Modi says 'sleeping elephant' India has woken up

New Delhi (AFP) –


Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday hailed India's growing role in the world economy, calling it a "sleeping elephant" that has woken up, in a keynote national speech before a looming election campaign.

The Hindu nationalist leader spoke for more than 80 minutes from the ramparts of New Delhi's 17th century Red Fort in the final Independence Day address of his five year term.

Modi used the spotlight to laud his government's achievements and announce that a massive health insurance scheme would be launched in September and India would send a manned mission into space by 2022.

The prime minister said that India was seen as one of the "fragile" nations before his nationalist party took power in a landslide in 2014.

"India is now the land of reform, perform and transform. We are poised for record economic growth," the prime minister said.

"Today the world says that the sleeping elephant has woken up, is walking and has joined the race," Modi added.

India has seen annual economic growth of about 7.0 percent since he took over -- though the rupee is now under attack in the fallout from the Turkey lira crisis.

Modi, who is expected to call an election for early 2019, announced that an ambitious health insurance scheme -- providing annual cover of about $7,000 for 500 million Indians -- will be rolled out on September 25.

The scheme -- popularly known as 'Modicare' -- has been described as the world's biggest government health insurance initiative.

"It is high time we ensured that the poor of India get access to good quality and affordable healthcare," he said.

"The government health care initiatives will have a positive impact on 500 million Indians," Modi said, adding that it would cover the equivalent of the population of the 27 member European Union.

"It is essential to ensure that we free the poor of India from the clutches of poverty in which they cannot afford health care," he added.

Adding to the nationalist tone, Modi said India will send a manned mission into space within four years.

"India will send into space -- a man or a woman -- by 2022, before that if possible," Modi said adding that the chosen astronaut would be "carrying the national flag."

Modi also highlighted his clampdown on corruption, bringing electricity to more Indian villages and his reform in introducing a single national goods and services sales tax.