‘Sleeping elephant’ has awakened

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Asianbangla Desk : India will launch its first manned space mission by 2022 and roll out a health insurance scheme from September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday in his last Independence Day speech ahead of next year’s general election.

Modi, speaking from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, told a crowd of supporters that “sleeping elephant” India had awakened and was ready to take its place in the global economy.

Modi, who seeks re-election in the world’s biggest democracy early next year, used the speech to broadcast his government’s achievements, amid concerns about lack of jobs and rising violence against the Muslim minority.

Wearing a flowing saffron turban, the Hindu nationalist leader also announced the plan to take the “Indian tricolour to space” before or around 2022 in a manned mission that would make India the fourth nation to launch one, after the United States, Russia and China.

Modi said his government would launch from Sept. 25 a previously announced medical insurance scheme, dubbed ‘Modicare’, to give about 500 million poor people annual health cover of 500,000 rupees ($7,200) to treat serious illness.

“India is now the land of reform, perform and transform. We are poised for record economic growth,” the prime minister said.

“Today the world says that the sleeping elephant has woken up, is walking and has joined the race,” Modi added.

In his 80-minute speech, Modi said the pace of building highways, electrifying villages and building toilets has increased since his landslide 2014 election win that devastated the main opposition Congress party.

Congress, which had ruled India for decades, is now trying to unify the opposition to challenge Modi, whose personal ratings remain high despite recent election setbacks. “We want to progress more. There is no question of stopping or getting tired on the way,” Modi said.

India’s main opposition Congress party dubbed Modi’s address “hollow” and said that it had not answered questions about the economy, relations with China and Pakistan, and corruption allegations.

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