New Delhi : With weather playing truant, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday spoke from a closed enclosure while addressing the nation on Independence Day as the meteorological office had predicted the possibility of rain.
Singh, attired in his trademark blue turban, spoke in Urdu from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, which was under a heavy presence of gun-totting security men. Usually, the Prime Minister speaks from an enclosure which is not fully covered, but this time, prediction of rains as well as last year's experience prompted authorities to go for the closed enclosure.
Last year, there was heavy downpour during the Independence Day celebrations. However the weather appeared relenting, with no showers, and an overcast sky sparing the visitors the intense heat of the sun.
Though humidity was an irritant forcing people to use invites and papers as fans. Sare Jahan se Achha -- the famous line of Mohd Iqbal -- reverberated the air during the Independence Day celebrations as over 3,000 school children, dressed in saffron, white and green, welcomed the Prime Minister with loud cheers and applause.
They listened attentively to the Prime Minister's 35-minute address and responded with loud cheers and applause time and again. Singh arrived at the 17th century Mughal monument in his motorcade and was received by Defence Minister A K Antony, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju and three Service Chiefs at the Lahore Gate. After inspecting the guard of honour, he unfurled the tricolour.
The tricolour, however, did not unfurl smoothly and the Flt Lieutenant Neha Chauhan, who was assisting Singh had to intervene. As the tricolour opened majestically, the cannons boomed and the sound of 21 guns. The Prime Minister began his speech condoling the loss of lives in the Leh landslide tragedy, to which some children clapped, making the scene awkward for the teachers manning them.
The applause was however not as frequent and exuberant, with the children clapping six times during the 35-minute address. Last year, 13 rounds of clapping were witnessed during the speech. The applause was the loudest when Singh referred to the Right to Education Act and assured that his government was leaving no stone unturned in dealing with price rise. A mention of Commonwealth Games, which Singh said was a matter of national pride, also elicited applause from the audience.
Some of the young children who clapped enthusiastically, however, said they did not get a word of what the Prime Minister said, but were all too happy to sing the national anthem at the historic monument.
The Prime Minister's speech was also marked a few pauses and fumbles, while he referred to petrol price hike and climate change. Mahatma Gandhi and Norman C Borlaug also found a mention in Singh's address, as he referred to the environmental concerns of the day and the need for another revolution in agriculture.
The national capital was mentioned twice in the Prime Minister's address as he spoke about the upcoming Commonwealth Games and expressed confidence that Delhi would successfully host the extravaganza, and when he referred to the new T3 terminal as an excellent example of India's efforts to improve its infrastructure.
As the Prime Minister's address ended with loud cries of 'Jai Hind', a large number of balloons were released in the air to signal the spirit of true freedom, amid loud cheers from the children. Congress President Sonia Gandhi, leader of opposition L K Advani, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy were among the dignitaries who attended the function.
Many children, who attended the ceremony for the first time, said they were delighted to see the prime minister speak in person, and insisted they would like to visit again. "We liked the Prime Minister making a strong reference to the need for investing in agriculture, and that of another revolution in the farm sector," said Mayank, an NCC cadet and a IX standard student of Ramjas School, Chandni Chowk.
Akshita, a VI standard student of IP School candidly confessed that she did not understand a word of the Prime Minister's speech, but said she was delighted when he waved to the children from his vehicle.
"I would like to attend the Independence Day celebration again as it was a pleasure to sing the national anthem along with so many people at the Red Fort," she said. PTI