Happy Birthday to India

India celebrates independence day
BBC: August 15, 2007

Indians are celebrating 60 years of independence from Britain.
Delhi's Red Fort echoed to the sound of canon as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh raised India's flag, where the British flag was lowered forever in 1947.

He praised the work of those who fought for India's freedom but said India would only be truly independent once it had eliminated poverty.

Earlier, a huge concert was held at Wagah on the border with Pakistan, which marked independence on Monday.

Partition in 1947 saw 10 million people cross borders in one of history's largest mass migrations.

But freedom for both countries came at a price as hundreds of thousands of people died in the violence that followed.

India looks to future

A military band fired guns and played the national anthem as the Indian flag was raised at the historic Red Fort, in the centre of Delhi.

Hundreds of balloons in the colours of the Indian flag were released into the air.

Amid tight security, Mr Singh reviewed the progress India had made since independence.

India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but Mr Singh said too few Indians enjoyed the benefits.

"Sixty years ago we started a new journey. We were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts and views. In the true sense we will have freedom and independence only when we get rid of poverty."

The prime minister's speech echoed earlier comments from India's first woman president, Pratibha Patil, who said everyone should benefit from the country's economic boom and India had to ensure "equitable growth for all".

"The fruits of economic development must necessarily touch, especially, the living and working conditions of our toiling masses and people below the poverty line," she said.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, in Delhi, says there is clear concern among India's leaders that the benefits of its booming economy have not reached a vast majority of its one-billion strong population.

But despite this, the mood in India is upbeat, with many believing that the country has finally emerged out of its colonial shadow to take its position on the global stage, our correspondent adds.

Major security drive

Earlier, thousands of people attended a huge concert at Wagah, where the only road border between India and Pakistan is found.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead, at Wagah, says there was a sense from people there that they would like to see the community spirit that was alive when this was one country to be born again.

As celebrations got under way across India, a huge security operation swung into action to thwart possible militant attacks.

Aircraft and tens of thousands of security forces have been deployed to fend off what the government says are threats by al-Qaeda and insurgents operating in several states.

In Delhi, around 70,000 policemen and paramilitary troops were posted at government buildings, diplomatic enclaves and main intersections.

Four explosions rocked the north-eastern state of Assam hours before the celebrations began.

No one was killed or injured in the blasts. The police blamed the explosions on the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) rebels, who have called for a boycott of the celebrations.

Separatist groups in Indian-administered Kashmiri say that the independence celebrations are a "Black Day".

On previous occasions they have launched attacks aimed at disrupting celebrations.

To herald the celebrations in both countries, Pakistan allowed 134 Indian prisoners to return home on Monday, with India reciprocating by handing over 72 Pakistani prisoners on Tuesday. Pakistan celebrated its independence on Monday.

Also See: India's Model Democracy, BBC


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