Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for reviving strife-torn Kashmir's so-called "heaven on earth" reputation. Delivering his fourth independence day address from the iconic Red Fort in New Delhi, he said only dialogue and not "bullets and abuse" can solve the Kashmir problem.
India marks its 71st independence day on Tuesday, 15 August with the Modi administration at the helm facing a series of challenges both domestic and foreign. Modi, a right-wing Hindu nationalist, took the opportunity to address a range of economic, political and social issues.
"We have to work for the progress of Jammu and Kashmir... problems cannot be sorted through abuses or bullets... Kashmir's problems can only be solved by embracing Kashmiris," Modi said in his televised national address amid tight security.
Modi said his government was determined to ensure rapid economic development of the state, ravaged by decades-long conflicts. He said the goals were to "educate the youth, give them jobs, include them in the mainstream, increase business and jobs and give them reasons to rejoice".
Speaking about the recent tragedy in which more than 70 children lost their lives – allegedly due to medical negligence – at a hospital in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Modi said this was the time for the Indian public to show solidarity with the victims' families.
"People of India stand shoulder to shoulder with those affected due to natural disasters and the great tragedy in Gorakhpur, where little children died in a hospital," he said.
He devoted a large part of his speech to creating a "new India" highlighting the government's various anti-corruption measures. "New India' is the greatest strength of democracy and it is not just limited to ballot papers," Modi added.
His speech drew sharp criticism from the main opposition Congress party. One of its senior leaders, Anand Sharma, said: "PM Modi mentioned surgical strike (against Pakistan) in his speech which is about a year old. After that repeated attacks and violations have taken place. PM Modi was making tall claims on GST [Goods and Services Tax]. But for seven years, he and the BJP in opposition had stalled GST," referring to the tax reforms recently implemented by the government.