Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gujral Calls India to Fight Corruption

NEW DELHI, India -- India's prime minister marked the 50th anniversary of independence from British rule Friday with a call to his people to take up new struggles against corruption and for a better future for their children.

In an annual address to the nation from the Red Fort, a 17th-century monument, Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral urged Indians to fight political corruption by refusing to pay bribes, even if it means hardship.

"India needs a new Satyagraha,'' he said, referring to the movement of noncooperation that independence leader Mohandas Gandhi used effectively against British colonialists.

He promised to reform the nation's election laws to break the link between politicians and criminals and pledged to "make the government functioning more transparent.''

Gujral also announced that the government would give money to poorer families to care for daughters, who are often denied educational opportunities in a culture where boys are cherished.

He declared that primary education would be made mandatory for children up to 14, but he offered no details on how the government would pay for it. Similar development programs have failed in the past.

Before Gujral's speech, fighter jets etched streams of saffron, white and green -- the colors of the Indian flag -- across a sky lit by the early morning sun. Helicopters dropped rose petals on the crowd estimated at 10,000.

At the end of the ceremony, 7,000 schoolchildren, waving paper flags, sang the national anthem.

Hundreds of people walked barefoot to pay their respects to Gandhi at his memorial in New Delhi. Gandhi, known as the mahatma, or "great soul,'' is the man most Indians believe was the guiding force behind the struggle against colonial rule.

"He gave the freedom movement leadership and a plan of action,'' said Kusum, a young homemaker who gave only her first name. She brought her 6-year-old son to the memorial, built after Gandhi was killed in 1948 by a Hindu fanatic who objected to his campaigns to promote Hindu-Moslem unity.

But amid the celebrations, India's politicians issued somber reminders of the country's failures since gaining independence.

In his address to Parliament, K.R. Narayanan, India's first president from Hinduism's lowest class, said the nation had fallen short of Nehru's pledge to abolish poverty, ignorance and disease.

From Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent his Indian counterpart a note echoing an earlier speech in which he hoped for an end to the blood feud between their countries.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan's government of stoking a rebellion in northern Jammu-Kashmir state, predominately Hindu India's only Moslem-majority state.

The division of the British empire into India and officially Islamic Pakistan in 1947 was accompanied by deadly religious riots and a forced migration of millions of Moslems from India to Pakistan -- which gained independence a day before India in 1947 -- and as many Hindus in the other direction.

According to World Bank figures, nearly half of India's people are illiterate. A country that 50 years ago was richer than Singapore now has a per capita income of $340, while Singapore's is $26,000.

But Narayanan spoke of what is perhaps India's greatest accomplishment: forging any nation at all out of the myriad peoples brought into one territory by British colonizers.