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India's Modi touts achievements but shies away from plans for the future in annual speech

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NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi touted his government's poverty alleviation schemes in his Independence Day speech on Saturday, but the address was thin on plans for the future and made no mention of the setbacks to his economic reform agenda.

Modi won a resounding election victory in May last year largely because of his promises to revive India's slacking economy and put an end to a slew of corruption scandals that the ruling Congress party was mired in.

But achieving his ambitious reform agenda has proved hard, with both his land and tax reform proposals stalled by the opposition.

Saturday's annual speech marked the anniversary of the day India gained its freedom from British colonial rule in 1947. The occasion is normally used to lay out the government's broad vision for the country.

In his first speech as prime minister last year, Modi had done just that. He had set out safety for women and making India a global manufacturing hub as his main priorities. He had also initiated a cleanliness drive and promised to eradicate poverty in a nation where hundreds of millions of people live on less than a dollar a day.

PHOTO: Women of Jammu and Kashmir police march on the occasion of 69th anniversary of India's independence from British rule, in Jammu, India, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
Women of Jammu and Kashmir police march on the occasion of 69th anniversary of India's independence from British rule, in Jammu, India, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

In this year's speech, a grand vision for the future was absent and was instead replaced by a listing of the government's achievements.

Through the hour-long speech, made on a warm and humid morning, Modi mopped his face with his handkerchief and sipped from a glass of water. Hundreds of spectators, senior ministers and diplomats fanned themselves with their invitation cards.

The address often sounded more like an election stump speech than a speech to the nation.

At one point Modi even appeared to sneer at previous governments, saying that all governments make plans and promises but that his has actually delivered. He then went on to list some of his government's accomplishments, mainly those aimed at India's poor.

Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party faces a close election in the crucial state of Bihar later this year.

Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the 17th century fortress that was once home to India's medieval Mughal rulers, he said that in its 15 months in power, his government has been involved in no corruption scandals.

His comments come just days after India's Parliament was adjourned after weeks of noisy scenes as opposition legislators accused three senior ruling party members of abusing their authority and financial irregularities. The BJP has denied any wrongdoing by party leaders.

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PHOTO: School girls, dressed in traditional attire, perform on the occasion of 69th anniversary of India's independence from British rule, in Jammu, India, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
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