, ignorance and disease. But can we say we have won the war?"

    Al Jazeera exclusive


    Imran Garda speaks to Ram Kishan, a Hindu who fled Pakistan for India in 1947

    Sharpshooters were positioned on nearby buildings as Singh spoke, while troops and armed police guarded roads and key buildings across the country. 

    Independence day has previously been marred by violent attacks by separatists and Maoist rebels. Intelligence officials said there were also concerns about an al-Qaeda threat to target India.

    Earlier, Singh laid wreaths at memorials commemorating Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India's freedom movement, as well as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, the assassinated former prime minister.
       
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    The prime minister, dressed in his trademark light blue turban, then proceeded to the 17th century Mughal-era fort where he unfurled the national flag to a 21-gun salute.

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    Singh said that the government would invest in agriculture, which still employs more than half of India's population, and in education, in a country where a third of the population are illiterate.

    "The problem of malnutrition is a national shame," he added. "I appeal to the nation to resolve and work hard to eradicate malnutrition within five years."

    Despite growth rates of around eight per cent in recent years, about 46 per cent of children under three are undernourished, the United Nations children's fund says, a higher rate than in sub-Saharan Africa.

    "We are a young nation," he said. "Once unleashed, the energy of our youth will drive India onto a new growth path."

    There was no mention of longtime rival and neighbour Pakistan in Singh's speech.

    Mass migration

    Pakistan was formed when the British withdrew from the subcontinent in 1947 ushering in a period of violent upheaval.

    About 10 million people moved across borders to live in regions dominated by people of their religion in one of history's largest mass migrations.

    Singh pledged to help millions of
    malnourished children [AFP]

    Gandhi appealed for peace but it is estimated that the sectarian violence killed between 200,000 and more than one million people.



    In predominantly-Muslim Kashmir, which was divided between the two neighbours, a strike sponsored by separatists cleared the streets of the summer capital Srinigar, closing all shops and businesses.

    The separatists, who want independence or merger with Pakistan, observe the national celebration as a "black day".

    Police said that Indian troops late on Tuesday shot dead two people in northern Bandipora town, where suspected anti-government fighters exploded a grenade outside a venue for the town's Independence Day party on Monday, killing three and wounding 19.
      
    Police also defused a bomb attached to an Indian flag in southern Banihal town.

    In the northeast, suspected separatists threw a grenade at a police camp state of Assam, wounding five people including two policemen, just minutes before festivities were due to begin.

    The celebrations were washed out by more heavy rains in the eastern state of Bihar, where monsoon-related flooding had already killed 277 people this year and affected about 14 million.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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