- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

NEW DELHI (AP) — India celebrated the 60th anniversary of its independence from British rule today in a triumphant mood, with many here feeling the country is finally taking its rightful place as a major global player.

“I assure you that for each one of you, and for our country, the best is yet to come,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the nation in his traditional Independence Day speech.

But with many of India’s 1.1 billion people being left behind by the country’s lightning economic growth, Singh warned: “we must not be overconfident.”

Today’s celebration came a day after neighboring Pakistan marked its independence from Britain with colorful displays of national pride. Tens of thousands rallied throughout the world’s second most populous Muslim nation, waving Pakistan’s olive-green flag with a white crescent. Others held prayer gatherings at home.

Britain’s partition of the subcontinent in 1947 brought one of modern history’s biggest mass migrations as some 10 million people crossed the newly created frontier, and one of its bloodiest chapters as sectarian and religious fighting killed hundreds of thousands.

Lingering disputes — especially over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir — led to three wars between the South Asian neighbors, and tensions persist.

Today, the fault lines that have so long divided India also were apparent with security tight across the country, especially in places where insurgencies are simmering. In Kashmir, mobile phone service was shut down in a bid to prevent the usual Independence Day violence.

Singh, however, focused on the challenges faced by a country where children are more likely to be malnourished than in Africa and that is home to about a third of the people in the world living on less than $1 a day.

India cannot become a nation with islands of high growth and vast areas untouched by development, where the benefits of growth accrue only to a few,” he told a crowd of thousands of dignitaries and schoolchildren dressed in the orange, white and green of the Indian flag.

Singh spoke from behind a bulletproof screen atop the ramparts of the historic Red Fort, the massive 17th-century sandstone structure built by the Mogul emperors who ruled much of modern-day India before the British arrived.

His speech touched on a range of domestic issues — from plans to invest $6.25 billion in agriculture, which provides a livelihood for two-thirds of Indians, to improving schools in the country where a third of the people remain illiterate.

“Gandhi’s dream of a free India will only be fully realized when we banish poverty from our midst,” Singh said, referring to independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.

He also pledged to press ahead with industrialization and build “first-rate infrastructure” — moves that in the past year have led to repeated clashes between police and farmers who don’t want their land plowed under to make way for factories.

Conspicuously absent from his speech was any talk of neighboring PakistanIndia’s longtime rival.

Aside from its rivalry with Pakistan, India also faces dozens of insurgencies by separatist rebels claiming to represent one of the country’s myriad ethnic groups.

In Himalayan Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region split between India and Pakistan, an Islamic insurgency has raged since 1989.

In the remote northeast, there are dozens of rebel groups representing the region’s diverse population. Five bomb blasts were reported Wednesday in Assam, the region’s main state, but no one was killed or wounded.

Ethnic Assamese rebels have in the past week killed 32 people, most of them migrant workers from others parts of India who speak a different language and have different customs.



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