“Today every Indian can proudly say ‘One Nation, One Constitution’.”
Wearing a flowing bright saffron-coloured turban, Modi, who won a landslide election victory in May, also highlighted his government’s ban on some Muslim communities’ practice of allowing a husband to instantly divorce his wife by saying ‘talaq’ three times.
Perhaps the most controversial announcement in Modi’s speech was the creation of a new post of chief of defence staff, to ensure better coordination between India’s army, navy and air force, along the lines of Western military forces.
Defence experts have long called for such a post, recommended by a government panel in 1999, after India came close to war with Pakistan over Kashmir.
“Our forces are India’s pride,” Modi said. “To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision … India will have a chief of defence staff.”
India had organised its military into three different services, each led by its own chief, since independence from Britain in 1947. Such an arrangement was thought necessary to ensure too much power was not concentrated in the hands of a single commander.
However, with military operations now involving close integration, many countries have moved to a single chief of defence who directs the military and often reports directly to the political executive for faster decision-making.
A lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir has been in place since August 4, just before a presidential order to subsume the Muslim-majority region into India’s federal government by revoking Article 370 of the constitution and downgrading the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
A new law allows anyone to buy land there, which some Kashmiris fear could change the region’s culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
India’s Foreign Ministry officials have said Kashmir is returning to normalcy and, while daily protests have erupted in Kashmir, Modi has received widespread public support in other parts of India.
“Article 370 should have been removed a long time ago, but better late than never,” Amarjeet Singh, a businessman from New Delhi, said outside the Red Fort on Wednesday.
“It is good. Everyone will be benefited by this, because every common man will be able to work there and start business there,” Singh said.
On Thursday, turning to his agenda to make India a $US5 trillion ($7.4 trillion) economy in the next five years, Modi said the changes in Kashmir would help the region contribute more to India’s development.
“In the last 70 years we became a two trillion-dollar economy, but in the last five years, we added one trillion dollars to the economy. This gives me the confidence of becoming a five trillion dollar economy in the coming years,” Modi said.
India’s growth rate has fallen to 5.8 per cent for the three months ended March 2019, its lowest in 17 quarters, while research group CMIE estimates the jobless rate rose to 7.5 per cent in July from 5.6 per cent a year earlier.
Modi said he would invest 100 trillion rupees in infrastructure over the next five years and a further 3.6 trillion to improve water infrastructure and pipe clean water to every home.