New Delhi: Making an election year speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday defended his government’s track record, saying the nation had made “remarkable strides" after people came together in 2014 for progress and transformative change.

Reaching out to the politically crucial support base of socially and economically marginalized communities, Modi said his government’s guiding principle was ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, or inclusive development.

This was Modi’s fifth and last Independence Day address from the Red Fort in his first term, before the 2019 general election. In a speech lasting nearly an hour-and-a-half, he spoke about how schemes such as Ujjwala and Mudra have benefitted the poor.

“I have experienced since 2014 that people had not just come forward to form a government but for nation-building. We are proud of what we have achieved and, at the same time, we also have to look at where we have come from. That is when we will realise the remarkable strides the nation has made."

The Prime Minister emphasized on how the pace of development had changed since 2013 with the government committed to providing basic facilities such as housing, power, cooking gas, water, sanitation, health and connectivity for all.

Reaching out to Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Modi said that the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament was devoted to “social justice". He also spoke about violence against women and said that the rule of law is supreme. He raised the issue of triple talaq and said his government was keen to bring a law against it.

“We will not forgive the corrupt and those who have black money. They have ruined the nation. Delhi’s streets are free from power brokers. From the voice of power brokers, the voice of the poor is heard," Modi said, while highlighting the damage that corruption has done to the country and steps taken by his government.

With less than a year to the general elections, Modi took the opportunity to make key policy announcements, saying Ayushman Bharat, the National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM) programme, would be launched on 25 September, the birth-anniversary of Deendayal Upadhayay. Modi also reiterated that his aim was to free children of malnutrition and work towards eradicating poverty.

The Congress party said that Modi made a “hollow" speech that did not address the key issues facing the country right now, while political analysts said it was an election speech focused on reaching out to voters.

“Right from the opening, Modi set the tenor of his speech by reaching out to the electorate directly. He spoke about socially marginalized sections. This is a speech ahead of 2019 elections with no grandstanding. He was very conscious of what he was saying and what the issues on the ground were," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

Randeep Surjewala, chief spokesperson of the Congress party, told reporters: “Today Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his fifth speech on Independence Day. We want to ask him whether he will accept Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s challenge of debating on a public forum on issues like the Rafale deal and Vyapam scam, falling value of rupee and relations with China... on the climate of hate that is being spread. Is he ready for a discussion? His speech was hollow."