Delhi gears up for Modi’s first I-Day address

New Delhi : India’s 68th Independence Day Friday will be notable in many ways, most of all the massive public participation that is being planned, no doubt at the instance of the nearly three-month-old government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will unfurl the national flag from the Red Fort, will be speaking to the nation from the historic podium for the first time after his party’s spectacular electoral victory in May.

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In keeping with the significance of the occasion and Modi’s own record of turning national days into mega festivals, the NDA government has ensured participation of “aam aadmi”, or common people, in the celebrations and sought to give the national capital a festive look.

This itself will be a departure from previous Independence Day observances where public participation at Red Fort, because of security fears, was largely limited to hundreds of school children, government officials and selected invitees.

Modi’s speech, expected to be extempore, much like many of his speeches, will be watched in India and outside for a vision statement and major policy announcements.

Modi has acquired a reputation, especially during his long election campaign, as a forceful speaker and an engaging orator and he is expected to make the best of his first opportunity to address the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort from where India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had unfurled free India’s flag.

During his days as Gujarat chief minister, Modi had turned Independence day into a mega festival, holding the event at different venues in the state.

The Delhi government has taken steps to make the 68th Independence Day “memorable”. It has decorated the city with 4,000 flags and 60,000 balloons. Many prominent roundabouts have been decked with flowers and with the tricolour made of flowers.

With Modi emphasising cleanliness in his speeches, special drives have been carried out in Delhi to remove garbage and litter from roadsides and the streets have been swept clean.

The Modi government has also sought to give its first independence day a distinctive “aam aadmi” touch by ensuring presence of common man in greater numbers at the Red Fort. Officials said enclosures have been made for seating 10,000 people on the expansive lawns below.

“We had received request from people to attend the ceremony and made request for enclosures for their seating,” Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay told IANS.

Former Delhi deputy mayor Meera Aggarwal said there was enthusiasm among BJP workers also.

“This is the first time Narendra Modi will be making Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. People are very enthusiastic as are BJP workers,” Agarwal told IANS.

Sources said that arrangements have been made by BJP’s local leaders to ferry people in buses to the Red Fort with the public bus service itself announcing fare concessions.

Parts of Chandni Chowk, the usually crowded shopping bazaar in the old city facing the Red Fort, has been declared a pedestrian zone for part the day with various events planned on roads free of choking vehicular traffic.

Prominent buildings in the city will be lit up with some public buildings having tricolour lighting and laser projections.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has planned week-long celebrations that includes quiz for commuters, conducted tours for children and senior citizens and hoisting the tricolour at stations and residential places.

Tree plantation activities are being carried out in different parts of the metropolis. Many restaurants are offering special I-Day fare and discounts to lure customers.

Some government departments, including the Railways, came out with advertisements Thursday pledging better services to citizens.

Government officials, who have been invited to the event, have been strictly told to be present to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats that have noticed in the past. With the event starting at 7 a.m., many officials have played truant and preferred to sit at home and watch it on TV.

Over 7,000 security personnel, including 2,000 paramilitary personnel, have been deployed in and around the Red Fort.

Police officials have talked of “extraordinary security” this time because of the huge public participation with closed-circuit cameras fixed all along the 15 km route from New Delhi to the old city with deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor “unusual movements”.