INDIA

Graft is eating away at India 'like a termite' and it's coming from the top, says Modi

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 10:42pm
AFP

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned yesterday that corruption was eating away at India "like a termite" as he used an independence day speech to pledge his commitment to eradicating graft and poverty.

In an address from the ramparts of Delhi's Red Fort, Modi sought to silence growing doubts about his leadership after key reforms stalled in a rancorous parliament session dogged by allegations of corruption involving some of his top lieutenants.

Modi, who has a reputation as a hardline Hindu nationalist, also warned against the "poison" of communalism in a wide-ranging speech that lasted for more than an hour.

But it was his comments on the dangers posed by corruption that drew most attention, including his admission that the problem went right to the top.

"I want to reaffirm that this nation will get rid of corruption. We can rid the country of corruption, we have to start from the top," said Modi.

"Corruption is like a termite, it spreads slowly, reaches everywhere but it can be beaten with timely injections."

Modi's speech comes after some of the most senior figures in his Bharatiya Janata Party became embroiled in corruption scandals, including Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states.

The scandals have been particularly embarrassing as Modi's election win last year was built in part on a pledge to clean up government after a series of scams under the previous Congress administration.

Modi said there had been no allegations of money being siphoned off under his government, but acknowledged there was work to be done.

"Corruption has to be removed fully from the system," said the prime minister. "With your support, I pledge a corruption-free India."

Modi's right-wing government has also been undermined by its failure to get key economic reforms through parliament in a session that wrapped on Thursday, including a national sales tax that the administrations sees as crucial to firing up growth.

While the economy is growing at around 7.5 per cent, it still needs to pick up pace to elevate the hundreds of millions of people still mired in poverty in the world's second most populous nation.

Modi set a 1,000-day deadline for every village in India to get electricity, urging state governments which are responsible for power to ensure that every community is finally linked up to the national grid.

The right-wing premier, who has been accused of doing too little to help the nation's poorest, said his government had already succeeded in enabling 170 million people to open bank accounts for the first time under a government-run scheme.

"The poor are at bottom of the pyramid of development and we have to strengthen the base of the pyramid. If they are empowered, no one can stop us," said Modi who came to power last year.